Making Creative Altruism a Part of Every Day Life

“This recently immigrated Jamaican woman, an unlikely hero who practiced creative altruism, was so concerned when a young girl was killed by a driver in front of her house that she grabbed this trash can, walking her neighborhood, collecting $2,500 then matched, and matched and matched again, positioning the community to receive over $700,000 in funds to traffic calm her neighborhood streets.”

Blog By Dan Burden, Director of Innovation and Inspiration

My blogs celebrate the lives of ordinary people who achieve great things in their short span on earth. All of these people found a purpose, then lived that life full of purpose. We celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his life’s work of bold, courageous, selflessness. He, like others before and after him, lived as a bright lantern, lighting the way along dark paths, but gave up his life early due to violent, intolerant forces. Much has been written about Dr. King’s life, not enough on his deeds that went beyond overcoming injustice, racism, and improving human rights. That was plenty, of course, but he gave more. What was this broader insight?

In one of his better-known speeches Dr. King uses the term “creative altruism.” These two words stand out; joined at their hip, they form a close-knit brother and sister relationship advancing humanity, no matter what the benevolent cause. More than ever our world needs creative altruism. We live in a world of capitalism. Capitalism should not be driven by greed; it should be competitive, but fair. The vast majority of us agree with this premise. Creative altruism puts in place a control rod making our world less cut-throat, more humane. What if we prepared, measured and celebrated all lives that move the needle in this more caring way? There would be less heartache, less suffering, more kindness and empathetic thought and deeds.

We need, more than ever, as we live out our lives at a quickened pace, increased creativity, innovation, responsibility, and entrepreneurial spirit. It is altruism that guides responsible thought. Without altruism we have no rudder; our compass spins.

Why is it important to keep altruism at our center? 

First, it is what makes us most human.

Collaboration, not greed, is central to our survival as a species.

But now there is an even more compelling reason, a heightened urgency. We need more answers, and we need these answers fast. Beginning in the late 1990s top military leaders focused on the word VUCA to describe the new, bizarre world that we had crossed into, and now live daily.

VUCA is an abbreviation for:

  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

Imagine a Rip Van Winkle waking up today, having slept the past 90 years. It isn’t just how much more technologically advanced we have become (airplanes, Hubble, Velcro, “selfies,” computers, iPads, surgical robots, and driverless cars); it is our new patterns of social isolation, our over-focus, concentration, and coverage of celebrities and extremists; it is our recent disconnect from nature, all combined, that might spark a frown from Rip-Van.  Our on-steroids, rapid-paced world calls for far more creative altruism. As each of us call forth our best let us fill our purpose with creativity and altruism. And, seriously, let us take action. A coffee mug I recently saw says it all:  “Wake Up, Kick Ass, Be Kind, Repeat.”  As you remember Dr. King this month, don’t forget the “be kind” part of this.


Learn about Effective Altruism in the below video, which is a similar philosophy based on one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most?

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