Okay, maybe not, but it does give you time to think. Below are some of the thoughts that passed through my head on Make A Difference Day.
Setting: It was 9am on a rainy Saturday and Team Detroit had made its way to a local park ready to make a difference by cleaning up the area.
…Make a difference, huh, what does that really mean? -Difference
…Out of the mandatory service days this one has the broadest title-"Make a Difference".
…Is it suppose to be a positive change?, and if so why isn't it called Make a Positive Impact Day, aside from the fact that MAPID is not as good of an abbreviation as MADD.
…Difference? I mean a lot of people have made a difference in our world, but not all of it good.
…Today on the 38th parallel where North and South Korea are divided, the 2 mile-wide Demilitarized Zone is one of Asia's premiere preserves for rare birds and other species. Does that mean that Kim Jong Il has made a difference for his role in creating a habitat for endangered animals? Never mind the millions of starving North Koreans, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or the wanton human rights violations"
...no I'm sure that's not what NAF had in mind for AmeriCorps’ Make a Difference Day.
Aside from the wide array of thoughts that come to mind while picking up trash, often you make observations about your surroundings. In a way you become a forensic detective combing the grass, the play structures, and the basketball court for the next clue; like piecing together a puzzle..."why is there a lighter next to this New England Patriots football bib?...I must continue to investigate".
The real prizes of course are the condoms. Picking up discarded condoms also drew me back into thought. The overarching moral quandary I had regarding these condoms was this; should I be mad that someone didn't properly dispose of their condom (see HIV 101 training ala Santa Fe), or should I be happy that they were at least practicing safer sex? After thinking about this issue some more I realized that the same type of question could be applied to our entire clean up effort: should I be mad at people for disposing of trash and lude items so cavalierly, or should I appreciate that someone had been here utilizing this space?
The second part of our day gave me another perspective on my internal struggle. Team Detroit dedicated the afternoon to working at Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Most of the items from chairs to brick pavers were items that had been discarded by their previous owners, but here these supplies would be reused to hopefully improve someone else's life...giving credence to the adage "one man’s trash, is someone else's treasure".
If picking trash up gives you time to reflect, then lifting pallets of bricks and pieces of lumber instills the value of teamwork. Throughout the day shouts of "come on guys, make a difference" could be heard from team members buoying the spirits of the group as we lifted, shifted, and hauled everything from soggy drywall to a swing set. One unintended benefit to all this human debris was the opportunity for seven people to come together as a team to improve their community. Actually, this is an important pivot on which service rests; working together for the purpose of renewing the "commons".
This idea of the "commons" got back to my original question about those condoms and the bigger question of how we view our society; and here are some more thoughts (sorry):
Too often has the theory that individuals act in their own self interest when utilizing shared resources, been used to justify the individualization of previously held common resources -Thanks Garrett Hardin! Doing service, however, we must recognize that this concept of poisoning the well is not an explanation of how we interact with society, but merely a negative view of reality. I deny that we ever saw the tragedy of the commons play out to its maximum, but that the conception of what should be held "common" has shifted with time and place; from land in the middle ages, to a commons of consciousness, seen in the democratization of countries, to today and the new push for greater social responsibility.
This burgeoning idea of increasing our responsibility to one another will be tested on issues such as the impending health care legislation. When a public health option is presented to us we have to ask ourselves the same question I faced while staring at that mangled piece of latex. Are we as a society going to be angry that other people get sick, or will we be proud that it is because of the collective that everyone has access to affordable treatment?
It is how we answer this question that truly makes a difference. To be sure, Team Detroit made its difference by beatifying a park, but the measurement of Difference is whether or not we captured the spirit of giving back to our "commons". I’m not advocating that we tolerate people dumping garbage into our parks, but what I’m insisting is that we look for the good in the things that connect our society. And when its time to put in the work necessary to maintain or improve what we hold collectively that we do so, not with contempt for others, but with an enthusiasm that captures the positive essence of community service.