How many hours am I getting for this?

Mother Teresa, arguably the face of altruism, once said “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

Today, I can’t help but wonder if this work is truly humble anymore.

Community service is a requirement in today’s day and age. Whether it’s a formal graduation requirement instituted by high schools or just another thing to make one’s resume stand out, directly and indirectly, people are forced to be charitable.

And I guess that’s a positive thing. Because with each good deed or service done, we are helping other people and eradicating all the bad in our society, whether it be disease or death, and hunger or homelessness, and violence or victims of natural disasters.

As that painful list goes on, so does the army of fighters. Not because everyone is suddenly revived with an innate and saintly desire to help others; but because the incentives for young people to volunteer and serve have never been higher.

You need it to get into a prestigious organizations like NHS. You need it to stay in NHS. You need it to strengthen college applications. You need it for career advancement and career opportunities. You need it for the social persona or to feel better about yourself. You need it for character development. You need it for the recognition and the scholarships. Sometimes you need community service, more than it needs you.

My father tells me about the times when he was younger and he distributed food and supplies to poor people with leprosy, a disease that was shunned during the time he grew up. Yet he took the risk of social implications and went ahead with what felt right. His service didn’t help him get any accolades. It didn’t help him get into college or land a job.

And that in my mind, feels like true service.

We just don’t have that anymore.

It’s tough to look at the process of practicing charity in such a skeptical light, but I see it as the truth. If I stand back and simply accept that the rise in volunteering comes from the emergence of angels on Earth, I am naive. If I get up and accuse everyone of false good behavior, I am a cynic.

It’s a lose-lose situation, no right or wrong answer.

But the reason I even bring up the debate is because I have experienced it first-hand. Not only because of negative attitudes from other peers, but because of how adults have accepted the system.

“So you’re a volunteer here? You must get hours for it right.” if I’m seen transporting a patient at the hospital or “Wow! That’s a great thing to put on a resume.” after any cool experience I have.

At first I am put off by such comments, (‘I’m no resume padder,’ I mentally defend myself). I hate the fact that each minute is being counted for my own personal benefit. I’d like to think I dedicate my time and service for others, for the improvement of the community. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not as pure or simple as that anymore.

Giving is important. The fact that you give — the fact that you give with a zealous love and care for others– is extremely important. Even though we have come to accept the gold stickers and resume padding that come with community service, it can’t be an act stained with ulterior motives. At the end of the day, you have to go in with the right spirit.

Charity isn’t supposed to help us reach our personal goals or make us feel better about ourselves. And if that’s the case, then why are we doing it?

Hopefully the answer is still to help people.


One thought on “How many hours am I getting for this?

  1. I agree completely. The vast majority of my friends volunteered in high school for nothing more than volunteer hours. They worked because they thought someone three hundred or more miles away in Cambridge, New Haven, Philadelphia, or Stanford would accept them. And as such, every one of them worked for hours. They didn’t enjoy the work they did, and rather looked at it as a chore. But nonetheless, the prospect of college or job admission was too tempting and they chugged though.

    In my personal experiences, helping someone that might not be able to help himself–aka volunteering–creates a spectacular internal feeling–one that simply cannot be created when working for money.

    Perhaps if we can intrinsically motivate students to volunteer (my friends who do truly believe in a cause and are willing to volunteer their time for it are some of the happiest people I know), then perhaps the arbitrary “requirement” for acceptance to top schools could have a silver lining.

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