Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rethinking my position

As promised, I will now attempt to synthesize some of the thoughts which have been brought on by my classes and intern experiences. For some of you, this means closing the page as fast as you can and returning to Facebook, but I hope you will give me a chance to explain myself.

After all, provoking these thoughts and reflections is intended be the core of my experience here and as much as I have been talking about all the exciting sites and delicious food {my brother thinks I sound like a food critic}, this summer has provided much more valuable experiences which have truly altered my conception of life.

Wow. That was a big statement. Let me clarify.

What I realize now, is that when I applied for this program I did so naively. I thought, "I like service. Why not?"

What I realize now, is that my conception of service-what it means, what it entails, its effects, its role in society-was incomplete. So incomplete in fact, that for some time I was embarrassed, ashamed of my ignorance.

For one, I, like many people, tended to think of service as wholly good while in truth, not all service is equal. Some service is more effective than other forms. Service can even be irresponsible and misguided, but we are often blind to this because we are not used to asking tough questions about philanthropy. Asking questions of philanthropic organizations is not a socially acceptable practice. You would raise some eyebrows if you demanded to know something like the ROI of a philanthropic organization whose mission is to help children cancer patients, but that kind of discerning judgment is exactly what we as generous Americans need to do!

This need is only extenuated in our tough economic times where money is tight and the demand for philanthropic services has gone up. Doing good is not an excuse for being inefficient. Non-profits should be (and need to be) held to the same standards that for-profit corporations are held to {{not that we've done a good job of that either, but that's an entry for another time}}

But, perhaps most damming was my conception of service as somehow a-political.

I have never been particularly politically engaged. I think I found politics too daunting to follow so I just declared it irrelevant, but if there is one thing this experience has taught me, it's that service is far from being a-political. Instead, it is inseparable.

I have been working toward this realization since I arrived in DC, but I think the idea cemented itself tonight in my Ethics class. We were analyzing John Locke's Second Treatise of Government. If you are not familiar with Locke his main argument is that human beings have two basic, natural rights which cannot be infringed upon by any other person. Namely, these rights are freedom and equality. He also believes in the very limited role of government, solely in the protection of property. If you follow it {which I do} then our society as it stands today, is way off track.

Have you ever really thought about how the society in which we live in today differs from the society established by our Founding Fathers?

I really had not until this course. To be honest, I really hadn't given much thought to where I stand on lots of issues, big, fundamental issues like the role of government.

In some of our earlier TFAS events we have been asked to identify our views on issues and determine our place on the political spectrum. I have been all but completely lost.

What am I?

In my mind there were always two options-Republican or Democrat-but now I've come to realize the complexity of the political arena.

As I grappled with these struggles to ascertain my views, I began to worry that I might be being hypocritical. How can I believe in the need for limited government and the duty to address the wealth disparity in our country? Might it be possible for some of my views derived from sociological perspectives to be incongruent with some of my philosophical views?

Indeed, I think it is.

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