Am I a bad person?

February 7, 2011 Comments Off on Am I a bad person?

Two of my closest friends have quite recently talked about teaching as a way to “give back.” In fact, people have always been talking about “giving back” and “responsibility to the community.”

I totally lack this feeling. I have absolutely zero interest in giving to my community and I feel no obligation whatsoever except for a niggling uncertainty that maybe I should. Part of it is that I don’t really see myself as part of a community. I don’t have a lot of warm fuzzies for everyone around me who does their job quietly while I do mine. I have the kind of attitude where if everyone just keeps to himself and I keep to myself, why then that’s just perfect. People who intrude on my personal quiet antisocial space become targets of my deepest resentment.

Possibly this means I’m spoiled. I mean, I am. But maybe the reason none of this means anything to me is that I’ve never had to depend on a community before. Except that’s not really true either—you can’t not depend on your community. At the very least, someone has to truck groceries into town and someone has to sell them, and someone has to take away my trash, not to mention all the people involved with getting water, electricity, and heat to my apartment. But that’s not above and beyond. That’s just normal people doing their normal jobs. And when I get a job, I will do it and everything will fit together perfectly and as long as I am a cog in the community, that is enough participation for me.

But that’s not “giving back.” What is “giving back”? What were you given in the first place that you feel the need to go to such lengths to pay the community back? What community? Rachael’s Teach for America goal was to go to the rural South. That means that the community she’s “giving back” to is at the very least a country. I just don’t have that kind of scope in my head. I don’t really give a damn about the country, except that I sort of have to in order to vote and stuff, which is a duty that I detest and I can barely convince myself to keep doing it.

The thing about teaching disadvantaged children and so on is that it’s noble, sure, but the mere fact that discrepancies like that exist dismays me. In the same way that I have trouble being social because it’s sometimes at odds with being perfectly truthful, I have trouble confronting poverty and under-education and corruption because it also is kind of at odds with being perfectly truthful. It’s not that I’m an idealist who is frustrated by the lack of manifestation of my ideals, but more that I’m someone who has no clue how economics or politics or people work, and systems that don’t work the way they’re supposed to in the abstract piss me off. I’m paralyzed by all the multifarious suggestions on how to make them work, because I don’t understand why they don’t in the first place.

So maybe that’s why I find the concept of “giving back” difficult to swallow. It’s just something I’m lacking, sort of like I’m lacking the conviction that I need to accomplish something or leave behind some kind of legacy after my life is over. I guess in some ways I’m simpler than I ever thought. My community is only what I see, and it deserves nothing more from me than that I do my job (…when I get one). Does that make me a bad person? Possibly, at least by the standards of the kind of people who do Peace Corps/AmeriCorps/Teach for America. But I’m tired of those people (PC/AC/TFA are so in vogue right now) and I’m beginning to suspect that it’s a fad peculiar to liberal college towns, so I’m beginning to mistrust the messages I get regarding my duty and my obligation to the larger community.

Quite probably this is just something I have to have an epiphany about. Probably I am epiphanically retarded, because everyone else has already had a flash of insight into the mass of humanity around them and how they should give back to said mass of humanity. I might just have to wait a while, cross my fingers, and hope for inspiration. Here goes.


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