Some Schools to get an accurate picture of who you are want to know how you think about pertinent moral or ethical concepts. The most common concept I came across was the concept of altruism. It is often tempting in these cases to write what you want them to hear, but it is better for you to really think about what you believe. These essays and topics may come up in interviews and it is important to not contradict yourself. This is easier to accomplish if you write down what you truly believe. Here is an essay I wrote about altruism with a word limit of 500 words:
I once thought of altruism as unselfish acts of kindness. I tried taking the definition one step further, to also include self-sacrifice. But these seemed to be the manifestations of altruism, rather than the driving force behind it. Finally, I examined what I believe is the motivating principle behind altruism: heartfelt empathy. Empathy identifies with another and shares in both the joys and sorrows of life. It can only be demonstrated when one puts himself or herself aside in order to engage in the true and best interest of another.
I first experienced this true sense of altruism-fed-by-empathy when I was a part of Streetlight, a ministry to the homeless of Minneapolis. Mary Beth, the woman who led Streetlight, exemplified this characteristic of empathy. She never talked down to the homeless people, nor did she stand over them in superiority. She associated with them at their level. When I joined Streetlight, I went into with an air of prideful sympathy. I figured I would go and give to them things they needed and even make an acquaintance or two. Through Mary Beth’s example I was quickly corrected. Many of the men were much wiser and had more life experience than I had anticipated. After one year, I truly respected and identified with the men living in the shelters. I stopped standing over them as one rich in materialistic wealth and even knowledge, but became, first, a learner. I began to identify with them and sincerity of action naturally followed. It was then that altruism became a sweet motivation. I found I enjoyed setting aside my busy college student agenda to be with them.
Again I learned what altruism looks like from seeing it demonstrated. Through an Intercultural Studies Internship, in the fall of 2006, I was thrust into relationships among many diverse groups of people. I approached them with a sympathetic pride. I thought myself to be altruistic. I believed myself to be something in the way poured over language books and showed interest in each culture. But I was deceived. This was merely manufactured sincerity. I never truly identified myself with any of the people I met.
In a summer camp in Malaysia my pride was finally broken when I learned I would not be attending medical school in the fall due to problems with my applications. I was devastated. But instead of withdrawing myself I focused on the task at hand. That task was to teach an American folk dancing class. Without myself in the way I was able to move beyond my pride and learn about my students, which gave way to learning from them. I began to identify with them from a heart of empathy. Through knowing and being known, I learned the value and worth of others. I wanted their best interest because I knew them and cared for them.
I agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” “Creative altruism” is not found in sympathetic charity but in sincerity of action that may only stem from empathy. Altruism is not a principle to be used in isolated instances but a lifestyle. In medicine, altruism is exhibited in the patient-doctor relationship when the doctor, rather than stand over the patient, enters into the patient’s life and partners with him or her to recovery. This principle is the difference between a physician trying to cure disease and one working with patients to help them to live healthier lifestyles.