Altruism: Positive and Negative Sides

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Enlightened Self-Interest
Motivation for Giving
Video Clip and Discussion Guide: Altruism is a generous and loving trait, but it has a negative side. This video clip and discussion guide challenges students to consider how charity and altruism can be destructive to society or come from a self-serving perspective. This activity includes an introduction, a three-minute video clip, and follow-up questions.

Anticipatory Set

Ask the students to define altruism, charity, and philanthropy. Write the definitions on the board. Underline any adjectives used in the definitions. Ask the students to add a list of adjectives of altruistic people. Most of their words will be positive (generous, kind, selfless). Tell the students that the following video clip will show a different side of altruism. Ask them to take notes and be ready to discuss the positive and negative motivations of giving. This will show them the importance of understanding the imapct their actions have on others. 



  1. What happened in Haiti when people all over the world gave money to help them rebuild? Why did this happen, and how could they have helped empower the people of Haiti instead of slowing the rebuilding process? 
  2. What are the three types of pathological altruism? 
  3. What are some examples of today's issues where people may be giving in a way that is unhealthy or destructive?
  4. What are some motivations people might have for giving money or time to address a particular issue? 

Follow-up Activity

Student Writing:

Using the adjectives brainstormed in the opening discussion, write a narrative or poem about an issue you care about. Envision the actions you take that make a positive difference. Include in the writing some (objective) evidence that your actions are benefitting the cause. 

Lesson Plans:

These lesson plans teach the seven research-based motivations for giving: Motivated to Give and Exploring Philanthropic Motivations