Way back when I was in college, I commuted with a friend and we’d occasionally discuss what we had learned in the classrooms that day. The debate I remember most vividly is when she announced, before we even left the parking lot, that her professor had given a lecture on altruism, explaining that it does not truly exist, and she wholeheartedly agreed.
Before I could even respond with the poster child of altruism, she cut me off with, “And don’t say Mother Theresa. She experienced joy out of helping the poor, so it is not pure altruism.”
I didn’t buy that argument then as an impressionable young student and I don’t buy it now as a jaded old man. The professor’s argument for the absence of altruism from Mother Theresa was that she enjoyed helping the poor, so she was also helping herself. But she could have gotten that same feeling helping the poor of the world remotely from an air-conditioned office somewhere instead of caring for them in the streets of Calcutta.
Nope — she did it all for the feels, maintained my friend and her professor, which made me realize that neither one really knew what the word meant.
Dictionary-wise, altruism is typically described as “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.” I couldn’t find a mention of not feeling good about yourself in any description of the noun. Unselfish regard certainly fits with Mother T., and she is not alone.
Not only is altruism very real, but it is also very common, which is a fantastic thing. It is certainly alive and well in the custom installation industry.
Right before CEDIA Expo, I interviewed Daryl Friedman, CEDIA’s global president and CEO, about his first year in the business and what he had learned. His first comment was “…it’s a very collegial industry. I came from the music industry, which is incredibly competitive and it’s hard to get people to work together. Not this one. I met with one integrator in New York, and he invited a dozen of his competitors to come be part of the meeting because he wanted them to hear what I had to say, too. That shows a very special aspect of this industry.”
I can attest to the generosity of the members of this industry to share knowledge to help make everyone better at what they do. In fact, as a trade editor, I rely on it. Many of our contributors — John Sciacca, Henry Clifford, Sam Cavitt, Todd Anthony Puma, Gordon van Zuiden — all have their own integration businesses, yet they still share their best practices with our readers, giving away what could be a competitive edge. Each month, Matt Bernath gives us insights into the VITAL Method of managing CI businesses. Katye McGregor Bennett offers columns on how dealers can market their businesses better, sharing the secret sauce of how she helps her clients. Plus, we constantly feature advice from some of the best integrators in the business who are happy to help their fellow professionals.
The altruism flows way past these pages, with buying groups extending knowledge beyond their members and hosting charitable events like filling backpacks with school supplies for children who need them. I regularly get press releases from integrators who donate their services to make incredible homes for those in need.
Now, if you were my collegiate friend, you’d side-eye those projects and say they were done just for the publicity. However — as Katye can attest — there are plenty of ways to generate publicity that don’t involve the business giving away its services, so my friend remains as wrong now as she was all those years ago.
The bottom line is custom installers are a generous group. And a college class that baselessly attacks altruism is probably not worth taking.