Topic 1: Being Selfish
What is it to be selfish?
Almost without exception, we believe that it is wrong to be selfish. We’re quick to voice this belief and to teach it to children. This topic encourages children to dig down into this idea in order to build a deeper understanding of self-interest. What is the effect on others if we act predominantly with self-interest? Can acting out of self-interest sometimes result in good to others? Are there circumstances in which acting predominantly with self-interest may not be considered selfish?
In the first lesson, we start our discussion by reading the students an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s story ‘The Selfish Giant’ (although we don’t tell the students the title straight away as we ask them to consider the Giant’s actions and come up with their own word to describe him).
In lessons 2 and 3, we look at scenarios in which characters act in different ways, their motivations and the effects of their different actions. We hear how Milena kept Sarah company when her broken foot was in a cast, and then how Sarah took her iPad to the hospital to play games with Milena when her tonsils were taken out. But why does Jake stop playing with Tom? Is it to do with the fact that Tom’s dad is no longer giving Jake free movie tickets, now that he doesn’t work at the movie theatre?
Students work in small groups and as a class to build an understanding of opportunities to balance our own self-interest with the consideration of others and to think for themselves about:
- The idea that being selfish involves ignoring the interests of others and acting only (or predominantly) in our own self-interest
- Whether acting out of self-interest can sometimes result in good to others
- Whether it is sometimes in our self-interest to take the interests of others into account (for example, you want your friend to keep helping you with your maths homework, so it’s in your self-interest to help her with her big history project when she asks you to)
- What motivates us in our relationships with others: self-interest, others’ interests, or a combination of the two
- What, if anything, is wrong with acting predominantly in our own self-interest and paying attention to the interests of others only in so far as doing so is in our own self-interest
- Whether there are circumstances in which acting predominantly in our own self-interest doesn’t amount to being selfish.
ACTIVITY: STORY & DISCUSSION
You might like to read our adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant to your child.
1. The Giant knocked down his wall and let the children play in his garden again. What made him do that?
If you think it would help, you can re-read the relevant section of the text, beginning at
‘He saw a most wonderful sight’ and ending with ‘He was really very sorry for what he had done’.
Follow-up questions – ask as necessary:
– Do you think the Giant came to realise how much the children loved the garden? Might that be why he let them play there again?
– The Giant wanted the winter to end and the flowers and the birds to come back to the garden. Do you think that was part of the reason he let the children play there?