Chapter 7

Learning Altruism through Stories and Action


  • Robert Atkinson University of Southern Maine
  • Adele Baruch University of Southern Maine
  • Lillian Harris MidCoast Hospital


In the course of our study on listening to stories of courage and moral choice, we noticed many examples of the way in which the stories appeared to function as a cognitive bridge, providing a vision of possibilities for caring action. We also observed that in order for these stories to promote identification with altruistic action for listeners, facilitative conditions are needed. The two facilitative conditions identified repeatedly by students and teachers were the sharing of the stories in a nurturing environment, where students felt emotionally safe, as well as an opportunity to practice helping behaviors, either inside or outside of school. These stories of connection, courage, and gratitude often elicited the question of “What can I do when faced with destruction and despair?” That question frequently revealed a wish to be a part of the connection, courage, and action inherent in these stories.

Keywords: facilitative conditions, gratitude, altruism, reciprocity, action

Author Biographies

Robert Atkinson, University of Southern Maine

Professor Emeritus of Human Development and Religious Studies, Founder of StoryCommons, and Founder of the Piscataqua Peace Forum.

Adele Baruch, University of Southern Maine

Associate Professor and Chair of Counselor Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

Lillian Harris, MidCoast Hospital

Clinical Mental Health Counselor in private practice in Yarmouth, Maine, and Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinician at MidCoast Hospital’s Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program in Brunswick, Maine.




How to Cite

Atkinson, R., Baruch, A., & Harris, L. (2020). Chapter 7: Learning Altruism through Stories and Action. Narrative Works, 9(1), 119. Retrieved from