Many people view the philosophy of Objectivism and rational selfishness as a cold barrier between one person and everyone else. That is, people often assume that an Objectivist does not care about other people. This is not so. In fact, in her writings Ayn Rand emphasized not just the importance but the necessity of the social aspect of life. All human relationships, she said, are based on values. This applies to friendship, marriage, and contracts between companies, among other things.
The simplest explanation of all these things is the obvious fact that we associate more with and are willing to do more for people we have things in common with, since they more closely reflect our personal convictions and desires. This is done out of respect. Now when people support causes or help strangers or neighbors, they can do it out of a sense of perpetual duty or a legitimate human sense of good will. Good will and duty are different. The people who do things solely out of duty are, in the correct sense of the word, selfless. They derive no sense of satisfaction from their actions, only a fulfillment of something they ‘need’ to do. What they forget is that they have no duty to anyone else but themselves. Of course they do things for the people they care about, but this is because true friends and family care about each other’s welfare, and are not happy when those people aren’t. When people perform acts of good will, whether serving at a food pantry or helping a neighbor down a tree, they are not fulfilling any duty. They are doing something they enjoy to some extent and that they will benefit from in some way. They are helping someone else’s welfare, making themselves happier. If one’s reward is to see someone smile, say thank you, or any other non-material gain, they are still being rewarded. If they enjoy doing what they do and they perform acts of good will regularly to sustain that happy sense they get from helping other people, they are not selfless but rational and happy.
The differences between good will and duty closely parallel those between ‘good’ people and ‘nice’ people. Not all good people are nice and not all nice people are good. ‘Good’ people have defined goals that they work toward and do nothing to compromise their path to them (or any one else’s pursuit of goals). They make intelligent decisions, and consider the outcome of every action and decision, and are able to learn from failure. Good people are kind to those they care about and respectful to other people until given a reason not to be, but are not necessarily Samaritans for every less fortunate person on Earth. A nice person can suit all of these things to an extent, however when a stereotypically ‘nice’ person does everything for everyone ‘because they feel like it’ or because ‘it’s the right thing’, they participate in a conflict of their own interests. In doing everything to please everyone else with no concept of consequence or reward, the ‘nicest’ among us are paving roads to their own unhappiness.