The more people help others, the more people help others. This declaration can be summarized by the near acronym TEMPO. Why is it necessary to insist on what seems so clear? Because our country has been divided by many long-simmering issues that boil down to this: How much help does one person owe another?
Those most inclined to help are altruists. They hold that service to others, even at personal risk or expense, is a primary good. Those least inclined to give are egoists. They judge an action by how directly and how much it benefits themselves.
Differences. Although there are many variations and overlaps, these two outlooks draw on different inspirations and express themselves in different ways. Egoists draw on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, evolutionary survival of the fittest, and the influential novelist Ayn Rand, who dramatizes the opposition of egoists to altruists. To egoists, altruism is surrender to the needy. It uses government to impose insincere cooperation or even charity on those who can use their leadership and assets better than on the needy. Altruists are enablers, they say, who remove incentives for improvement. (“Why subsidize the losers?” they ask.) For altruists, the selfishness of egoism is a vice because it values self-interest over consideration for others. Altruists point to examples of teamwork, functional solidarity (think: bucket brigades or weddings), and they cite evolutionary biologists who see reciprocity and cooperation among primates and other animals. They refer to stories like the biblical parable of the good Samaritan.
The debate has been confused by some misunderstandings. Egoism is not mere selfishness. It is also self-reliance, independence, initiative. The achievements of innovators benefit many; their insights can catalyze whole enterprises and their profits can fund philanthropy. Another source of misunderstanding is an excessively literal definition of altruism. Many philosophers and social scientists assume that if the altruist profits from a benefaction in any way —even through feeling good — there was no altruism. But if we judge by the benefit to the good deed’s recipient, the benefit to the doer becomes secondary, and a major objection to altruism weakens.
Self and others. We decide for ourselves when to be generous and when to hold back. We adhere, or not, to our community’s encouragement of sharing. The good Samaritan is exemplary. The parable ends with the injunction: “Go and do likewise.” Similarly, we both admire and fear the power acquired by outstanding innovators like Bill Gates or Sergey Brin. It would be hard to imagine a society without the likes of a Marie Curie or Thomas Edison, but just as hard to imagine one where no one responds to a call for help. An egoist might argue that such a group could indeed thrive because, if everyone is left alone, all individuals would be self-sufficient and free to reach their own potential.
Within this atomized society, though, parents would still provide for their own children, their own kin, their own peers, however defined. But courtship, reproduction, and raising children are just first steps in acknowledging the needs of others. These stages of biological reproduction demonstrate the altruistic dynamic, although here only in its barest, most self-serving form. Still, adults may raise children to acquire their labor and future care for themselves. Adults also see their own likeness in their children and, in so individualized a society, there could scarcely be a higher value.
But a strongly atomized society must also train its young to perpetuate its values, and each act of tending another, guiding someone into a better conformity to social goals, is help that one individual offers another. Thus, help of others furthers even the individualized society by improving fidelity to its ideals. Just helping one’s children proves the general utility of helping others. And help for related others can lead to help for unrelated others. If the goal is the reproduction of the type of society one cherishes, then help for others is an extension of one’s personal well being. Helping others becomes self-help.
Kindness is contagious. If help for others promotes traditional values in an individualized society, it will produce even greater results in a community that endorses the bonds between its members and values mutual aid. From the atomized extreme, therefore, it is possible to extrapolate the law of TEMPO: The more people help others, the more people help others. There are nearer others — anyone other than oneself: a partner, a child, a sibling, a parent, a classmate, and then perhaps a neighbor, a customer, an employee. From seeing the value in helping those like ourselves, we may eventually see the value of helping farther others, those unlike ourselves, those of different personalities, classes, nationalities, religions, races — even those we might perceive as enemies. Thus, between pure altruism and pure egoism there is a “continuum of compassion” in which the most egoistic help others, but only within a very restricted group whose likeness to them is evident, while the most altruistic help a much broader range of others whose connection to the benefactor is much less evident; but the help, the compassion, is similar across the broad range of caring.
There is a general awareness of this basic perception. Relevant slogans crowd the mind: “Love thy neighbor,” “Pay it forward,” “Be the change you wish to see.” We speak of “random acts of kindness.” In karma, the good circulates. Pursuing this ideal adds a twist that expands cooperation. A person who has received help is more likely to help others than one who has been excluded. Help for others reproduces itself exponentially. Altruism is contagious.
Help and hurt. Let’s test TEMPO again by looking at the person who was denied help. How likely would that person be to respond favorably when similarly challenged? Whether they have been hurt through neglect or through active persecution, hurt people hurt people. This idea, which I call by the acronym HUP, is not a new insight. In ancient Athens, Plato celebrated how Socrates defended himself against the charge of corrupting youth. If bad people harm their companions and good people do them good, he asked, why would he make the people around him worse? Plato asserted the contagious quality of example, whether positive or negative. As with help; so with harm. Because hurt people hurt people, we should do the least to harm and the most to help in order to have the most help for the most people and, eventually, to receive the most help. This rule also applies to people we judge different from ourselves: recipients of aid, immigrants, those of other nations, classes, races, religions, genders. If there is a division between us and them, pent-up resentment on either side is harmful.
Variations. Although the contrast between help and harm seems stark, it is not binary. Acts of kindness trigger their own imitations but not exact replication. Some actions will be more helpful and reproduce good more effectively than others and differently in different environments. Bestowing a pair of flip-flops on a person who normally goes barefoot will produce very different results from bestowing them on a person who is normally shod.
Indirect benefits. To accommodate the varieties of social and anti-social behavior, we may imagine deeds as being centripetal or centrifugal, tending toward more or less social cohesion, more or less cooperation. A sacrifice for others need not aim directly at the center, but it would tend toward a cluster where charitable actions occur more frequently. An anti-social action would tend away from that cluster towards a peripheral area where charitable actions occur less frequently. In an atomized society, where belief in the individual’s radical independence is the norm, everyone would be theoretically equidistant. Because of the need to raise children, there would be clusters, but they would be small, sparse, and scattered.
The contrast we’ve examined can be exaggerated. Humans do not live in herds and there are very few hermits. Still, each side fears its opponents’ extreme positions. Egoists argue that altruists present the danger of excessive centralization. They claim the cooperative clusters actually build dependence and lead to conformity and regimentation. They see a slippery slope from altruism to socialism and even communism. Meanwhile altruists accuse egoists of considering only themselves capable of rule and of blaming supposedly inferior beings of using government to appropriate their justly earned profits. Both of these fears have real grounds in history: communism and fascism. Each extreme is the goal of some people. What has happened can happen. Only democracy can prevent dominance by adherents of one extreme.
Balance. Consequently, as responsible members of a free society, we should use egoism and altruism to check each other. We should neither stifle creativity nor deny the needy. Just as cooperation and self-defense balance each other, so do altruism and egoism. We should love our neighbors —even strangers— as ourselves without undermining ourselves. Thus, our freedom leaves us on the horns of a dilemma: Give or take? TEMPO is my proposal for a safe, middle way.
There is obviously an inverse relationship between helping and hurting even though, in reality, the opposition is never exact. If (1) HUP: hurt people hurt people, then we should diminish hurt to protect ourselves. If (2) TEMPO: the more people help others the more people help others, then (3), the more people help others, the fewer hurt people hurt people. Therefore, helping others benefits the helper, altruism pays, and we help ourselves by helping others.
The division in our country almost equally divides altruists and egoists: each side complacent, confident, and secure in its own camp except for its resentment of the other. Because that paralysis has been so damaging it would be wise to move more towards altruism. There is greater harm in creating hurt people by denying help to the least fortunate than in taxing the very prosperous. Just as abusing the welfare system can obtain undue benefits for those at the bottom, so privilege and the leverage of influence can obtain undue benefits for those at the top.
Conclusion. In sum, the best incentive to help others is the mutual benefit that results. The best deterrent against refusing help is the isolation of those who refuse it. Because of HUP, altruists and egoists both suffer the pain, the resistance, and possibly the retribution of the injured. These options leave a choice between charity, solitude, and pain. The goal of society is the increase of love, knowledge, and wisdom and the freedom to pursue them. Isolation from such a society or voluntary self-relegation to its fringes would produce loneliness, ignorance, and fear — fear from lacking the help of others. Different people will have a different tolerance for isolation and a different affinity to cooperation. One’s position on the continuum of compassion, the spectrum between altruism and egoism, will produce a reckoning as a person moves between a community’s cooperative core and the un-cooperative fringe. Those who serve only themselves end in isolation; those who cooperate will receive the mutual support of an altruistic community through TEMPO.
E N D N O T E S
 Jay Weinstein provides a good history of these terms in “What the World Needs Now: A Model of Rational Altruism,” Sociological Focus, 42, 3 (August, 2009), 298-211.
 I paraphrase Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, February 19, 2009. https://www.businessinsider.com/rick-santelli-tea-party-rant-2014-2.
 For the biology, see Robert M. Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst (New York: Penguin, 2017), 323-386.
 Luke 10:25-37. To see how far this parable has been adapted beyond its biblical context, consider the “good Samaritan” laws (which protect doctors who respond unsuccessfully in emergency situations) and “duty to rescue” laws (which make it a crime to ignore a person’s need for help). Significantly, there is opposition to the tenor of both types of law. See Amelia H. Ashton, “Rescuing the Hero: The Ramifications of Expanding the Duty to Rescue on Society and the Law,” Duke Law Journal, 59,1 (2009), 69-107. In 1964 the Governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner, Jr., vetoed a good Samaritan law on the grounds that it would remove sanctions against “wrongful conduct.” News-O-Gram (American Bar Association. Section of Insurance, Negligence, and Compensation Law) 5,1 (January, 1964). H. M. Malm, “Bad Samaritan Laws: Harm, Help, or Hype?” Law and Philosophy 19, 6 (The Moral and Legal Limits of Samaritan Duties (Nov., 2000), 707-750.
 W. D. Falk, “Morality, Self, and Others,” in Paul Bloomfield, Morality and Self-Interest (2007), 225-250; Graziano, Habashi, Sheese, and Tobin, “Agreeableness, Empathy, and Helping: A Person x Situation Perspective,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93.4 (2007), 583-599; Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil (2004); Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain (2017).
 For a distinction between those nearer and farther, those more or less evidently in need of help, see Scott M. James, “Good Samaritans, Good Humanitarians,” Journal of Applied Philosophy, 24, 3 (2007), 238-254. For kindness to strangers, see Exodus 22:21; for the love of enemies see Matthew 5:44 (Luke 6:27).
 https://ccare.stanford.edu/research/current-research/. See especially topic 9, “Compassion in the Political Arena,” associated with Matthew Feinberg, PhD.
 Saleem et al, “Assessing Helping and Hurting Behaviors through the Tangram Help/Hurt Task,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 10 (2015), 1345-62. “Trait aggressiveness was consistently and modestly positively correlated with the hurting score. . . . Helping score consistently correlated positively with trait prosocialness. . . . Similarly, both empathy and perspective taking correlated positively with helping and negatively with hurting. . . . Provocation increased hurting and decreased helping behavior. . . .” There is a journal called Aggressive Behavior. Hurt people do not inevitably hurt people. Forgiveness or the ability to overlook injustices does exist. One thinks of Nelson Mandela’s conduct after release from 27 years in prison. Vengeance is a conscious choice. The principle nonetheless holds: hurt generates hurt just as help generates help.
 Apology XIII.25.
 Adam Grant’s 2013 book, Give and Take (New York: Viking), demonstrates how sharing information (mentoring) in business firms grows the bottom line.
 For “the least” in this sense, see Matthew 25:31-46 at verses 40 and 45.
 Whether “love” is the right word in this context is open to discussion. Adam Kotsko debates the notion here: https://wp.nyu.edu/therevealer/2017/07/25/the-prince-of-this-world-adam-kotsko-and-patrick-blanchfield-in-conversation/. In my view, TEMPO is a good definition of love as a force promoting social cohesion.