Egoism vs Altruism
There is a Better Way

I have a restlessness within in me to explain what I don’t grasp. I call this obsession my hauntings. A lot of things look different to me in my twilight years. It is as if I grasp a truth when I was a fair-haired youth only to discover as an old man that I missed the message for many years.

For example, I recently wrote about The Bridge Builder. I memorized that poem six decades ago. Back then, I got the message…be a bridge builder. I understood that process. We all should be noble, altruistic, and caring. The old man going a lone highway who built the bridge is an example of how we should act. In various ways, we should help others…especially next generation. It is the right thing to do.

I have attempted to explain something that I learned not when I was young but an old man. In a serendipitous moment, I had the opportunity to discover my family while I was exploring Inle Lake in Myanmar. I met a nine-year old who became a part of me…a part of my family and a part of my reason for being.

Over the past six years, my Weltanschauung has changed. During my life, I have made mistakes and have often failed. Nonetheless, even if I could change those missteps of the past, I would opt not to change anything. In my twilight time of my life, I have benefited from them. I am glad that I am who I have become in my journey down my yellow brick road pf life. That was the reason for writing about The Bridge Builder.

The Bridge Builder

An old man going a lone highway
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You've crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?"
The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."

When I first read The Bridge Builder, I read it in my baby book. The old guy wanted to assist some fair-haired youth from a potential may “a pitfall” in life. The old man’s act of building a bridge was a noble effort of his part. Helping another person was an altruistic gesture. The old man didn’t ignore to young guy; he assisted someone that might stumble in life’s “chasm, deep and wide.”

It is there, in the altruistic and not egotistical gesture, that I have trouble accepting. I’m glad that the old man in the poem did something noble for another person. But why? The old man explained to “a fellow pilgrim, near” that he was building a bridge for a young person.

I understood that when I first read the poem. However, I now have the question—why? Your retort to my question is that he was attempting to help. My reply is but why? Why was the old guy so nice? Sure, it was an altruistic act. There must be a reason for his altruism. There had to be a reason beyond it being a noble gesture of building the bridge.

In graduate and post graduate school, I took classes in exegesis. Exegesis can be applied to various biblical writings or in ordinary writing. Exegesis comes from the Greek word, ἐξήγησις, which means “to lead out.” It is a process of pulling out the true meaning of a statement. For example, altruism means to help another person as opposed to egotism, which means to act for oneself. The bridge builder was acting on behalf of another person as opposed to acting like Trump who acts solely for himself. The bridge builder and Trump are polar opposites.

That’s obvious, but, if you exegete the bridge builder’s intent, I don’t see that it was only altruistic. I see egoism present. This is where altruism and egoism morph together. I have for some time realized that greater truth. In fact, I came up with a saying, “It is in giving that we get.” It was so on point that I doubted whether I was the only person in the world come up with something similar. Surely, someone else saw what was obvious to me. I pondered the blending of the two extremes: altruism and egotism. So, I googled my creation and found that St. Francis of Assisi said something similar. “For it is in giving that we receive.”

However, William Shakespeare wrote something that is more personal and to the point. “One of the finest comforts that life offers us is that you cannot sincerely help others without helping yourself.” While I like my creation, Shakespeare expressed how I feel and surely how the bridge builder felt.

I get that I am not omnipotent. I can’t change the world, but I can help others to live life to the fullest. I’m still working at 77. I have mortgage for another 30 years. I have a beloved Irish Setter, Ginger, who has had a dance with death at the rip old age of three. She chews up a lot of my money. However, I couldn’t go to bed at night knowing that those close to me are in need as we all struggle our through COVID-19. It is in giving that we receive. I’m sure those that receive help are less concerned about their lives, but I gain also. It is in giving that I can reduce my anxiety about them. It is a win-win situation.

I am that old bridge builder, and you are “a fellow pilgrim, near.” If you want to have a meaningful life, I’ll provide two options. Choose wisely.