Benevolence vs. selfishness

Giving to others’ basic needs without having, as my motive, personal reward.

The spirit of benevolence is the spirit of absolute selflessness. As such, it goes “against the grain” more than any other character quality: looking out for number one is the natural consideration for most of us. It is the very rarity of true benevolence that makes it so admired as a character quality.

An example of benevolence can be found in the life of Anne Sullivan, who was both the recipient and the giver of benevolent acts. The child of an ailing mother and an abusive father, Anne was essentially blind due to an illness called trachoma. When she was a teenager studying at the Perkins Institute for the Blind, a wealthy benefactor paid for her to have a series of expensive eye surgeries, restoring sufficient vision for her to learn to read.

After graduating from Perkins Institute, Anne put aside her concerns about her own life and accepted a position as tutor for Helen Keller, a child who was blind, deaf and mute. Helen was initially an unwilling student and threw violent temper tantrums in response to Anne’s efforts, yet Anne stayed the course, even when Helen knocked out her front teeth. In spite of many setbacks, Anne taught Helen both manners and how to communicate. Eventually, with Anne’s continued assistance, Helen completed studies at Perkins Institute, the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and Radcliffe College. All totaled, Anne devoted 50 years of her life to being Helen Keller’s eyes, ears and mouth.

To teach your children about benevolence, you might get them a book about Emperor Penguins. Like Anne Sullivan putting aside her own needs to care for Helen Keller, penguin parents put aside their own needs in order to care for their young. The father penguin will stand and go without food for as long as 4 months in order to incubate the egg between his feet and the fat around his belly. Even those male penguins without eggs want so much to care for unhatched young that they will gather up and incubate any eggs that may have fallen off another penguin’s feet. Once the chicks are hatched, the mother penguin cares for them so the male penguin can go back to the sea and find some food. Once recharged, the father penguin returns and both penguin parents share in the care and feeding of their young.

Brought to you by the Four Corners Character Council. Character First definitions and information used by permission.

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story