Altruism as a Unifying Force

I heard an interview with the Buddhist monk, scientist, and author Matthieu Ricard in which he talked about altruism as a unifying force. You can hear the whole interview <here>.

A week before this interview aired, we had our lantern launch. Each year, I tell the children the opening lines of Henry Abbey’s poem, What Do We Plant? — What do we plant when we plant the tree, we plant the ship which will cross the sea. We plant the mast to carry the sails; We plant the planks to withstand the gales – The keel, the keelson, the beam, the knee. We plant the ship when we plant the tree. The poem has three stanzas. I choke up on the very first line. The children stand and patiently wait for me to finish. They have usually seen me cry at least once, so they know the drill. There are several books which I read over the course of the year which I just can’t get through without crying. This past year, the telling was so dear, so wrenching. We had been through so much and accomplished great things, I felt the words keenly. We had planted strong trees.

I cry then for the same reason that I had to pull over and listen to the interview with Ricard. In every parent cooperative school, you will find altruism as a unifying force. You will find a group of people working together to plant something that will grow, its roots and branches spreading, for the benefit of others. Each year, we teach children so that they will withstand the gales and know to turn their faces to greet the warmth of the sun, but our future planning doesn’t stop there. The parent cooperative, its staff and parents, create the thing that will continue past the immediate experience. It is truly about roots and wings.

A history that every cooperative shares is that a person or small group of people knew of a need. This person or small group attracted and connected with others and so the force to meet the need grows. This immediate need could be met on the short term by gathering at a park, in a local music class, or at the library, but what they decided to do is to build something that would extend past the needs of their own children to the needs of others, those of children, teachers, and parents they will never meet.

The stewardship of the school passes from one set of hands to the next, most families are directly involved in the schools for only three to five years. And many cooperative schools have been in existence for decades. It is this altruism that holds it all together. It is this altruism that becomes the unifying force, the roots and branches that connect one generation to a distant other.

It’s really amazing and a gift to be part of this unifying force.

The desire to build something meaningful, however fleeting, is begun with the smallest hands as they build sand castles, fairy houses, dens, and forts. Then, as children grow up and become adults, they seek to build something that will last longer and will change, hopefully for the better, the lives of others.

The desire to build something meaningful, however fleeting, is begun with the smallest hands as they build sand castles, fairy houses, dens, and forts. Then, as children grow up and become adults, they seek to build something that will last longer and will change, hopefully for the better, the lives of others.