“We make a LIVING by what we GET, but we make a LIFE by what we GIVE”
~ Sir Winston Churchill
The need for social service, correlating to the gap between the world’s rich and poor, has evidently never been greater. 1% of the wealth of the world’s richest 1% can safely eradicate poverty. I am well aware of the intensity of the statement just made, but it stands to be true nonetheless. You may then wonder: Why are 736 million people still surviving on less than $1.90 a day?
Perhaps the issue stems from the fact that altruistic behaviour isn’t encouraged enough. Is community service simply not popular enough? Are people simply unaware of its actuality? Or does there exist an extensive thinking process that goes behind the decision of whether to conduct it or not?
IS IT EVEN RATIONAL?
SMU’s community service requirement is worth 80 hours of our valuable time. Many go about fulfilling it solely to check off what to them is just another graduation requirement. However, there are others who engage in service without any sort of obligation. Indeed, they do so without expecting anything – a graduation certificate, the praise of others, or even the avoidance of feelings of guilt – in return. In fact, some have even devoted whole lives to helping those who can’t help themselves. Mother Teresa is definitely the first name that comes to the minds of many, with such a description. And so that begs the question: In a world full of rational actors, with everyone aiming to maximise their benefits and minimise their costs, does social service lead to an unfavourable cost-benefit equation? In other words, are community workers absolutely irrational?
I would say not.
Human beings are social creatures – the validity of this phrase will never cease, no matter how cliché it sounds. We have an inherent need to communicate, interact, and socialise with those around us. Presently, however, our opportunities to act in accordance with this is strictly limited to people we meet at home, school, university, and work. The sphere of our relationships only gets smaller as we age, following a similar pattern to those of our primate cousins, monkeys.
Another issue with relying solely on such localised relationships to fulfil our social needs and need for belonging is that we fail to expose ourselves to diversity – to those richer or poorer to us, those darker or fairer, those younger or older. As someone who admittedly lies on the introvert side of the scale myself, I find that conversing with people different from me gives me a new outlook towards life. It helps me explore a present but untapped segment of this world, and of my own mind.
Additionally, volunteering also helps you get along with people who share similar interests as you. You have the opportunity to educate those who are deeply interested but have shallow information regarding the common subject, and equally as much, learn from those who possess extensive knowledge about other topics. By expanding your social circle to include people from diverse backgrounds, your social skills are developed to a point where you can actually have a quantifiable impact on the world.
Words fail when trying to explain the happiness that lies in the act of giving. It can’t be described. It can only be felt. And for all my ‘Big Questions: Happiness and Suffering’ enthusiasts, by happiness here, I do not mean a sense of short-term pleasure. This may sound overexaggerated, but only until you personally witness your actions bringing smiles to the faces of the less fortunate. In fact, research has established the act of volunteering to be beneficial in eliminating depression and related disorders, along with reducing stress and anxiety – conditions that are almost characteristic of modern life in today’s hectic world.
In addition to improving mental health and enhancing one’s self-confidence, volunteering also keeps us physically healthy. Scientifically speaking, frequent contact with the wider society and its beings contributes to greater psychological well-being by regulating hormonal and boosting brain activity. Moreover, volunteers who are more physically active (for example, by walking) have a higher life expectancy, cope better with difficult tasks, possess superior thinking skills, and have a lower chance of developing high blood pressure, chronic pain, and heart disease.
What further contributes to this happiness is the novel outlook to life that it provides, as mentioned before. The connections forged along our journeys light up new directions for our lives. It gives us time to brainstorm our life choices; and as we delve deeper to discover the true essence of service, helps us contemplate the things we can do to promote the concept of equity over efficiency in the global economy.
ENRICHING YOUR FUTURE
Volunteering helps us to envision our future and build it the way we want to. Not only does this help develop essential skills such as leadership and time management for the advancement of our education and career, but the proportion of our time that we spend volunteering right now, while in university, will determine how consistent we will continue to volunteer in the future. This does not mean we have to volunteer 24/7, but a considerable amount of time spent can bring both us and them great benefits.
Personally, I think a few hours volunteering per week might well be the right balance for us university students. It would even give us the same sense of calm and relaxation that meditation and yoga provides, and more. Moreover, investing our efforts in environmental conservation now can help the world in which our children will live – safeguarding the resources necessary for them to survive and thrive.
SO WHAT HAVE YOU DECIDED?
Recapitulating the above arguments, I would like to pose the same question to you once again: Do the costs of volunteering – which are almost negligible – still exceed the benefits of it?
The next time you have the opportunity, will you go the extra mile to help someone or further a worthy cause – even after you have completed the 80-hour requirement?