25 Aug 2017

A Message from the Head of Lindfield

Altruism – Doing things for the moral good

There are many people in society who believe that people are inherently selfish and we should set up societal structures with this premise in mind. The reality here at Lindfield Prep is very different, we are part of a school community full of people who are inherently selfless and community minded. Parents and staff give generously of their time, energy and resources to help others. They are motivated by the ideas of reciprocity, service and cooperation. Many people feel the need to do things for the moral good, and they do not do a cost/benefit analysis before acting.

There seem to be two lenses in contemporary society that are pervasive in our thinking around the idea of helping others, the moral lens and the economic lens. The economic lens says that people will help others if they have a financial incentive. In reality, this lens has shown to have a negative effect on people helping others. An example of this is if you have to pay to pick up children from after-school care activities. When providers do not charge for late pick up, parents try to get there on time to pick up the children out of consideration for the teacher or carer.  If there is a monetary penalty, parents think about the cost/benefit of being late and it becomes an economic transaction and respect to the teacher/carer and their time is no longer a factor.

Another example that may resonate with parents is when children help around the house because helping each other is the foundation that families are built upon. When pocket money is brought into the equation, household chores stop being about helping each other but about getting the money. The emphasis changes and the idea of helping others is not the motivation. Sometimes if you ask for a helping hand then your children will ask ‘how much?’

The moral lens believes that people are inherently good. Previously the moral lens was enhanced by religious affiliation, community organisations and other groups which are less prominent today. It could be argued that crowd funding, charities like Oz Harvest and other mechanisms for altruism have risen up in their places. We also have the rise of the economic lens where everything is incentivised for people to help others. As a result, we have a society that is less cooperative, less trusting and less effective.

An altruist is a person who is committed to a group or ideal. As a child, altruism starts with small acts of courtesy, holding a door, offering to carry things for others, being helpful and sharing belongings. The positive reaction that we often get when we are helpful makes us feel the power of altruism.

I think the Lindfield community is a living example of this reality. It is clear that people in our community have a natural propensity to help and enhance the lives of others. The parents and staff ensure that our boys understand that helping others is part of what makes communities rich and effective – but also what makes us happy and content. We endeavor to ensure our boys never see helping others in a cost/benefit or ‘what’s in it for me?’ way.

Ben Barrington-Higgs


26 Northcote Road
Lindfield NSW 2070
+61 2 9416 4280


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