How do you, personally, experience "EA motivation"?

by aarongertler 1mo16th Aug 201917 comments

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There are many varieties of altruistic motivation. For example:

  • A parent's love for a child ("I'd do anything for you, just because")
  • Protective feelings toward a romantic partner ("I want to be someone you can rely on, your first line of defense against the world")
  • The desperation of a soldier jumping on a grenade ("In this moment, I care more about your life than my own")
  • The sudden urge to help a total stranger ("Suddenly, I see you as an individual with feelings as deep as mine; I can't possibly ignore your plight")

There are many other such categories, each of which contains thousands of minute variations. If you were to conduct detailed interviews with parents, on the topic of "how it feels to want to help your child", no two answers would sound quite alike (as long as you dug deep enough).

I'm fascinated by the variety of internal experience, and I want to learn more about one particular subgenre:

How do you feel when you want to help people effectively?


I've heard many different answers to this in personal conversations. To paraphrase a few:

  • "I have a deep sense of empathy, even towards people and animals I'll never meet. When I feel motivated to work on an EA project, I'm driven by that empathy; I genuinely feel terrible about suffering and want there to be less of it, almost as though I were in pain myself."
  • "I really love efficiency. It drives me crazy when I see resources going to waste. When I feel motivated to work on an EA project, I'm driven by the urge to make things run smoothly, and to squeeze all the impact I can from my limited time."
  • "I don't experience any strong emotion when I feel motivated to work on an EA project. Honestly, the best way I could describe my experience would be that I shut up and multiply; I may not intuitively care much about this EA cause, compared to my 'warm and fuzzy' causes, but I get a certain quiet satisfaction in knowing that the numbers work out."

I can imagine EA motivation rooted in any number of other feelings: pride in being the best-informed donor in the room, righteous fury at the blind cruelty of life, guilt about being born in fortunate circumstances, smug satisfaction after figuratively swatting a thousand malarial mosquitoes with one click...

...but putting imagination aside, I want to hear about your experience.


So, once again: How do you feel when you want to help people effectively?

Feel free to share as many different flavors of motivation as you can remember. (Personally, I've experienced every example I gave above, to some extent.)

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