There’s this famous quote about writing that says, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down and open a vein.” Whether that refers to an outpouring of emotion that accompanies the craft or the idea that writing is painful, the idea is clear: to open a vein is a big deal. Bleeding is a scary thing, an idea we humans are naturally not okay with. This has never been clearer to me than when I recently opened a literal vein to donate blood for the American Red Cross.
Because I experience no pain or discomfort from donating blood, I am a little biased. I too have heard the horror stories and urban legends surrounding bleeding on purpose and letting my blood be injected into other people’s veins. Evolutionarily, I do understand why we are afraid of bleeding. But rationally, as a more sophisticated being who can think and understand that there is a .0001 chance that anything will go wrong, I find the general reluctance to donate blood something no red-blooded person should be proud of.
I was raised, and I think most people are raised, to put others before myself. I am by no means able to lay down my life for another person, but donating blood seems like a very easy way to at least try to follow this pillar of wisdom. Giving blood isn’t even really putting others interests before mine, as no harm comes to me as a result and I sometimes even get a free sticker for my troubles. There is a need for blood in the world, and I have more blood than I need. I am thankful that I am healthy and robust, and I feel sorrow that not everyone is so fortunate. An hour of my time and a pint of my blood is a tiny, tiny way for me to do something about this. Other people need blood. I have blood. Why would I not give?
I’ve heard the reasons – it makes you sick, you don’t have time, you’re scared of needles, you have an irrational fear that your transfused blood will end up in a murder investigation. Those are all fair reasons, though they do nothing about the sick people who need blood to stay alive. I am scared by how often I see this one-for-one instead of all-for-one self-interest that people do not apologize for. We somewhat have political writer Ayn Rand to thank for this, who says, “Man must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.” With all due respect to Ms. Rand and my friend Cameron, that is a terrible way to live.
The highest moral purpose in life should not be oneself. It should be other people. A little bruise on the inside of my arm is a tiny way to create some good karma, pay it forward, do unto others as I would have done unto me. I’m not being paid by United Blood Services, nor are platelet transfusions my personal crusade. The point is not to get people to donate blood. The point is to get people thinking about how their sacrifice is important, that is a good and right thing to give an hour and a pint to people who need it. It is a deep, difficult, and worthwhile thing to place someone else’s interest, a stranger’s interest, higher than one’s own. As deep and difficult as opening a vein.