It was one of those annual meetings many religious places hold to elect leaders and discuss the budget, planned outreach, and in general, just let everyone know they are still around and doing things. AS a teacher of the five-year-old class, I had been asked to watch the class while standing in the doorway and listening to the meeting. Apparently my cherubs had revolted at being sent to the nursery with all the “babies”.
The meeting began with a prayer and then someone read the agenda. I was very proud that my kids had stopped their coloring and bickering to bow their heads in prayer with everyone. As the agenda was read, they seemed to be listening. One extrovert even commented upon each item read and the others responded. I remember thinking my class might be paying more attention than half of the adults.
It went something like this:
Opening Prayer…. Boy #1: ”Well, yeah. We already know that. We just did it!”
Girl #1: “Some people never pay attention.”
The MInutes … Boy #1: ”Cool. This is gonna be quick.”
Boy #2: “Grown-ups are never quick.”
Boy #1: “He said minutes.”
Girl #1: “Yeah but grown-up minutes are not real minutes.”
Finances… Boy #1: “Church is not about money. God is gonna be mad!”
Outreach and Altruism…
At this point my group stopped coloring and fidgeting all together. I dared to hope for a split second that my teaching had resulted in their being interested in the proposed outreach projects. Had I really made an impact on them to care about mission work? Then I listened to their whispering.
“They gonna eat!’ “No. They wouldn’t do that without us!” He said “All chew it.” “That means they gonna do more talking. My dad says my mom and her sisters “Chew the fat” when they get together.” “No, he did not say “All chew it”. He said “All trues.”
At this point I intervened. I explained he had said altruism and showed them the word on the printed agenda that was passed out. Several noses wrinkled at the unfamiliar word so I explained it meant doing good for others, caring about others. I still had confused expressions staring back at me. I was pretty confident in my explanation so I asked “What part did you not understand?” Finally my leader spoke up. “Why we gotta have a meeting about what should come natural?” Out of the mouths of babes ….
The other day I again got a comment asking why I was “wasting” the whole of Pentecost talking good deeds. Perhaps I wondered I had found my young leader who would now be an adult himself. Then the reader continued to explain that nobody cared about helping others and they felt I should be doling out self-help advice, not “encouraging a forgotten thing like altruism”.
In a world where people are killed for having a good time or attending a sports event or concert, in a time where political candidates are murdered for speaking for what they believe or giving speeches filled with hate and encouraging annihilation of one’s enemies instead of peaceful cohabitation, it is easy to believe that altruism is a long-forgotten relic of times gone by, much like the dinosaur.
Cooperative behavior seems to have fallen by the wayside on the journey of life in the twenty-first century. It is, however, what got our ancestors to this point and how mankind survived the harsh reality of life in the prehistoric times. It can either be the thing that saves us or that kills us if ignored.
Research has proven the benefits of helping others. Alcoholics Anonymous is built upon that principle. Stopping drinking does not make one a recovering alcoholic. Those in recovery who help others have a better chance of staying sober than those who do not. People who volunteer are healthier than those who do not.
I know of no better self-help advice than to be the best you can be and to help others. One simple act a day or week can mean the world, not only to another person but also to you. Get out of your own head and help someone. Even if you are homebound, you can do something for another person. Life is a team sport, after all. Science has also proven it really does come naturally if we just let it. And that’s the truth about altruism1