Superiority, Resume, Empathy: Exploring our motives to serve

BY KACIE GROSSMEIER

Service is a cornerstone of our campus community, a component of every campus organization and a really good addition to applications for scholarships and graduate schools.

Here at St. Norbert, we place above-average emphasis on service. Students volunteer for classes through TRIPS (Turning Responsibility Into Power Service) or with the day of service held in the fall. Case in point, service is huge and aptly so.

But if service is a standard component of our community, why is it glorified? The reaction toward completing community service makes it seem like it is some amazing feat not everyone can pull off.

For instance, high schools give out chords at graduation for students who complete a certain amount of hours of community service. Here at St. Norbert, the TRIPS program has nice dinners and recognizes the students for going on their service trips. Honors societies make community service a prerequisite in order to get in.

But service is merely the humane thing to do. If there is a need, a person should be called to fill it. So why is it such a big deal when people do it?

American society does not function in a way that makes service easy. There are ideals of success, education, material possessions and advancement that drive us forward. Meanwhile, serving is done if one has the time and money to do so. Regardless of motive, those who complete service work are noble, but those who don’t are not punished for their lack of community concern.

It isn’t personal; it’s just our society. In a competitive culture, completing service work merely gives people an edge. Since service is considered rewarding and not just routine, it has lost parts of its humane qualities and become superficial.

Zach Werginz ’16, believes, “Service is a societal construct. It has come about due to the ideals and goals of human advancement rather than the enhancement of personal connection.” Indeed, service has become a tool with which to get ahead in society while feeling good about oneself in the process. Yet to those who serve, it may not be so satisfactory.

I just came back from serving for two weeks in St. Lucia with the Good News Project through the TRIPS program. I would like to say that I went out of the kindness of my own heart, but I can’t help but question my own motives. Did I serve because I wanted to help the Lucians, or because it gave me a two-week vacation and will look good when applying to law schools?

While in St. Lucia, the service was completed sporadically. One of the houses we built had stairs for a resident permanently on crutches and the few hours spent playing with kids at an established daycare was more self-serving than any help for the toddlers. Yet some volunteers expressed how what they were doing was a gift to the world.

I in no way intend to bash the TRIPS program or the Good News Project. I really did have a wonderful time with amazing people who have a great presence on the island. I learned a lot about the needs that must be fulfilled and the Lucians were very receptive of our visits. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the service we provided was more of a show than actual help.

Service work is good, no matter if done to fulfill community service hours on parole, complete club requirements or satisfy one’s belief that it’s the right thing to do. It is our society that makes it more of a rewarding experience than a humbling act.

We cannot change society’s treatment of service, but we can change the way we as individuals approach it. Just some food for thought.

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