Selfish selflessness

What motivates you?

I have been reflecting on motivation again. A lot of my work involves working out why children behave as they do…but it also often gets me looking at adult behaviours. My overthinking brain also (too?) often makes me reflect on why I behave in the ways I do.

Recently a friend told me that she does not believe that there is any such thing as genuine altruism.

A while back I was told by someone else….for the purposes of this post, I will call him Mr O….. that he believed my motivation was not driven by my moral compass but “something else”. Rather ominously, He did not elaborate on what that “something else” was….

As part of “Into Headship” we were made to think long and hard about our reasons for wanting to be leaders. We were given some amazing reading around the lessons that we can learn from history in relation to leadership; one of my favourite quotes was this:

‘We can all think of charismatic or transformational leaders whose purposes were inappropriate or immoral (e.g. Hitler)’ (Bush and Glover 2014, p 559).

Bush, Tony, and Derek Glover. “School leadership models: what do we know?.” School Leadership & Management 34.5 (2014): 553-571.

Over the last few months I have been thinking and worrying about this way too much. “When I SAY that I’m acting in the interests of children and young people, am I really?” “Why do I want to be in control?” Etc etc. Blah blah blah.

And then this morning I heard the brilliant nurse and poet Molly Case define it perfectly.

She spoke of her motivation being “selfish selflessness”; of the buzz she gets from caring for others and giving people a good experience of hospital and of treating people well.

And suddenly I realised that my motivation is just that. It is about me but it is also about others.

And whilst “selfless selflessness” might be the ultimate goal, I think I can live with “selfish selflessness”. As long as I don’t ever slip into “selfish selfishness”….

Can I ask a favour? If you ever see me slipping that way, will you promise to tell me? Please don’t be like Mr O….

2 thoughts on “Selfish selflessness

  1. I recently moved to a school in a very deprived area. As I discussed with my son my motives for going for this position, I acknowledged that I benefit from helping and supporting others. It gives me a sense of personal fulfilment knowing that making connections with people who feel disenfranchised and judged is of benefit to others. Accepting that what I aim to do is in no way altruistic is not a problem for me. Knowing that bringing my kindness, compassion and vision is making a difference, however small, means I’m doing the best I can in my role. And when you have the opportunity to work with someone who inspires you and shares your passion for spreading kindness and compassion in education, it can feel like you’ve hit the jackpot.
    I am well aware that not everyone in school shares our vision and I know many colleagues speak badly of my methods but, I’ll keep connecting and listening to children and their parents as it’s the only way I know.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this. It really resonates! I also love the fact that even if, sometimes, we struggle to find anyone else in our current setting who shares our values and supports our ways of working, Twitter and online platforms can help us to find others who do.


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