“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. “ -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
President-elect Obama is setting an important example for Americans today with his participation in the national day of service. A commitment to service, be it in the Armed Forces or in a local homeless shelter brings about a set of values that will propel this country to be a world leader in many new ways. Here are 3 values that are as important to individual relations as international relations.
1. Compassion. United we stand, divided we fall. Every school children in the country knows that. Yet we are too often divided in this country. Our compassion is neutralized through competition in the labor market and many other areas of life and we far too often forget the plight of others. By volunteering we see a different area of life and begin to understand how someone else’s life works–an experience that encourages us to live in a better way. Realizing the difficult decisions and struggles other leaders are making, we can rethink our decisions and perhaps not to choose to exploit a situation that would leave us better off but damage others.
2. Cooperation. The US often ‘goes it alone’ until we realize we can’t. Competition is emphasized daily in this countryfrom the job market to the supermarket. We constantly jockey to be first in line for everything we do. Ignore the rush and realize that there is more to be earned from one moment of cooperation or helping than many of competition. The current idea is that if we help others then we’ll fall behind, but so many people and populations are falling behind right now that it in the end we are hurting ourselves trying to get ahead at their expense. With a joint, cooperative force we are much more likely to succeed.
3. Evaluation of goals. Is what I’m volunteering for worthwhile? That is always a question you should ask yourself. Many operations are not best practice, and although look good on the surface, do not address critical community or national needs. Sometimes, “why are we here?” is the best question to ask. Reassessment of goals is essential to any project or plan.
The bottom line is that as a country we have run ourselves aground in competition and are suffering for it. A day dedicated to volunteering and service let us see a new side of life and avoid competition, allowing us to see the web that connects us to one another. As a human race, or as a neighborhood, we must cooperate to ensure a positive future. Although resources at every level remain scarce, we have shown that this does not have to be the case. The world is in a food crisis, yet mountains of corn and lakes of butter waste away due to poor distribution policies. For this day, take away the message of cooperation instead of competition. It is not an easy message, and involves more work, but we are breaking our backs now to get no where. We might as well work in a positive direction.
As Dr. King said, we must rise above the individual level and arrive at a broader human level. It is important to remind ourselves that we are citizens of the world, not just the United States. We all share a common future. President Kennedy noted that we should work for our country. Perhaps the message has changed over time, and with President Obama it will be that we should not ask what the world can do for us, but what we can do for the world.
Go plant a seed,