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"You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm".

If you wanted refer to the kind of person this quote talks about, what name/term would you use?

I am looking for a single word that would describe this personality, something along the lines of "giving your lunch money for a hungry friend is for the good, but giving your rent money for a hungry neighbor is for the ~word I am looking for~".

4 Answers 4

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You could use martyr - in the sense of unnecessary self sacrifice, although this has a negative connotation of someone doing it primarily in order for others to perceive their suffering.

If their actions are truly altruistic then you could call them a saint.

Obviously both of these words are religious in origin but also have non-religious meaning.

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    I agree that 'martyr carries a negative connotation of doing something self sacrificing, but making sure everyone notices, for kudos. 'Doormat' might cover a situation where someone is acquiescing to requests from others, but I can't think of anything which covers volunteering to be a doormat, in one word.
    – Spagirl
    May 9, 2016 at 10:29
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Generous to a fault

Not technically a single word answer and not the noun that your sample implies that you want, but rather an idiom that could be used nicely in your sample. In fact, in one of the examples in the link above (McGraw-Hill via TheFreeDictionaries) is:

Sally — always generous to a fault — gave away her lunch to a homeless man.

In your example, you would say:

"Giving your lunch money for a hungry friend is generous, but giving your rent money for a hungry neighbor is generous to a fault.

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From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we can infer that Altruist in a strong sense can be used as a term for someone who incurs self-harm in order to benefit others:

An act is altruistic in the strong sense if is undertaken in spite of the perception that it involves some loss of one’s well-being.

A similar connotation can be inferred from The Free Dictionary:

Altruism - Instinctive behavior that is detrimental to the individual but favors the survival or spread of that individual's genes, as by benefiting its relatives.

Merriam-Webster extends its meaning as a feature of animals in general:

Altruist - an animal that behaves in a way which is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but which benefits the survival of others of its species.

Hence, I think Altruist could be the word that fits the idea of the word you were looking for.

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For a single word:

overgenerous

excessively generous m-w


He was over-generous, and gave away both medical advice and worldly good without so much as thinking of counting the cost. Radiology, Vol. 39, p.108 (1942)

Critics charged that subsidies being given to the developers represented an oversized and overgenerous "give-away." L. B. Sagalyn; Times Square Roulette

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