Final Word | June 2015 Hearing Review

Dennis Van Vliet, AuD

Dennis Van Vliet, AuD

Altruism is typically viewed as behavior to benefit others without concern for, or at the expense of, our own needs. My brother in law, Scott, argues that there isn’t altruism at all. He theorizes that humans may do things that are for the benefit of others, but that there is some immediate or deferred reward expected that drives the behavior.

Thinking about it, I recognize that there may be some truth to this somewhat cynical view. Philanthropists may be looking for recognition and fame, the religious may be looking for an afterlife reward, and the insecure may be looking for praise and approval. I choose not to worry much about that. As long as others benefit, and no harm comes to others as a result of the beneficial actions, I’m typically OK with it—whatever the motivation.

In a recent conversation, I was asked about the work that we as hearing healthcare providers do, and how great it must be to be in the position of providing a service that can bring back a connection to others and the world through hearing. Hearing is certainly a gateway for language, and the essence of humanity we enjoy. I feel for those who do not have the sensory capability for effortless communication, and am glad when I can help. I even allow myself to feel good about a particularly good result from a fitting or other service. It’s good work, and I enjoy the challenge of working through particularly tough problems toward a solution.

I enjoy what I do, getting an internal reward for problem solving and interacting with interesting people. At the same time, it is nice to know that the outcome of what I do provides a benefit to others. altruismAs a result, I apparently fit into the non-altruistic category, but I don’t see anything wrong with it because there isn’t a down side for anyone. The comment from the recent conversation about how great it must be to do the work we do was easy to answer with a positive response, but I was careful to point out that I do the work for a variety of reasons, not just because of the good outcome for others.

People who are described as having a passion for their work may be set aside from others who engage in the same work, but who do not express the same enthusiasm. Passion in this context refers to devotees of a profession who are excited and enthusiastic about their work, and choose to make their work an important part of their lives, as opposed to simple employment. One might say that those of us who have a passion for what we do and work at it to the extent that others may see us as altruistic are engaging in our personal pursuit of happiness with added benefits. We get to do what we like, and help others in the process.

The Final Word? When I work with patients, I’m fully engaged in their needs with respect to hearing—whether it is a diagnostic puzzle or coming up with a treatment plan that is effective and practical. At the same time, I’m having fun. I’m enjoying myself because this is a delicious mix of the things I like to do: Engaging in meaningful human interaction, solving puzzles, and coming up with creative solutions.

It must be contagious because most people start having fun with me. Their needs are met, but they also can look back at a pleasant experience. Patient and clinician having an enjoyable time coming up with a solution for a problem. It isn’t a powerful mission statement, but it works for me.


Dennis Van Vliet, AuD, has been a prominent clinician, columnist, educator, and leader in the hearing healthcare field for nearly 40 years, and his professional experience includes working as an educational audiologist, a private-practice owner, and VP of audiology for a large dispensing network. He currently serves as the senior director of professional relations for Starkey Technologies, Eden Prairie, Minn.

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Original citation for this article: Van Vliet, D. Altruism and Not Worrying About the Motivation to Help Others. Hearing Review. 2015;22(6):50.