Meditations on the Bench- Altruism

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

One thing the profession bakeshop is never short of is mundane tasks- repetitive, dull, simple jobs that take forever and threaten to put your mind in a permanent torpor.

When it falls to me to handle on of these necessary (but dull and generally thankless) jobs, I usually find my mind wandering and ruminating on topics I had been reading about recently, or that current events bring to mind. Now and again, I’ll remember enough of my thoughts- or get to a pen and paper in time- to write them down.

These entries tend to wax philosophical, so if that isn’t your speed, hopefully I can offer something more appealing next time.


The other day, I found myself having a brief conversation with the owner of a little deli near where I work. I was just coming off my shift, and we were talking about our respective days. I had just ruminated on the fact that 16 hours worth of preparation would be swept away in a banquet for about 750 people, in the space of an hour.

    The shop owner said, in a heavy accent that I have not yet placed, “It is a shame- they are eating and eating and never stop to think of who made it. They do not appreciate.”

    I nodded and, without really knowing why, I confessed- “Recognition and praise are great, but all I really want is to meet them- to look them in the eye and see that they are satisfied. I want to know I made a difference to them that day, and for them to know the face behind their food.”

    Altruism is a sticky subject, and one that philosophers and students much wiser and more educated than I have been fiddling with and working out for centuries. Its dictionary definition is “belief in or practice of disinterested selfless concern for the wellbeing of others.” In common use, it means giving of oneself without the expectation or desire of receiving anything in return- not even something intangible and self-bestowed, like a “warm fuzzy feeling.” In Zen Buddhism, it is possibly best described as being virtuous with no thought of virtuousness- doing the right thing, but not because it is the “right thing- it’s just what is to be done.

    If I’m honest- it’s something I suck at. Even my confessed wish to be recognized as the creator of their food and to simply know they are pleased- that is a reward, and thus my desire is not altruistic.

    I found myself thinking afterward, “Is that so wrong?” I am not a monk or a saint. Is it truly wrong to crave such a simple pleasure as the recognition of a job well done, or the knowledge that a creation’s objective has been met?

I don’t think so.

I have long been of the opinion that a creator or artist is blessed three times: first in the work itself, second in the completion , and third in giving the work away. Why would anyone willfully deny themselves such a blessing?

Or perhaps, it is not denying the blessing, but only the knowledge of it?

Thoughts worth thinking… but later.

Stay thoughtful.

Stay wondering.

and of course,

Stay classy,