Service Learning and Compassionate Action

Good deeds are performed in view of others and also, good deeds are quietly performed behind the scenes – often not in conscious view of others.

Applause to the NWTC Service Learning program, as I read in today’s e-mail,  for its positive impact on the faculty, staff, students, and the community at large. As the most recent Service – Learning Newsletter, volume 1 expressed it:

Students who are involved in meaningful service-learning do better on tests, show a sense of self-esteem and purpose, connect with the community, and want to be more civically engaged. They also are less likely to be involved in negative behavior and more likely to graduate from high school and college.”


   I offer another perspective which complements service learning, that is, compassionate action.    For the past 10 years I have collected 110 pages of testimonies from my students in my contemporary American society classes who have not been involved in formal service learning, but in what I call “compassionate action” in their communities. They were recognized for their lived life experiences. These individuals are living examples of Ghandi’s quotation: “I must become the change I want to see in the world.”

Here are 5 of the 110 testimonies of the these students’ examples of compassionate action:

“I think that my contribution to society is something that is done daily. I value my own opinion about issues that are considered topics in society; but I also think that I value the opinions of others as well with an open mind. I don’t like to argue about who is wrong or right, but rather listen to another point of view, and maybe form a different opinion about my own. I contribute to society in many other ways by being a registered voter, and utilizing that freedom along with being a single parent. I believe that parenthood is my biggest contribution because the bond between a parent and child is the biggest form of influence one can have in society. I hope that my good ethics will pass down to my son, and I can instill in him the principles of acceptance of others, and compassion for the less fortunate.”


“My friend and I are both talented musicians (not to brag!), so we thought we could use that to our advantage to give others happiness. Especially around the Holidays, we would travel to the nearby nursing homes to play Christmas music for the residents. Some of them were very depressed around that time, especially if their family is not close by. We would ask for requests (even though some of them had nothing to do with Christmas) and that would make them all feel involved. You could see on their faces that they really appreciated the time we took for them. Now, we play for these homes on a regular basis.”

“I prefer to make contributions in a less obvious manner. I volunteer my time at a food pantry. For some reason, this seems to have a positive affect on my life.”

“Ecologically, many persons say a lot of “lip service” to the ecological cause, but they do not really live an ecologically conservative manner. I try to make up for this by being more conservative in my water usage when it comes to the laundry, taking 2 minute showers, and flushing the toilet.”

“Thinking of others first is one of the biggest parts of helping out society. Combining the theory of “living simply so others may simply live” and putting others ahead of myself, donating food when needed, becoming an active voice in society, and finishing my education will result in making this community and society as a whole better than when I started on this Earth.”

It was my goal, not to mandate their compassionate action, but to challenge them to consciously reflect on and articulate what they are already doing in and for their community, and to awaken their desire to serve others in view of others or quietly behind the scenes. Socrates reminds us, “Know thyself” – a good place to start.

“The desire to serve others is the highest impulse of the human heart and the rewards of such service are beyond measure. If you wish to taste this joy, then just do it. Just take one step…You will see the tyranny of self-concern, worry, and trivial pursuits can be released from your life with the single step. It doesn’t really matter what you do, it only matters that you do it.” Ganga Stone

Roger J. Vanden Busch

December 1, 2014

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