Acts of (Selfish) Kindness This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
     Call me a cynic. Perhaps it’s true. If you are looking for an inspiring tale of optimism for modern youth and society, you will not find it here. I offer only an inconvenient perception that arose from simple observation and experience.

In the adult world, money is the root of evil. However in high school, there is no greater cause for discord than the college admissions process. Students work into the night to polish their essays and recall one more accomplishment to add to their bristling résumés.

Ostensibly, students are scrambling to gain admission to colleges and universities in pursuit of knowledge, but this is a facade. The institutions of higher learning (and education in general) hold students’ futures ransom. Nearly all students are coerced into pursuing knowledge not for its sake but for salary statistics that illustrate the importance of college and graduate degrees. After all, the degree is what’s ultimately useful; education is just the means to that end.

The college process can turn friends into rivals, trust into contempt, and joy into despair. And all of these deleterious effects for what? Applications are heartfelt pleas that inevitably fall on the uncaring ears of admissions counselors who read thousands. When the likelihood of a parental donation is a strong determinant of acceptance, students without that advantage must find another way to stand out in an inherently impersonal process. Thus, we see the emergence of community service as a factor for admissions decisions. It is my intention to inveigh against this despicable practice.

Understand that I hold nothing against community service. I only despise peoples’ perverse reasons for participating. Everywhere students are organizing fundraisers, aiding soup kitchens, and donating their belongings, which are all positive actions. But when we assess motives, we can see beneath the rosy exterior.

Many students are doing community service for the sake of college admissions. Colleges and universities presume that by accepting such students, they will build a committed community, but this is a false assumption. By looking highly upon community service, colleges encourage students to sell out to appease an external standard. This slimy manipulation fosters selfishness - exactly the opposite of what community service should teach. In other words, using community service to assess an applicant’s character is counter-productive. There is no reliable way to distinguish between the opportunist and the individual who derives genuine satisfaction from service.

Objectivists are philosophically opposed to altruism - I respect that. Some individuals do community service for the right reasons - I respect that as well. I do not, however, respect those who do community service for their own advancement, perverting charity’s essential meaning. This includes those who do charity in accordance with holy ordinance to ensure their afterlife; that’s no different from those seeking résumé fluff. Charity must come from the heart, or not at all. Intentions do matter, even if the end is good.

The Jewish philosopher Maimonides listed eight levels of giving, with anonymous charity as one of the highest. Colleges and universities must realize that they are encouraging the perversion of an essential component of service. Acts of charity are acts of selflessness, and claiming credit for charity contradicts the very principle of giving.

Practically speaking, there is no possibility of reform because slimy self-advancement will always exist. Perhaps it is better to funnel that unscrupulousness into acts of kindness. However, by no means should overt community service be exalted as a standard for gauging character, for those who donate with the right intentions do so anonymously, and those who seek something for themselves do not.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Izzy said...
Jun. 25, 2011 at 11:37 pm
Wow, reading this article was such a relief because now I know I'm not the only high school student who feels this way. EVERYTHING revolves around the application, and it puts unhealthy pressure on students that makes every action a performance rather than a genuine pursuit of personal interests or values. That is, many people who *would* be doing community service and extracurriculars for the sake of doing them have instead been unintentionally conditioned to do them primarily for the applicati... (more »)
 
Kati H. said...
Feb. 16, 2009 at 2:13 am
God, I agree completely. I feel so bad for the people in my grade joining NHS this year, because of the forced community serives. I actually had a question on my writing PSSA's about this. It was "should community service be required to graduate", and I was so strongly opposed to it. I mean, requiring it to graduate is like saying, "We're forcing you to do more work that isn't actually educational. Have fun!" Ridiculous. Personally, I've never done community service. Why? Because I d... (more »)
 
chelsey said...
Sept. 29, 2008 at 3:37 am
nice job. i agree. especially with the part about how it is selfish for religious people to do community service just so they can get a ticket to heaven or whatever. all these rewarding incentives to do service poison the genuine goodness of helping someone
 
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