Thursday, September 22, 2005

Writing a Check's Too Easy

A few days ago I made a statement and I'm not sure what it means in real life. Hardly the first time for this experience, unfortunately.

I said something like money was important for the hurricane response(s), but that it was insufficient. That giving money was too easy. Yet, it's also patently true that not everyone can or should be a front line worker. So, what are people supposed to do, in my little world view?

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I was in college. (It was the University of Chicago, in actual fact, but it really WAS a long time ago.) And there, they offered a class called Human Being and Citizen, an opportunity to read philosophers' perspectives on the twin high-callings of humanity and citizenship. What does it mean to be the best possible human I can be? Is being a good human being complementary to or substantively different from being a good citizen? Are they even related to each other at all?

I'm quite sure we were glib and naive, masquerading as profound. We were 18 years old. What do you expect? But, I'm still thinking about those discussions and those books, so the questions they raised, if not our answers, must have been a little bit profound. And the hurricane response has reminded me that, try as we might to be good people, we sometimes forget to be good citizens.

I try, for example, to tell the truth, to hold my important relationships gently, to keep my promises..... But I forget to wonder whether or not the food pantry has food. Or why people need the food pantry in the first place. I forget to donate blood or do after-school tutoring or .... any of the thousands of opportunities that exist right here.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is teaching us -or reminding us- of the importance of community service. For one thing, small, flexible, local volunteer groups are uniquely situated to make a difference quickly in times of dire crisis. For another, they make things better for people in small ways every single day. Abstract notions of improvement or idealism don't make our communities better. Doing something makes them better.

True enough. Reading to a kid here won't make things better there. So, send the check, absolutely. But now we have an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are all connected. Decisions made in one place have an impact on people somewhere else. Things I do here might make the world a little better, a little healthier, a little more resilient. It's really no more than "think globally, act locally". Make a phone call today. Volunteer SOMEWHERE.

No comments: