Over at Running A Hospital Paul Levy has indicated that his theme this week seems to mostly involve “giving back” or “paying it forward.

Right on, Paul. It’s a tough world out there and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that not everyone is out only for themselves.

This brought to mind a topic that I want to blog about, but a detailed explanation will have to wait. So, the following is just a bit of a teaser.

I try to live my life as a “selfish altruist.” This is a term that I first heard expressed by Alan Barnard at a recent TOC For Education conference.

I suspect that selfish altruism is for many people an oxymoron, or a contradiction in terms. Rather like like “jumbo shrimp” or “current history.”

Is this true for you? Do you find selfish altruism to be a contradiction in terms?

If so, may I ask why? What is it that causes us to have no other option? To be forced, presumably, to be either selfish, or altruistic, but not both?

I’ll follow up in the next day or two with my take on this issue. But honestly, I’d really rather hear your thoughts.