The holidays just passed, and most Berkeley High School (BHS) students welcomed them as a needed break from the pressure of school. They were, however, a time filled with lots of other pressures. One big pressure during the holidays — for students, parents, and families alike — is that of “giving back.”
Service, whether through direct volunteering or monetary donations, is an expected and nearly required action during the winter months in many communities, including Berkeley. Think of the BHS Holiday Meal, a powerful community service event inspired by the philanthropic spirit of the holidays.
According to the Network for Good, a fundraising tool for non-profits, almost one third of annual “giving” occurs in December, with 11 percent occurring in the last three days of the year. This imbalance of charitable action stems mainly from the societal expectation of “holiday service,” and it’s something that needs to change.
Although giving due to outside pressure is better than not giving at all, if we work to shift our cultural norms towards a more selfless, year-round habit of giving, both the donor and the receiver will experience greater benefits.
To fix the problem, we must examine its source. The unavoidable truth is that for many people, charitable actions can be selfishly motivated. Of course, we want to help others, but we also want credit for it. James Weyant, a professor of psychology at the University of San Diego, said, “People are much more likely to give in a public circumstance than a private one.” He explained that “getting your name on a list of donors” or receiving celebration for your actions “means something to people.” Humans want recognition for their accomplishments and their kindness, and this desire for reward is heightened during the holidays.
Among teenagers, social media campaigns are a great example of this; they rely on the natural human need for recognition, and it results in much higher participation. This need for recognition isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it often means a much more significant and positive impact is made.
However, as Indian spiritual master Sai Babas said, “Selfless service alone gives the needed strength and courage to awaken the sleeping humanity in one’s heart.” In other words, an act of truly selfless giving can provide the donor with a huge spiritual and metaphysical benefit, as opposed to the praise of public giving.
This potential inner growth, in contrast to outward recognition, results in a stronger and more profound effect on the giver, and a greater net benefit for everyone involved.
Nevertheless, there is still a necessity of service for the function and improvement of the world around us. Above all, each of us must continue to give whatever, whenever, and wherever we can.
Especially as teenagers, we must enforce the teaching of a habit of altruism in ourselves and our peers, as service should be an intrinsic part of our lives.
Although one may feel more inspired to participate in service during the holidays, it is critical to remember that many organizations and charities work year-round and need help every day. It’s essential that we try to be more giving people regardless of what we will receive in return. The myriad of issues affecting our world — whether social, environmental, economic, or something else — don’t just focus on the holidays, and neither can our service.