Why Citizenship Will Save the World [Citizenship, Day 1]

April 14, 2014 by John Andrew Williams

Today’s thought: Altruism Adds Meaning to Your Life

“I knew this problem existed, but it didn’t have a face until I went to the soup kitchen.”– A High School Student

In the Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, Citizenship headlines the chapter on strengths of Justice.

Both concepts have been the dissected and discussed with different ramifications since we learned how to make fires. Who gets to sit closest? Hey, while we’re at it, let’s talk about who gets to build the next one and who is invited.

We’ve come a long way since those primitive beginnings…

In terms of Academic Life Coaching, and the current series on cultivating each of these strengths and virtues in ourselves (consider it a modern day Benjamin Franklin project), I’m choosing to focus on the altruistic rather than the political activism or fire building sides of citizenship.

From the research I’ve done these past weeks on altruism and citizenship, one idea stands out: Citizenship has a direct impact on one’s happiness and sense of life meaning.

Human beings are made to help others.

Like most of humanity, I find it much easier to dismiss a problem if I haven’t experienced it myself or spent time around someone who experienced the problem.

It’s why most people try to avoid eye-contact with homeless people asking for money at stop lights. But what happens with the person asking for money standing on the corner has a name and a story?

Yesterday my six year-old daughter asked, “Dada, why does everyone pretend the homeless man standing on the corner is invisible?”

“Because they don’t know his name,” I said.

The quick interaction reminded me of the research conducted by Miranda Yates and James Youniss that pointed to how high school students gave themselves higher ratings in satisfaction with life and started to create increasingly positive conceptions of their abilities and confidence when they participate in volunteer projects.

When we give our time to others, we are happier.

Admittedly, it’s been sometime since I’ve donated my time to another organization. When I ask myself – why don’t I volunteer more often – the answer is that I really do consider the work that I do as serving a larger purpose. I believe that Academic Life Coaching, through education, has the power to be a positive force in the academic world.

But for the next two months, I’m going to put a name to the students I want to help. I’ve set up a project with Elevate Oregon in Parkrose High School, a school that graduates a little more than half of its students. For the next eight weeks, I’m volunteering three hours a week to go to the classroom and train students in basic Academic Life Coaching skills.

It’s time to put names and faces to the intangible mission of redesigning education.

I’m interested in the changes that happen in the classroom and in the lives of the students, and I’m for sure going to stay tuned to the changes that happen in me.

How does volunteering change you?

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