If everybody is 'doing it,' people seem more likely to participate. Rather than iconoclasm, volunteering seems to be motivated, more than we as Americans might like to admit it, by a spirit of conformity or at least to be seen as not deviating from the moral norm. Sometimes, the more that we are watched, socially, the better we behave (of course, the reverse is sometimes true as well, if everyone is behaving badly, then we are more likely to go on with the crowd, given that we are human, social animals).
Over the course of this week, I have gotten to know the people who regularly worked at the blood bank better. This week offered me more insight upon the spirit of altruism, given the careers these healthcare providers had selected. Many of them said that they had been motivated to choose a career in healthcare, because they wanted a real, concrete sense that their vocation of choice could make a difference in people's lives.
A number of them offered me insight about the nature of voluntary service when they made comments on some of the behavior patterns they had observed in individuals over the course of their time working at the blood bank. For example, they noted after 9/11, there was a rush of donors who wanted to give blood, almost too many for the resources of the bank to handle. There was also a large influx of people like myself who volunteered at the bank, all of whom said that they wanted to do something or to give something back to their communities. Many of these people began to volunteer less frequently, however, after the...
My friends asked me questions about volunteering, and inquired if I found it as fulfilling as working for pay. I said I liked the people I worked with and had learned a great deal from their example, which was true. I did note that sometimes the work could be monotonous, however, and although I knew that I was doing 'good work' it did not always feel that meaningful at the time I was doing it, like serving cookies or walking with people to show them the room where they could rest.
Sometimes, during slow periods, it felt more like socializing, other times leading people to the recovery room, getting them snacks, and chatting with them felt more routine than the type of meaningful social engagement idealized in the words of Putnam or de Tocqueville.
Week 5 have come to reflect more and more on what it means to be alone, given that so much of our time as Americans today in leisure is spent alone -- either talking on cell phones, surfing the Internet, the virtual equivalent of 'bowling alone.' The experience of volunteering does seem to take us out of ourselves, our needs, and our narrow framework of interests. However, it does not always -- at other times, volunteering and being engaged in civic activity is a chore, a positive chore, but a chore nonetheless like making one's bed. Perhaps with the decline of community and civic organizations, such as churches and local clubs, volunteering has become an avoidable chore rather than a moral duty. Most of my friends who volunteer on a regular basis are members of church organizations, or, I must admit, are very intent upon packing their resumes to get into a good college or to secure a good position after graduation. I think this is fine, but many times they do not assume the type of 'grunt work' I did at the bank -- donating blood or serving cookies is not a resume-booster, but something that simply needs to be done, so our hospitals can function. Overall, at the end of this project, I would not say that I enjoyed every minute of the activity, but I did grow more convinced of Putnam's point that there must be some moral impetus and community for the basic institutions that keep…
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