“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” John F. Kennedy
When my supervisor called “Lunch,” I decided to go outside and eat in the park. The sky was gray. There was water in the streets, but it was not raining. Apparently, many other members of the “Ant Farm” decided to leave the stuffiness of our cubicles, as well.
I looked for an available seat, and found one next to a girl I had never seen previously. I rushed over to claim my position before any others. My lunch had consisted of left-overs, tabouli and falafel, which I made the previous night. With ravenous intent, my appetite spurred my eagerness into my bag. I had not eaten breakfast, and the pangs of hunger were distracting, but I noticed the girl.
At first glance, it was hard to observe, but I could tell. Her hair was unkempt, her clothes were dingy, and she had an air of someone who was secretly desperate. As I ate, I could hear her stomach growling louder than my own. In my mind I was asking myself, “She must be only 14 or 15, where are her parents? She can go home to eat, can’t she?”
I began to feel really uncomfortable. I could see, through the corner of my eye, that she was watching me eat. I tried not to look in her direction. I tried not to even notice her, as if the act of recognition would make me even guiltier. Halfway through the sandwich, my phone rang. It was Brian. He needed me upstairs, pronto. Hurriedly, I tossed what was left of my lunch, half a falafel sandwich and most of the tabouli, into the trash.
As I walked away, when I was too far to casually notice, she reached into the garbage can, and extracted my meal. In her act, she assuaged my guilt. At least, indirectly, I had helped her. That thought made me feel a little better inside, then I felt ashamed for not doing more.
On any given night, in the United States, An Estimated 744,313 Men, Women, and Children face the uncertainty, the disrespect, the violence, and the loneliness of being homeless. (Sermons, M. W., and Meghan Henry, 2009)
- Approximately 297,000 suffer from serious mental illness. Shunned by the world, often they are released from facilities without a place to go, without treatment available to them, and simply because they are no longer a hazard to themselves and others. (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2013)
- Each day, over 208,000 people turn to homelessness to try and escape domestic violence by an emotionally and/or physically controlling intimate partner, whose tactics often involve physical assault, sexual assault, and manipulation. (National Coalition for the Homeless , July 2009)
- Each year, over 1 million children run away from home. Of that amount:
○ Over 600,000 run away because of neglect and abuse issues.(Molnar, Beth E., Starley B. Shade, Alex H. Kral, Robert E. Booth, and John K. Watters, 1998)
○ Over 350,000 have told a family member, school faculty, neighbor or friend about the abusive situation, to no avail.
○ Each day, an estimated 160,000 children are homeless into the night.
○ 400 Children go missing, or die, while living on the street, every year.
(National Conference of State Legislatures, and State Net Information for Public Affairs, Apr. 2010)
Unfortunately, these facts are no longer a surprise for most Americans. We have grown accustomed to the sight of the wild eyed, dirt-covered man on the corner. We avert our gaze from the young woman who is sitting hungry next to us in the park. We are no longer shocked at the sight of children and teens, sleeping in parks or abandoned buildings. There is a disease that is growing in the population of this country. This disease has stuck a majority of men, women, and children in many various forms, from the average citizen to the most powerful politicians. There is evidence of this disease everywhere, in schools, in workplaces, and in homes. (Nicholson, Christie, 2010) (O'Brien, Keith, 2010) (Zaki, Jamil, 2011)
This disease is Apathy. The strongest evidence of this effect is seen with the broadening of the class system in these United States; in the expression of the legal system, in the creation of legislation by our elected officials, and in the reaction of the citizen when confronted with need. This perception becomes more evident when we look at the increase of contributions to charitable organizations and decline of volunteerism.
The percentage of Americans who volunteer had an overall drop, nationally. In 2012, 26.5 percent of adults volunteered. Volunteerism had peaked at 31.2 percent in 2004, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013)When comparing the percentage of volunteers per capita in the “Top 10 Metropolitan Areas That Volunteer,” the non-mandatory percentages seem to contradict the national average that the citizen is being given in regards to charitable volunteerism. There is a significant difference between the average of 9.98 % and 26.5 % totals that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in two different studies.
It is interesting to note several items that bring into question the results of the statistics:
- That the total number of volunteers given nationally (the 26.5%) also includes those that volunteer services to political, economic, and civic organizations not directly related to helping those less fortunate.
- The national statistics include volunteerism required by schools, organization, state, and federal programs, including those receiving some form of federal aid, students fulfilling a school requirement, and those required by legal judgment or settlement. (Loupe, Diane 2000) (Rector, Robert, 2012)
- The average of volunteers compared to the populations of major metropolitan areas have a discrepancy of up to 15 percentage points to the accepted national average.
- The Patriot Act and the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011 define the act of terror as “An act that appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.” (107th CONGRESS, 2001) This includes any information that might cause disagreement or subversion with governmental authority." Which leads me to the opinion that such a requirement is a violation of the "Patriot Act."
Many educational programs require some type of volunteerism as a graduation requirement. Many forms of government assistance require volunteering in order to continue to receive benefits. Many judicial rulings require community service, either in lieu of money for a fine, in accompaniment with the fine, or some other condition of settlement. Many inmates in the state and federal prison systems have opportunities to volunteer, not just to fulfill a sentence requirement, but also to allow certain inmates the ability to leave the prison walls.
This brings up the question "Is a corporation or individual that is coerced into the situation of charitable work, is it still considered volunteerism?" According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the answer is a resounding “YES!”
Another issue that is confronted when looking at the U.S’s statistics regarding charitable contributions is the introduction of laws, such as the Patriot Act, Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, and PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, that has given the federal government legal recourse to effect statistics in the guise of National Security.(American Civil Liberties Union, 2002) National Security now entails any act that appears to be intended to coerce the civilian population and influence the policy of government. This would include the creation of any information which would cause the American population to question or think less of the nature of our republic, including any statistics presented by a department of the government.
This inherently gives the president, congress, or the Department of Homeland Security the ability to omit, skew, or change any information regardless of the objections of any other departments or agencies. The Department of Homeland Security has used “The Patriot Act” to label affirmative action and peace groups as terrorist organizations, partially for releasing information that degrades the reputation of the federal government. (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005) Therefore, it is safe to assume that information pertaining to the volunteering of citizens in civic activities would come under the influence of government oversight in the hope of preventing “civil unrest,” whether peaceful or otherwise. (Buchalter, Alice R., John Gibbs, and Marieke Lewis, 2004)
I am not against requiring some type of civic service work for those who are on welfare and are able. I am not against requiring students to work in charitable civic organizations as part of their graduation requirement. I am against the fact that these conditions go against the concept of volunteerism. It skews the statistics, giving the impression that Americans are voluntarily giving their time to charitable organizations. These statistics also show that without the requirement overseen by legal and contractual agreement, that less than 10% of the population actually feels the civic duty to volunteer for the betterment of those less fortunate. Should the number of “judicial, political, and contractual volunteering” be included in the statistics that Americans are being exposed to as scientific data?
Another aspect of civic duty is financial contributions to charity. Though there is a 46.8% increase in total monetary donations in the past 11 years (an increase from $215.4 in 2001(O'Herlihy, Mary A., John J. Havens, and Paul G. Schervish, 2002)to $316.23 billion in 2012 financial donations (Charity Navigator, 2013))it appears that individual donation amounts decreased. There was an increase in "required donations" based upon business contract agreements and fines incurred by corporations that the DOJ ordered to be donated to public charities. Part of these “charities” are "nonprofit organizations" founded by said corporations and for-profit charity companies. The amount of monetary donations that are fulfilling a legal requirement totals 63% of the total judgments and settlements in 2012. This is the percentage of 1000 legal cases I reviewed against corporations that ended with a judgment requiring a donation to a charitable organization. This brings into question the claim that there is an increase in charitable giving.
When you consider the numbers for total financial donations given in 2011 was $347,000,000,000, the “Top 15 Charitable Giving Companies”(Sprung, Shlomo, 2012) gave a total of $2,023,721,769 which is .58% of total reported. At first glance, this seems like a rather substantial donation for charity, but if you consider that the total court rulings requiring fiscal donation from the top 15 companies to charity totals $978,643,682, you realize that almost half of the recorded “donations” were required by court order in the listed companies.(Court Review: Volume 42, 2006)
It appears that the individual Americans are taking a similar corporate stance on dealing with need in our country. There is a perception that just because we donate money and elect officials, it fulfills any civic responsibility to our family, friends, and neighbors. There seems to be an increased sentiment that people do not need to act when confronted with immediate need, relying on the concept of corporate donations to fund local charities.
The concept of civil responsibility is not fulfilled with bags of money. There is a need for personnel, managers, supervisors, and laborers willing to better focus the resources in specific areas of charity. Relying upon organizations and officials that are miles away is adding to the bureaucracy that is hindering the help for the “citizen in need” in modern society. (O'Brien, Keith, 2010)
The political mood of the nation has contributed to a declining sense of unity and self-sacrifice; this is due in part to the 2-party political system thriving on the psychological benefit of conflict. It feeds upon the concept that it is better to win, than to do the right thing. In fact, when politicians cross party lines in agreement, quite often this proves to be detrimental to their overall political careers. It is even harder for independents to have their voice heard, because this sense of competition extends past the election years. (Tannen, Deborah, 1998)
The concept of civil responsibility and social conscience has steadily declined. Our society has promoted the concepts of individualism, from individual liberties to the classist rights of the citizen. As a result of this emphasis on the individual, the concept of community and societal reliance has diminished. People feel responsible for only themselves. There is no longer an underlying feeling of responsibility to their family, their friends, their communities, or even their society. A growing number of people feel that the burden of social problems belong to politicians and nonprofit organizations. The individual feels that politicians, charities, and non-profit organization’s are in place to fulfill the role of civil responsibility and civic duty for them. The isolationist concepts have affected family, community, society, much deeper than realized.
So, what is the key that can reverse the apathy in our society and weakening of America? You are, the average and powerful, citizen! It is only by changing our perceptions on civic duty, patriotism, and the citizen, can we save America from the disease that is changing the face of society.
Claim responsibility for issues that are not your own! Do not rely on elected officials or corporations to take care of the problems of those that you see in need. Do not be concerned with the action of the individual needing help. We need to develop an identity that allows us to take pride in the action of helping people, regardless if it is with the local alcoholic, drug addict, or even someone with a criminal past. We are often fallible in our judgments of people. What we believe about someone is not necessarily true! The act of judging the individual needing help is just another step into the bureaucratic misgivings preventing the act of charity, to begin with.
Push away the need for immediate gratification! In modern society, the need for immediate, drastic results often prevents us from taking a step in the right direction. A sandwich will only feed a hungry person, once. A homeless shelter will only provide a roof, a safe place to sleep. Welfare is not logistically setup to improve lives, only sustain them. So, if you take action to help someone less fortunate than you, take pride in the fact that you are changing the world, slowly and surely, with compassion, with tolerance, and with love.
Push away the idea that it is the government, charity, or non-profit organization’s responsibility to help our neighbors. We must not rely upon corporations to provide that which our communities need immediately. We must not simply rely upon the government to take care of problems, in our stead. It is only by picking up the mantle of responsibility for our fellow man can we truly effect a change in the world.
Of all the things that are valuable that can be given, the most valuable is that of ourselves. The act of friendship may not offer a revelation that will make a mentally ill individual more competent. Being a friend may not provide food or shelter to those that are suffering on the street. What our friendship may offer is personal relationships with those who are less fortunate than ourselves, who need friends, teachers, and the parental figures to show them the way to live a more fulfilling life.
As the old adage says; “Give a man a fish, you feed him for the day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime,” if you apply this to basic living skills, relationship building, and occupational practices, the value the simple act of friendship has on society is astounding. This is what will change someone into a more productive member; our kindness, our respect, and our humility.
The final thing that we must do is stop being so concerned with facts and statistics, in regard to the less fortunate. Every day, the media bombards us with facts, figures, pictures, and graphs telling us how well or how poorly the less fortunate are being treated. We hear rumors and complaints that the government is doing too much to provide food and housing to those who only take advantage of it. When confronted with need, we repeat to ourselves that there is “someone, somewhere, sometime” that will take care of their need. Instead of hardening our hearts and justifying our reasons why we do not act, we should replace the words “Someone, Somewhere, and Sometime” with the words “I Will, Here, and Now.”
“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.”-Helen Keller
Bibliography Upon Request, LOL!!