If I had to guess, then I would think that people probably spend more time volunteering in college than they do in any other stage of life.
I wish I thought this was because during college we all experience a surge of empathy and compassion for those around us. In reality, I think it is because in college we experience intense and unspoken competition to be the best, or at least look like we are for our resumes, future employers and grad schools.
This sheds light on a bigger issue. If we all think that caring about others makes us look good, why don’t we actually believe it on a national scale?
American ideology almost entirely centers around self-sufficiency and the ability to do it all on our own. Whether it's from a place of self-protection or one of pride, we have internalized the mentality that we alone are responsible for where and how we end up.
I have talked plenty of times in my column about why I don’t believe this is true, but today I want to talk about another negative side effect of this mentality: The way it causes us to believe that we have no part to play in helping others; helping through listening to others, volunteering and caring about policy issues that affect other groups, even if we don’t fall into them.
I honestly don’t know how we combat the problem of caring about people in theory or practicality or how we turn the idea of caring about others looking good into caring about others being good. However, I think it has to start with us realizing when we are doing it in our own lives, catching ourselves in our humble-brags about our volunteer work or white savior complexes.
Yes, your volunteer work was valuable and had an impact. Yes, you calling out the racist comment your coworker made was important, but as soon as it becomes a tool for instigating people praising our goodness, we have undermined the value of what we did in the first place. This also isn’t to say that good things are no longer good when we receive praise for them, but when it is the reason behind our good things, we have missed the mark.
I truly believe that when we begin realizing that others are in need of help and can’t always make it on their own and start feeling that the responsibility to help falls on all of us, we will find ourselves in a better community; we’d find ourselves in a better world.
The more involved we are in the circles of others, the more compassionate we become, and our civil society thrives.
If we have the choice between a community where the people around us actively care and help and one where everyone is uninterested and self-involved, then I would choose the former. My guess is that most of you would too.
Emma Underwood is a sophomore double majoring in Philosophy and Political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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