September 12, 2011

Finding My Altruism

Pretty posies at the U.S. Botanical Gardens
David Brooks' column from a few weeks ago discusses (developed, often Western world) service in the developing world. Nothing he says is something I haven't heard before. But he describes his view of "useful" foreign aid succinctly and accurately and with poignant, relevant examples of young people serving humbly without any expectations. I don't always agree with Brooks but every so often, he puts into words exactly what I feel about things. His view seems very grounded in reality.

I think about service every day. The premise of my alma mater, Boston College, was "men and women for others." I shaped much of my undergraduate experience around this premise. I focused my coursework towards international studies, wanting to inform my worldview.  My years since have been peppered with volunteering - mentoring, tutoring, Habitat for Humanity. I don't feel like I am truly living unless I am serving others in some context outside of the realm of my for-profit professional activities (in other words, my job).

Several of my friends have accomplished full-time service experiences - Peace Corps, Americorps, and other non-governmental programs. I think about doing the same every day.  I have come so close to so many different service experiences over the years.  And the fact that I haven't really does weigh on me. I have a completed Peace Corps application just sitting there, waiting (I finished it the day I got the call regarding my current job in Washington).  An offer to teach with the New York Teaching Fellows came last year after I want through the entire interview process (it was the exact opposite of the placement I wanted, so I refused on the basis that it would not be fair to the students or me to take this assignment).

In really thinking about why I haven't actually taken the plunge to do the service abroad or just a full-on service experience, I realize that perhaps I am not completely built for the experiences I have encountered thus far. I don't think I have the chops to be totally isolated in a foreign land for an extended period of time, to be parted from my family, friends, and culture for over 2 years. I really don't. But oh, how I wish I did.

I think perhaps I am better serving here in the U.S., where there is a great need. I think we often forget this fact, being so focused (and rightly so) on the developing world across the oceans. There's a lot of need here - our country is kind of in trouble in terms of slipping standards of living and education statistics.  I have had rich service experiences here. Lately I have been thinking about being a teacher (following in the footsteps of my incomparable, ever-talented mother). Because I cannot sit at desk and computer for 8 hours a day for the rest of my life. I just cannot. I need people. I need connection. The best experience was working as a literacy aide in the Boston Public Schools during college.  I need to feel like I am working toward something positive. I just have not felt that in any of my jobs thus far. I know this possible career choice means less glamour and a smaller paycheck, but that's not a bad thing. For I think, in the end, I value the preservation of my spirit over the thickness of my pocketbook.


  1. My heart is smiling....(-:
    You would be a wonderful teacher Em...
    I am watching a flower blossom....You...

  2. Doesn't matter where or how you live your life for others - just matters that you do! :)


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