It seems that marketing campaigns around the world have realized the importance of being a good neighbor. While in Shenzhen, China this July, I was searching for a television program with English subtitles when a commercial caught my interest. With only a musical background, a series of tableaux flows seamlessly from one to the next. A young woman on a bicycle falls and someone helps her up. An onlooker smiles as he watches the scene of good faith. He, in turn, sees another in need and offers a helping hand. The chain of onlookers and do-gooders continues. The commercial reaches its climax of warmth with Beijing 2008. In Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the region offering the most resistance to the socialist president, Evo Morales, I turn to the radio. The voice of a man fills the airwaves, announcing that a decree for fair telephone rates is one more way that Bolivia is being reborn. Construyendo una nueva Bolivia. Perhaps the children that are watching or those that are listening are being instilled with values of a social nature. Or perhaps not. Yet the use of such commercials is evidence enough that not all is lost; social values may yet return.
Thinking back to Sept. 11, 2001, not far at all from the World Trade Center, I was dismissed from high school with only my little sister in mind, who went to school not far from there. With special urgency, I cut through the flood of pedestrians, pausing occasionally to look around me. That day, all the stereotypes held about New Yorkers, or perpetuated by New Yorkers, fell through the subway vents. Few, if any New Yorkers stared at the ground. Instead, people sought out each other’s gaze, seeking to comfort one another with silent acknowledgement. “Excuse me” was hardly a necessary condition to be let through. A woman fell and was, amazingly, helped up. More incredible still, perfect strangers hugged one another in front of St. Vincent’s hospital, hoping against reason that their loved ones were still alive.
Although apparently disparate and disjointed events, it is social consciousness and human values that these moments have in common. Glorious and rare though these moments may seem, I realize it is not their rarity but rather their beauty that makes these moments stand out in my memory. Someone once exclaimed to me that a peaceful world would be boring. And yet, in the spirit of peace, why not perpetuate such activity? Why wait for a special event like the Olympics to encourage social values? Why must the quest for social justice be relegated to the sounds coming from a car stereo, emitted for the sake of a government that is held in contempt in Santa Cruz? Why wait for a Sept. 11 to see the fragility of life? The truth behind the answers to these questions may be too difficult to admit, too hard to write, and too bitter to read. Perhaps, let us say, it is a lack of faith in the human race and the human ability to be kind (ahhh remember Machiavelli and what he thinks of the ambitious human mind). Or perhaps it is a lack of time, or... the list goes on.
Just as in every other year, freshmen and upperclassmen alike flooded the cobblestones of College Walk, during Activities Day, hoping to find a new passion, hobby, group of friends, or a organization for their resume. Some signed up for an extracurricular sport, some for a cultural or religious organization, and some for a musical group. A select few however, choose to do an extra something with their time—to answer the call to be a Good Samaritan. Searching, not at all too hard, those few find peers with experience in volunteerism, versed in the practice—not theory—of fostering social consciousness. Community Impact, a non-profit organization that serves over 8,000 people annually in the Columbia area, is one such organization that offers students the opportunity to find their niche in one or more of over 25 different service programs. Still others may look to the Double Discovery Center, other non-profit work, or the day-long service events programmed by Columbia Community Outreach.
Whether it’s your first year or your last, it’s your time and opportunity to experience making a difference in another person’s life. While you go out in search of that extra something to complete your college experience, look out for students bearing posters with beating hearts. There’s a reason why hope was the last thing left in Pandora’s box. Corny though it may seem, from China to South America, the common denominator is clear: it is the human ability to bring joy to the lives of others that counts. Enough is lost to war and terror. It is time for kindness and reciprocity.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in regional studies.