Thinking about the Collective, Selflessness and a Year of Service
During this year’s September 11th tribute, I thought about Obama’s call to make that day of National Day of Service. Is one day enough to make a difference or does it promote slacktivism? I donate time and money to various organizations. I’m even going to Peru for 6 months to volunteer as a Kiva Fellow and I still don’t think that is enough.
Every Israeli citizen goes into the army when they turn 18. Leaving aside the combat draft idea for a moment, why shouldn’t the U.S. have a similar program? A year of service, broadly speaking (whether in the military, volunteering for a non-profit community or civic organization) would teach a sense of collective, selflessness and respect for others as it seems to me that the trend these days is towards individualism and selfishness and disrespect.
Motivation for this post – Some recent examples of selfishness and individualism and disrespect:
- Kanye West’s outburst during Taylor Swift’s Thank You Speech at the MTV’s award ceremony (which I heard about through my Facebook news feed)
- Serena Williams’s threat to the linesperson at the US Open Women’s SemiFinals (Posted on Twitter by Mashable and I saw the video on YouTube)
- Joe Wilson’s heckling the president during Obama’s speech to Congress (see quote from Jams Clyburn on Maureen Dowd’s column – he refers to the internet having a specific role in this degeneration)
Though I realize these examples are celebrities and political figures, known for large egos and outlandish behavior, these are examples we hear the most about in the news and on the internet, in social media, etc. They may respond that it’s not their job to be a role model (except maybe the Congressman). Even so, their public personas make them role models for the behavior of every day people and our children by default.
Some examples of Selflessness and the Collective
- Kiva‘s collective Translation Program, run by a former Kiva Fellow
- Echoing Green Fellows – some from this year are focused on year-long fellowships for young people – For example, Bethany Henderson and the City Hall Fellows & Barbara Bush and Jonny Dorsey and Global Health Corps
- Acumen Fund Fellows – I just met one of these fantastic folks at my Going Away Party
- White House Fellows – one of my friends is participating in that currently.
- Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs
- Teach for America – most of the teachers of the charter schools I work with come from this program
- NYC Teaching Fellows – my brother Kiran did this and is still teaching in the NYC school district
- Donors Choose – Peer 2 Peer donations to help teachers get classroom supplies
Maybe we are on to something…I wish selflessness examples got more air time than the selfishness.
How about a Year of Service to Combat Unemployment?
Stats say the unemployment rate is 9-11%. We probably had over-employment in the boom time. A year of service would give young people a job to teach them valuable skills and also teach them to live as a part of a collective. It would give unemployed professionals something productive to do beyond job hunting. Logistics like a stipend or education, similar to military service, or even a tax break could be worked out to make this viable.
How about a Year of Service to Change Our Work Machine Lifestyle?
Does everyone need to work so hard that they don’t have the time to think of anything or anyone else? We are already too rich and have too many things yet our family situations are getting worse. My lawyer friend rarely ever sees her husband or her family because she works 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. I did the same thing when I worked in Investment Banking and I’m not sure what I got out of it except for a hatred of Investment Banking and some ridiculous Excel skills.
My husband and I were discussing the French mandatory 35-hour work week the other day. Maybe there is something to thinking more as a collective and less as individual work machines.
How about a Year of Service to Expand Perspectives?
I just read an article about foreign languages being taken out of schools because of budget cuts. Shouldn’t this be the time to learn more about other cultures, not less? This reminds me of the article I read in the middle of the Iraq War about Arabic translators being fired from the military for their sexual orientation. Just at the time we needed more cultural understanding.
The internet has allowed us to compile databases of volunteer opportunities, such Idealist.org, Obama’s Serve.gov and Bloomgberg’s NYCService.org, and even board matching on Board Net USA. Now we need just widespread support for an initiative that promotes a collective commitment to service.
I’d love to get some feedback on this idea. Please feel free to offer some more examples of selfishness or disagree with me.