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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A holiday call to service

    Eric Reichenbacher columnist
    Eric Reichenbacher
    columnist

    In his famous investigative sojourn to the U.S. in the early 19th century, Frenchman Alexis De Tocqueville remarked on the robust charitable sector as a unique and defining characteristic of our nation. Most Americans continue to uphold our unrivaled and laudable largesse. As always, senior citizens have a surplus of time in which to project their munificence – not having to worry about securing a job or a mate. And high school and university students are among the age groups most likely to volunteer, according to the Corporation for Community Involvement. However, recent college graduates are the most glaring holdouts in this otherwise auspicious national trend.

    What happens to people when they leave college? To be blunt, they aren’t forced to volunteer anymore. The large rates of student involvement are due in large part to conditionalities on scholarships and Greek Life for undergrads – not a genuine upwelling of kindness. To buck this nasty trend, we need to foment our own sense of duty to the outside world as undergrads. This holiday season, I exhort you to descend the steps of this ivory tower and help those who aren’t as privileged.

    A multitude of Wildcats exemplify this avant-garde of self-compelled volunteers. Lacey Krauel, a nursing senior, recently organized and facilitated an event that raised Thanksgiving meals for 80 Tucson families. Erica Rodriguez, a senior majoring in Italian and political science and president of the Italian Club, is making entrance at her group’s next social events contingent on the donation of canned food for a local nonprofit. The busy students who creatively devote their limited time to community involvement should be an inspiration to us all. But, if you don’t have that same entrepreneurial zeal, doing something is always better than nothing.

    Now, fear not. I’m not asking you to adopt a lifestyle of asceticism in the philosophical stylings of Peter Singer, who argues that we all have the obligation to help complete strangers as long as we incur relatively little costs by doing so. In practice, this ideal would strip away resources and time from the things we like to do. The social life and service life should not be mutually exclusive and rival.

    Before next semester rolls around, I urge you to investigate some clubs that correlate with your interests and incorporate a service component. Adopting a passion for involvement in causes you care about is the best way to ensure that, after college, you will continue to be an active member of civil society. You can help as an individual, too.

    Depending on your interests, there is a myriad of ways individuals can provide momentum for global progress. If you are a vocab nut, I suggest the new Web site Freerice.com, which automatically donates rice to a global fund just for the answering of mind-stimulating vocabulary questions. Business majors and investors should check out the revolutionary work of Kiva.org. There, one can make small investments in the nascent businesses of Third World entrepreneurs. The beauty of this is that your loaned money will be returned to you (defaulting is unheard of) and you won’t have to worry about promoting dependency. Engineer types can help build a house with Habitat for Humanity, and all you fashionistas can spread your sense of style by donating your unused duds to Goodwill. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the possibilities at your fingertips.

    I know that to many of you, I’m just preaching to the choir. However, the counterarguments coming from the cloistered halls of academia can lead to some reservations about the benefits of service. Allow me to rebuff you of your misgivings.

    Just north of Speedway Boulevard, the business/economist types will go on ad nauseam about self-interest and the equality of opportunity provided by free markets. “”Why should I help someone who won’t help themselves,”” they’ll ask. Since Adam Smith is their leader, they should remember his teachings in his less-known work, “”The Theory of Moral Sentiments,”” in which he trumpets the virtues of beneficence.

    Then there are the social scientists south of Speedway, who harangue well-meaning volunteers for their patronizing, patrimonial assistance to those in need, drawing comparisons to the proselytizing impetus behind the White Man’s Burden. This post-development ideology is counterproductive and harmful. The starving and cold don’t have time for this esoteric baloney. What they need is food and shelter, no matter where it comes from – not academic prattle and apologism.

    Too often, we go through these semesters holed up in academia, completely divorced from the realities just outside our insular world. Believe it or not, a lot goes on beyond the concrete frontiers of Euclid, Speedway, Sixth and Campbell. Get out there and do something! If not now, there’s always the New Year’s resolution to fall back on.

    Eric Reichenbacher is a senior majoring in economics and
    international studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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