Posted by Wisdom on 15 June, 2009 at 11:12 am. 6 comments already!


We’ve all seen it. In our schools, our children’s schools, public meetings, television shows, leadership seminars, political speeches, and even in legislation supported by the President, the message is clear: we should all be doing community service. The fact is that the call to service is greater now than at any time in our country’s past, and the pressure to provide it even greater.

logo_vista_blackThe pressure to conform to the growing demand to volunteer your self, in body and bankbook, can be daunting. When confronted with a group of peers, all telling you how much you are needed, it can be difficult to resist. When your child’s teacher tells you how important it is that you volunteer for the school bake sale, how can you say no? When your Mayor asks you to volunteer your time for the citywide cleanup, how can you refuse? And when the girl scout who lives next door asks you to buy cookies, or the soccer player who lives down the street asks you to buy raffle tickets, how can you not open your wallet and hand them the money?

Simple. Say “no.” Unless, that is, you want to do it, and can.

First of all, it’s not so much “community service” that I have a problem with. Serving your community has plenty of merit, and everyone should do it, provided of course that you are willing, and just as important, able. The problem arises when you are expected to give your time and your money to a cause that you don’t want to support. And more problems arise when you are expected to give your time and your money to a cause when you can’t afford it.

None of that matters to the people who are asking for you services, though. It doesn’t matter to them that your boss has cut back on your overtime and money is scarce, and it doesn’t matter to them that you took a second job to cover the bills, making your time even more scarce. What matters to them is their cause. You see, to the people who are promoting them, causes are just like children. Everyone thinks theirs is the most important, and anyone who thinks differently be damned. It doesn’t matter how much time or money you’ve given to any cause, even theirs, in the past, if you don’t see how important their baby is today, you’re dirt. Even if you can’t afford it, they expect your support, and they expect it now.

The important part of this is that giving your time and money to a cause when you can’t afford either hurts everyone in the long run. It hurts you, it hurts your family, and ultimately it even hurts the cause. If you give money that you can’t afford to support your local food bank, it impairs your ability to put food on your own table, and that of your family. If you sacrifice time you can’t spare, whether it’s time you could be working to pay your bills, or time you should have spent playing baseball with your son, to participate in the latest jail and bail fundraiser, you risk putting a strain on your budget, or on your family. Both situations threaten your future security, your attitude, and your willingness and ability to participate in community service in the future.

It is quite common these days to pressure our children to “give back” to their communities, provide volunteer service, and even sign pledges to provide even more service in the future. From their classrooms to their football practices to their leadership conferences, they are bombarded at every turn with the message that it is the responsibility of every able bodied youth to serve their communities. They are told that service will make them better people, and that their duty is to their fellow man. More disturbing, it has become a trend lately to begin making this expectation of service into a requirement.

President Obama’s official transitional website stated that “Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.”

cncsCongress followed suit with HR 1388 that authorized a committee to study “Whether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented…” When the language was stripped out of the final version of that bill, it was resurrected again as the still living HR 1444. It seems that our federal government is determined to make “volunteers” out of all our children.

The problem with this, aside from the fact that the 13th amendment of the Constitution clearly prohibits “indentured servitude,” is that if you take our youth, in the prime of their life, and put them on a mandated course of community service, you rob the community of it’s greatest potential producers, both physical and mental.

Can you imagine how different the world would be right now if a young college student named Bill Gates had been cutting weeds in the Boston National Historic Park instead of exploring the operations of computers and developing a BASIC interpreter for MITS? Gates built a fortune after that initial foray, which he later used to enable him to funnel billions of dollars into charitable organizations. He has now retired from the corporate world and donates all of his time to community service. Would the world be a better place if he had been doing community service while he was in college instead? Would have 100 hours of service to his fellow man when he was 20 been a good trade for the tens of billions of dollars that he has been able to raise for charity in his post corporate life?

If two college students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had been serving dinners at the Palo Alto Opportunity Center instead of spending their evenings writing the code that would later power, they would have never had a billion dollars to fund the charitable wing of their company,, which works to fight global poverty, among other causes. Would the world have been better served by them providing community service while they were in school rather than later when they were successful entrepreneurs and wanted to make a difference in the world?

Charity_to_Street_ArabIn reality, Americans are the most generous charitable givers in the world. In 2006, Americans donated a record $295 billion to charitable organizations, the vast majority of which came from individuals. That is in addition to the 61 million Americans who donated time and labor to charitable organizations during that same year.

By allowing and encouraging our budding youth to provide for themselves and their families first, and by empowering them to become responsible and productive members of society, we also put a down payment on their future ability to give back to society when they are more able, ready and willing to do so. Someone who is forced to “donate” their time or money to causes they may not support will likely become bitter and much less likely to support any cause in the future. Additionally, a person who gives willingly, and to causes or charities they believe in, will always give more. If our government moves forward with their plan to require mandatory service from every American, and dictates to what causes that service is given, they will likely guarantee that will be the only community service that person ever provides again.

The underlying motive here is that these people don’t want you to volunteer your time and your money, because that means you are in control. They want to decide how your time and money is used to benefit society as they see fit. They want to decide which charities are worthy of your time and they want to decide which charities are worthy of your money. They don’t care if you miss a day of work, or if you have a hard time paying your bills, and they don’t care that your kids could be spending their afternoons developing cold fusion in the basement lab instead of planting grass on a reclaimed garbage dump, because in the end all they want is control.

How do we fight back? How do we make sure that our time and money is dedicated to causes and charities that we believe in? How do we make sure that our families, and ourselves, don’t go without to provide for charities that we might not believe in? And how do we make sure that our children are given the opportunity to become successful in their own right before they are expected to “give back” to their “fellow man?”

The answer is still simple. Say “no.” Unless, that is, you want to do it, and can.

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