Editorial Notebook

Participating in random acts of kindness

During my senior year, I was talking with one of my friends, and you know, we had done all the college tours over the summer, and she was talking about how she went on a tour of Princeton. She was with other prospective students who were being shy and awkward—which is fine—but she managed to squeeze a little information out of them. A couple of them gave her the pretty common “pre-med,” or “pre-law,” or “business” answers, and maybe a little of their history with volunteer work or a similar humble brag.

Anyway, the tour went on and she was enjoying herself, but next thing she knew she was throwing up. Everything from that morning, just all over the place. Not a single one of those prospective students went up to her and said, “Are you okay?” Not a single one of them held her hair back. Not a single one of them offered to grab her water. This seems like a pretty basic human courtesy, right? When you see somebody throwing up, even if you don’t know them, the right thing to do would be to at least try to help.

My main problem with this is that it really demonstrates a lack of authenticity of the altruism within some of the people that “want to change the world.” Now, I’m not saying that all people who volunteer lack genuine altruism—in fact, in most cases I think long term volunteers are the most honorable people, but if I had to guess, all of those prospective students had impressive resumes with hundreds upon hundreds of volunteer hours.

With that, with all of the prospective students there, and all of those thousands of combined volunteer hours, not a single one of them was willing to help out with what was immediately in front of them. I think the reason behind this is because there was no credit given. If the problem at hand was a “hot topic” or through an institution, I’m sure many of them would have jumped up at the opportunity to help. I saw this all the time in high school—people would go to volunteer for half an hour, and have the facilitator sign off for two or three hours of work. And then it was a two-sided coin—they would brag to some people about how much volunteer work they did, and to others they’d brag about how much they could get away with.

Now, I’m not trying to sound like I am some morally superior person, like everyone, I have room to improve, but one thing I think is very important is to do good things that you do not get credit for. These actions are the most genuine.

A great example of this comes from some of the most qualified people I know from high school. They would always pick on and bully this one kid, which you know, we all got caught up with; I’m not going to absolve myself of the blame. But I realized, “He’s a person. I wonder what he’s going through,” so I tried to make an effort to spend time with him, get to know him, and generally treat him like a person should be treated. Obviously, this is not raising thousands of dollars for charity, but I’d like to think it made a difference. I was helping the person immediately in front of me. There was no credit involved, no facilitator to give me hours—in fact there was anti-credit,“Oh, why would you hang out with him?”—but these kinds of things have value. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to volunteer. I think food drives, clothing drives, and mentoring programs are all super important, but it is also important to not forget about what is immediately in front of you. Sitting with the “weird kid” at lunch might not feel as profound as ending world hunger, but the amount of good it does is unimaginable.