A Volunteer’s Thoughts on Scale of Community Service

MRC Volunteer, Aditya Desai shares his experience of community service.
He introduces us to his theory of “Small Being Big” by reflecting on
generosity and kindness. We invite you to read his piece and
consider to start your community service with MRC.
Check out the current opportunities here:

BY: Aditya Desai, MRC Volunteer, November 2019

A concept that would bother me constantly as a young child was the idea of being a good person. I was on a mission to be a philanthropist—a model resident; a man admired for his selflessness—all of which was of course an ambitious undertaking for a ten year old learning multiplication. Perhaps the most daunting aspect of this fictitious role was that I had no clue how to fill it. Surely, I knew how to be nice , but then again, nice is different than kind. Nice is smiling on the bus ride home—not sassing your sister; nice is complimenting a stranger’s scarf—rather than staring at your feet. Yet, being kind is more difficult—more amorphous, and almost impossible to definitively term.

I was 14 when the definition of a good person changed. Certainly, since starting high school, good people seemed so rare. All of a sudden, proving your goodness seemed like the golden ticket — the pass that would enable anyone to pursue an education at an ivy, or get the job they always wanted. Instantly, volunteer hours became the motivation for doing any good whatsoever — a currency of sorts in a false world of sincerity. Which begs the question, if being good is born out of the entirety of selfishness —spurred by personal goals, in place of the cause at hand — does it really count?

The result: a new gamut of questions. What is the correlation between motive and admiralty? It’s effortless to simply engage in a good deed; in fact, I often do just that as a quick fix for a bad mood. The psychological equivalent of being “above the profit margin” is a fantastic morale booster, beyond the dopamine that’s naturally released. But then, as soon as you acknowledge that the motivation for act was selfish, the good deed is no longer for another person. It’s for you. And now it’s tainted by vanity.

So here is my theory; my attempt at being sophisticated. Like all great thinkers (or great thinker wannabes), I have given it a name. It’s called The Theory of Small Being Big. Once you reach a certain age, it is a tacit rule that you should flaunt your generosity. If you organize a collection for the poor, it is expected, even encouraged, that you will use that in your college essay. Large-scale, widespread acts of virtue beg praise. It is implicitly accepted that the fewer people your actions benefit, the less impressive your deed is. Which makes it easy for people to simply choose to do the big things, the things that will earn them the admiration of their peers, all the while failing to give their spare change to the homeless man on the street corner or neglecting to buy their mom flowers. Few people fault you for ignoring negligible opportunities for kindness like these. But seizing these opportunities, demonstrate a higher standard of moral fiber than most people possess.