Transaction or Altruism

College Blog Thursday, 16 May 2019

We are told in Genesis that as human beings we are created in the image of God. One of the most significant results of being created in His image is that as human beings we are inherently relational, made for life in loving relationships with the people around us.

All human relationships fundamentally fall into one of two key categories, being either altruistic or transactional. While altruistic relationships are characterised by an intentional choice to love others by serving their needs without expecting anything in return, transactional relationships are characterised by the desire to love ourselves by serving our own needs through the use of others. As fallen people our relationships too often fall into the second category!

Jesus serves as our exemplar of true altruistic love. Jesus provides us with a radically altruistic approach to loving relationships in Romans 5:8: …God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still God’s enemies Christ died for us. As a Christian community we are called upon to reclaim the dignity with which we were created by being transformed once again into the image of God by modelling our approach to relationships on that of Jesus. Transactional relationships fall far short of Jesus’ example!

I was privileged to witness a great illustration of Christ-like, altruistic love earlier this year when I visited a nursing home in my local area. While I was there I met a gentle, elderly man named John, who at first I took to be a resident. It turns out, however, that he wasn’t a resident at all. His wife was.

After almost sixty years of marriage his wife had been diagnosed with dementia, and ultimately needed nursing care. Every single day for the past nine years John has visited his wife in the nursing home. For the past several years she has not recognised him or remembered his name. Recently it is not even clear that she is aware that he is there. Nevertheless, he spends every day at her side, reads her the newspaper, chats to her about their children and grandchildren or happenings in their old neighbourhood, combs her hair and tenderly moisturises her frail hands.

His wife is now past the point where she is even able to offer him recognition in exchange for his love, yet he continues to love her just the same. I suspect that he will continue to do so until they are ultimately parted by death.

Imagine if, as a community, our relationships were characterised by a similar level of altruistic love. Unfortunately, all too often our relationships are in fact transactional, and this sits at the heart of much of the suffering we experience throughout our lives.

As Head of Secondary Years, I spend a significant portion of my time counselling young people through damaged relationships in families and conflict with peers, and dealing with the pain that flows from it. Problematically, I also often see parents giving their children well-intentioned but ultimately unhelpful advice in this regard.

Many years ago in another school I was forced to suspend two brothers for engaging in a vicious, physical fight one lunchtime. Apart from the physical harm the brothers caused each other, they had recruited several of their respective friends who had also become involved. When I met with the boys’ mother she forcefully told me that she instructed her boys that, “If anyone hits one of them, they are to hit them right back!”

While I could see that her advice flowed from her motherly concern for their individual welfare, the problems it caused were obvious! Hurting others, in exchange for being hurt and only offering kindness transactionally in exchange for kindness, means that ultimately the relationships upon which any community is based will inevitably fail.

Throughout this term students in the Secondary Years will be encouraged to engage with the red strand of the Building Purposeful Lives Framework, learning to love God by serving others, growing powerful networks and relating to others effectively. We want every young person to be transformed so as to once more lead the full and rich lives that come from being made in the image of God!

Mr Owen Laffin
Head of Secondary Years