BRITISH singer songwriter, George Michael, who first made headlines as one-half of the teen duo Wham!, was one of the best-selling musical artists of all time and, apparently, a generous philanthropist.
After his death late last year, many stories of George Michael’s charitable giving began to make headlines. A true altruist, he was intensely private about keeping his donations and volunteer work anonymous, but it has been reported that he donated millions of dollars to worthwhile causes supporting children, cancer victims, and AIDS sufferers as well as strangers whose stories moved him.
Publicly he performed charity concerts, donated 1,000 tickets to the hospital staff who helped him recover from pneumonia, participated in the original Band Aid single to raise money for the famine in Ethiopia, recorded an album in support of the organisation founded in Freddie Mercury’s memory, and used his celebrity and the media to raise awareness of causes close to his heart.
However, these acts were dwarfed by the tabloids’ interest in his self-indulgence, drug problems, and personal life. Tired of celebrities bragging about their generosity, he quietly aided several nonprofit agencies with generous financial gifts and by donating the royalties of his 1991 single with Elton John, ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ and his 1996 song ‘Jesus to a Child’.
Other unheralded work included a secret donation of £15,000 after hearing a woman on the ‘Deal or No Deal’ game show tell how she needed the money for IVF treatment, tipping a barmaid £5,000 because she was a student nurse in debt, and working anonymously at a homeless shelter where he made the other volunteers promise not to tell anyone.
Predisposed Or Learned Behaviour?
Theoretically, altruism is selfless and practised purely for the benefit of another with no advantage to oneself. Altruistic behaviour has been debated from the time of early Greek philosopher Aristotle – who referred to it in his examination of philia relationships and Eudaimonia, loosely translated as the ‘happiness of living and faring well’ – to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution via the natural selection of ‘beneficial mutations’, to today’s psychological and neurobiological studies on behaviour.
Present-day scientists think that the likelihood of one performing an altruistic act is at least somewhat predetermined by genetics and many psychologists believe that we are hard-wired for empathy. We’re happy to report that research shows that socialisation and human culture can cultivate this behaviour and build upon this predisposition – according to one recent report by psychotherapist Graham Music. While some of us may be more predisposed to altruism as a result of parenting and genetics, we all are influenced by our current contexts, environments, and social systems.
Daily Acts Of Altruism
So how do we inculcate this into our regular behaviour? These could be acts of generosity, kindness, compassion, volunteering, or philanthropy. If you’re at George Michael’s level, you could set up an entity, such as a revocable trust or a private foundation, that gives you control over investments and grant-making and start donating anonymously.
For the rest of us, start small: give blood, sign up to become an organ donor, pay for a stranger’s coffee, volunteer your free time at a local charity, donate your gently used clothes or household items to a person in need, or make an online contribution to a nonprofit working on a cause that you care about.
- Find causes you care about and to give your time, money or skills here.