Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Hebron Crossroads 7-18-04
By Jeff Gill

Mandatory; zero tolerance; banned; across the board; no exceptions.
Y’all were quite tolerant of my rant a few weeks back about the trend to social developments like smoking bans in all public spaces or mandatory sentencing guidelines in criminal cases. To repeat: I loathe cigarette smoke, physically and personally, and think court judgments should be swift, certain, consistent, and grim. But without human judgment, however flawed, we pre-empt common sense anywhere by penalizing folks for not using common sense everywhere.
But an interesting question was raised with me about something like “universal service.” What did I think about that?
Actually, the interesting dilemma I have here is that I think it would be great if absolutely everyone did it, and the best way to ruin universal service is to. . .yep, make it mandatory.
For instance, a public service requirement for high school graduation has been popular in some areas recently. May I say that spending time on a work trip, mission experience with a church, or service project at home or away is one of the most life expanding, uplifting and enlightening things a young person (or old: remember Miz Lillian in the Peace Corps in her 80’s?) can do.
But making it an obligation for absolutely everyone carries the seeds of decay for the entire ideal. First off, the sense that one chooses to do something they don’t have to do is lost. Remember how you felt when you went to the closet to get out the vacuum unasked and use it, and a voice comes around the corner “Oh, would you run the sweeper while you’re in there?” You have this crestfallen moment of losing that chance to be seen as doing something “over and above.”
And not everyone serves usefully in the same context. The match of one’s gifts to need can be a tricky recipe to cook up; universal service programs, of necessity due to the scale of numbers and projects, tend to lapse into a “hole and peg” kind of mentality. Putting someone to work in a context they regret and resent can create the opposite of what voluntary service does in a person’s heart, narrowing and embittering their view of others in the world.
Many folks with very good intentions have said that the country and our young would be well served by requiring a term of mandatory service, a year or two in the military, in urban or rural teaching, in medical assistance with hospitals or trail clearing and repair in our parks. My own view is that we should have such a program, for Ohio or nationally, to promote and facilitate such service, and could add meaningful incentives without making it paid make-work as opposed to volunteerism.
But mandatory? No. Ask any sergeant about the differences between a draftee army (bless ‘em all!) and the all volunteer services of today. I’ve supervised work crews of volunteers who had some sad sacks (usually drug along unwillingly by a friend) and a crew of court-ordered public servers which had a participant who loved the work and stayed late: but generally, mandatory makes for mopes and malcontents.
Do I wish everyone wanted to volunteer to help others? Sure do. Let’s encourage that, not require it, and set the first example ourselves.

Next week, a few VBS notes in Jacksontown and Hebron (I’ll bet they still need some volunteers!) and some updates on the Hartford Fair (Aug. 8, starting late this year), band camp (same day), and the dreaded words “Back To School.” Well, dreaded by some, anyway.

Jeff Gill is pastor of Hebron Christian Church and does a little volunteering himself; if you have service opportunities to promote or news of local interest, call 928-4066 or e-mail

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