A few years ago in college a wrote a paper called “The Absence of Archaic Altruism.” I’d kind of forgotten about until I was applying for programs and updating my resume accordingly. Someone asked me what it was about, and so I opened it up and scrolled back through it. The paper basically was a historiographical analysis of Hesiod’s poems from Archaic Greece and argued that people in Archaic Greece had trouble looking out for anyone besides himself.
Today in class the question of self-sacrifice came up. One of the big things that I’m pushing with my students this year is the concepts of community and empathy, with the understanding that sometimes we have to do things that don’t necessarily benefit us, but are good for the sake of the community. We were reading a part of the Mayflower Compact, and I drew their attention to a sentence that talked about the Puritans submitting to the community as a whole.
Somehow from there we got onto sacrifice. The general consensus of the class was that you look out for yourself. It made me sad, the focus on the individual. I know that part of this is the individualistic American culture, but another part of it I think is truly the context of poverty, which can therefore impact moral development.
As I stood there talking about sacrifice, I couldn’t help but think back to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.
I may not be able to preach to my students in a public school, but that doesn’t mean I can’t teach them the bases of a solid community.