Public Displays Of Charity

Flickr / Nathan Congleton
Flickr / Nathan Congleton

With the potential for an almost omnipresent existence that the media offers users, can anything ever really be private anymore? We live in a world in which we can promote our business, our beliefs, our political stance and ourselves with the simple tap of a touch screen. Whether it be for more serious objectives, or just to moderately exploit our adorable puppies in hopes of achieving the perfect followers-to-following ratio, we can do just about anything. Silly as this may sound, I do in-fact follow the adorable Corgis, Otis and Ollie with zero regrets. But, I digress. I cannot help but become frustrated by what appears to be a perpetually refreshing feed of tweets and status updates that captivate me more than I would like to admit. Meanwhile, I am fascinated by our new ability to cost effectively promote whatever we feel compelled to share. Consequently, as I consider the things that are most important to my life, I must ask myself: How does my media use affect my service? Is it wrong to publicly display charitable work?

We all know that friend whose relationship made its debut (a million times over), all over social media; I like to call this a public display of media affection. I think anyone can attest to the fact that there is a very fine line between adorable and excessive when it comes to the posts that would ordinarily be private. This brings us to question: how do we walk this fine line when it comes to expressing a passion for service? Our culture would dictate that posting about charity work is always necessary, as we subscribe to the notion, β€œif there are no pictures, did you really even do it?” However, I struggle with applying this social norm to publicizing service activities, as there is always a fear of feeling disingenuous. On the other hand, it would be foolish to reject available platforms to spread awareness of the causes I advocate for, as doing so may garner greater support. This raises a moral dilemma: where does altruism end and egoism begin? And, most importantly, can there be one without the other or are they in some way, inextricably linked by our human nature?

I have always embraced the belief that true service lies in the actions we take purely for the love of helping others. However, it is impossible to claim that we perform acts of love without receiving some sort of intrinsic gratification in return, regardless of our intent. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant have wrestled with the questionable existence of selfless acts. It is a challenging question to answer, as we can never be certain of the intent behind one’s actions and, thus, selflessness is a very subjective term. Nevertheless, that does not mean we don’t have a standard for serving others and an expectation for ourselves in our service.

One of my greatest passions is helping others and sharing the blessings and joys that I have experienced in my life with those around me. I grew up with the philosophy that we are all cohabiting in this world for a purpose, and as result, we should make ourselves accessible to one another. Likewise, I strive to maintain the ideal that charitable work comes from a selfless place in our hearts. However, as I reflect on my service experiences, I must admit that I have personally benefited from every single one. Oddly enough, I am comfortable with this revelation. Serving others is not about how many people see it and admire us as result; but it is about the relationships that we can form with the people whom we are serving. After realizing this, I must amend my previous viewpoint. To go into service expecting it to be one-sided may actually prevent us from achieving the ultimate goal. The aim should not be to merely β€œfix” or β€œhelp” another person, but to create a relationship full of love and compassion. Countless times, I have arrived at a soup kitchen or shelter with the expectation of making a difference in another person’s life; and instead, I have left changed by the impact the people I was β€œserving” had on me.

So, we ask ourselves again, how can we publicly display service? Although the answer will always be subjective, I have concluded that it is not necessarily wrong to feel good about doing service. Nevertheless, there will always be a fine line in regards to what we are trying to promote when it comes to publicizing charitable acts. Subscribing to the promotion of oneself through service will never achieve a desired mission, but if we promote the love and compassion that are such critical elements of effective service work, we may actually create something more special than we could ever conceptualize without doing so. We post the pictures, we spread the stories, and we do this so that others can serve alongside us, ultimately to achieve the love. So, whether it be public or private, forget the #service, just #love. TC mark

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