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 young people to consider how charity can be counter-productive or come from motives of inequity and positions of power. This activity includes an introduction, a three-minute video clip, and follow-up questions.

Anticipatory Set

Discuss the meanings of altruism, charity, and philanthropy. Brainstorm a list of adjectives of altruistic people. Most of the words will be positive (generous, kind, selfless). The following video clip will show a different side of altruism. Ask the young people to take notes and be ready to discuss the positive and negative motivations of giving. This will show them the importance of understanding the impact their actions may have on others. 



  1. What happened in Haiti when people all over the world gave money to help them rebuild? Why did this happen? How could the phrase "do nothing for us without us" 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 giving comes from people who have power and limited perspective on how to address needs?
  4. Discuss the concept of mutual aid

Mutual Aid is a concept that emphasizes the importance of coming together to take action in a fair and just manner. The term "charity" often implies a power dynamic where those who have resources are superior to those who need them. However, we all experience times of need, and by working together, we can use our skills, time and resources to lift each other up and create a better world. Through direct action, we can collaborate to support one another and promote equality, while recognizing that we all have something to contribute.

What philanthropy language maintains systems of power?

How can mutual aid shape a more equitable society today and in the future?


Follow-up Activity


Using the adjectives brainstormed in the opening discussion, write a narrative or poem about an issue you care about. Envision the actions you can take that involve people most affected by the issue to 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