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June 6, 2014

In Your Opinion: 'Service' has many different meanings

It’s clear from his May 3 letter that Mr. Stammel missed that certain word I used: context. In researching the idea of “service over self,” I found that it has its expression in the belief systems of two very different areas of life: religion and politics. And both the meaning and practice of “service” in each is as different as night and day. 

To put it simply, service to others in a religious realm isn’t forced and carries no legal penalty, or even social pressure. One understands beforehand that it might be part of the religious belief system they consider committing to, and is totally free to accept or reject involvement. 

But an obligation of altruism in the political sense is quite a different situation. You usually don’t have the same freedom here, as forceful compliance is historical governmental character. Though volunteerism hasn’t yet reached the stage of being federally mandated for all, there are certain examples where it is for some. Again, I’m talking about the high schoolers. Who knows when they’ll make volunteering mandatory to even get from grade to grade? 

I oppose this kind of volunteerism for two reasons. First, it’s a complete distortion of the concept of voluntary. The best example of volunteering is doing for someone, knowing you won’t even get a thanks, never mind any material benefits. Secondly, by our uncritically accepting this particular directive, we condition ourselves to keep passively accepting them. Which makes it all the harder for someone to even ask themselves just where is it Washington’s place to both bribe and force people to altruism?

Ultimately, we’ll have to choose between having a parenting government, or freedom. Because we can’t have both.

Robert Olejarz


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