I HAVE always believed that young people have innate and natural capacity to serve. They are not apathetic. It’s just that most of the times they are not given appropriate opportunities, which disable them to engage in their communities. At the same time, because they are young, adults should prepare them by enabling and empowering their competencies to serve. We should not assume that everything is common sense. We need to clarify the misconceptions that they have while providing them with the necessary tools to serve.
As I discussed the idea of civic engagement to my students, I have discovered that one factor why young people seem to have a difficulty in the serving in the community is because we have failed to make a stable grounding of their idealism.
Dreaming big is good, but sometimes because we have encouraged our youth to fight tremendously overwhelming causes, we have most often than not scared them and demotivated their desire to serve. Before we ask our students to shoot for the stars, we should ground our youth to the realities of the world. I have noticed that we have been asking them to fight for causes that do not matter to them since we have influenced them to fight our causes and not theirs. As a result, they have been pushing themselves to battle our own wars while the issues and challenges that matter to them persist. As a consequence, we have blinded their awareness to be sensitive to the needs of their context.
In a similar manner, we have dismantled the desires of our youth to serve by pushing them to cross over big seas, not realizing that there are problems that need to be addressed close to their own shores. Because of this, we also have poisoned the simplicity of the idea of civic engagement and the humility of service. At the core of civic engagement is to be a good citizen. There is nothing grand nor extreme in its sense but an authentic desire to contribute even in a minute sense.
I have asked my class, a room who I think are filled with leaders in our school, who among them are confident about their level of civic engagement. Knowing their contexts, I was surprised that none of them raised their hands. This is exactly what I think happens when we have pushed our youth into believing that service needs to be loud or big. We have silenced the confidence of our youth to be good citizens.
We have emphasized to them quantity or success indicators that are beyond their reach, which most often than not exhausts and tires them in the process. Essentially service should be more of depth than quantity of engagements.
When an athlete supports his teammates and motivates them to do better for the school, how different is he from someone who promotes peace by going to the areas of war? No, they are not different at all because they are good citizens in their own way. This makes me believe that there are no strict or similar pattern or formula in serving. Serving comes out naturally from doing things beyond oneself considering their own context. Again, this does not need to be grand, it just needs to be done with love. Thus, our loving will always be different because we express it in various ways.
So why do young people get tired of serving? It is because we somehow have influenced them to think of service in the wrong way. At the same time, we have made them think that service is just about self-giving. But you see how hard this can be. Giving without being able to love and appreciate oneself can be futile in serving. Self-giving requires being able to share oneself fully. Thus, generosity and service should start from within.