Spell "altruism"…..

I have three lessons of two hours per week with my students. For the first 6-8 weeks in the interest of expanding and improving vocabulary (given that it is a course on language and writing) I give a spelling test. Usually I attempt to connect the words to the issues and ideas we are discussing and writing about in class. This means that we follow the direction of the course from writing about the self to writing about the community in all shapes and sizes. This year one of my spelling words has been “altruistic”. Each term I have been dismayed at the number of students in the class who have never heard of that word before, let alone what it might mean. “Use it in sentence, Wendy!”. So I do. There are often still some blank that follows my explanation of what it means. (note: explanation is also one of our early spelling words). Discussions of altruism, volunteering, social capital and its generation quickly follow and most students can connect to these concepts in some way which is slightly more heartening. I think this term, my dismay at the lack of knowledge of the notion of altruism has been coloured by listening to the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist scholars talk about compassion and happiness, the interconnectedness of all human beings and other such things at the recent Happiness and its Causes conference. We must recognise what it is that makes us human, as well as the fact that as humans we all have these qualities (good and bad) in common. A smile, said the Dalai Lama, is perhaps the most simple and easily visible act of compassion towards another person. In class we talked about the sense of community living in a largish regional town compared to living in a capital city. This is not to say that cities cannot have high social capital, but sometimes it might be more difficult to detect. On a train recently in Brisbane I was reminded of this when I found myself naturally looking to make eye contact with other travellers only to be met with a sea of iPods and newspapers. I asked my students how they respond when their checkout person at the supermarket asks “How are you today?”. Do they just say “Good” and get on with their business, or do they respond in kind? I know the checkout operators are told to ask their customers that, but what if we as consumers turn this into a social transaction, not just a business one? Is that an act of compassion? Will it start to build social capital? I think so. On Friday evening I was reminded of the power of community while at the local launch of the Price of Life which I have posted about recently. Nicky Bonney talked about the tremendous community support she and her family had received from the Bundaberg region during their difficult times. Simple things like neighbours cooking loaves of bread, bringing over meals, donating small amounts of money – all of these acts are the things that bind communities together and need to be cultivated. They don’t just happen by themselves. All these thoughts come together when faced with the news of the terrible news in Norway, of famine in Africa, of the death of Amy Winehouse. How is it as a community, a global community that we have let the world come to this? There are no easy answers or quick fixes I know. Perhaps though it starts with us as individuals, taking responsibility for our own behaviour and gestures of humanity towards others. Not only do we need to be able to spell “altruism”; we need to continue to practice it.


3 Responses to “Spell "altruism"…..”

  1. Well said Wendy, and so very true.
    My chiropractor is from Norway, and yesterday he was still working and being cheerful, despite his family being in Oslo and in the midst of the horror. He was still giving when his world must have been shaken badly.
    It brought home to me how very small our world is and no matter what colour, race or creed we are, just plain being nice to each other would go such a long way. That and not being greedy would cure most of this world’s ailments over night.

  2. Wendy says:

    the world is small isn’t it? and technology is making it even more so. greed is indeed a problem also. what a wonderful chiropractor to keep working amidst the worry!

  3. 2paw says:

    The world has indeed contracted, a butterfly flapping its wings etc. The horribe happenings in orway made me remember the similar shooting on our island, at the place where we spent many happ y family holidays. You can never quite forget.
    Oh young people and their knowledge, a friend’s wife who was teacher didn’t know what a minion was. How can you not have minions, in the nicest possible way?? They are a perk!! Vocab and spelling, as well as grammar, can be sorely neglected at times, thank you for shoring them up!!

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