Our society is provided with numerous examples of high-profile individuals who give a great deal. Among businesspeople, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet first come to mind. Among singers, Bono is arguably the most visible face of philanthropy. Yet they are not alone: countless other businesspeople, singers, actors, and actresses join them in making substantial gifts to charity with the hope of helping others.
As the high-profile have given, they have set an example for the rest of us to the follow. In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal explained how to maximize the effectiveness of one’s gifts to charity when the markets are down. Worldwide, Americans are regarded as a very generous people, due to millions giving of themselves.
But one need not have a lot of money or even a high profile to serve his fellow man. Volunteers erect houses for Habitat for Humanity, cook for the homeless at CASPAR, and clean the banks of the Charles. D-Lab and the Public Service Center connect MIT students with needs both in Boston and in the furthest corners of the Earth. Further, organizations on campus make available resources for students who wish to do such service.
Some make serving others an explicit vocation. I personally know a young man who left a job, took a fifty percent pay cut, and joined the Navy to serve this nation. He and his fellow soldiers prepare to greet death in service to this great nation. Firefighters and policemen, too, place themselves in danger while serving their fellow man.
But one not need give up one’s life for service: Teach for America inspires young college graduates to serve in areas where good education is tough to come by; teachers everywhere who give their all to ensure their students learn are serving this nation.
What unites all forms of service is that, when well practiced, it provides a sense of fulfillment to the servant and gives his or her work a great deal of meaning. That many continue to give greatly despite the costs in time and capital affirms that there is something sufficiently profound about such service.
Yet what of the very personal mission of service that occurs in the home?
The service of mothers and fathers is often overlooked and not given the respect that it is due. Children raised in a loving home with a mother and father have been shown to have several advantages over children who have not been raised in such an environment. The importance of a family is so strong that Rick Warren and other Christian leaders have called on Christians to adopt children and raise them as their own.
This year, we have seen this kind of adoption happen on the silver screen in The Blind Side, and we have read in the Wall Street Journal that one group moved 5/8ths of Colorado children in foster care to permanent homes in under two years.
In these cases, the parents adopting their new children have allowed love to overcome vanity, and have prepared themselves to make great sacrifices for their new children. With the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 in this country exceeding $115,000 according to MSN Money, this is no small sacrifice.
All of this deals with mothers and fathers. But what about people like us, MIT students? Can we serve in an intimate capacity as well?
The answer is a resounding yes.
As we form relationships with others, we lay the foundations of family. When we gain intimacy with another, we have nothing behind which to hide. We are vulnerable. And in our vulnerability, we must find a partner in whom we can trust. Failure to do so can lead to harm: emotional, psychological, spiritual, and in some unfortunate cases, physical.
Part of this trust is giving what we can rightfully give. Will we be there forever for our partner? Will we give it our all to cultivate an undying and unconditional love for our partner? Are we both capable and willing to support our partner and our partner’s potential children? An answer of “no” to any of these questions would suggest that it would be irresponsible at best to achieve the greatest physical intimacy with our partner through the sexual act.
Contraceptives, however, have allowed and even encouraged non-monogamous sexual activity that flies contrary to the very meaning of service inherent in the sexual act. This meaning of service is manifest in the act by the sacrifice one must be prepared to make of himself or herself for the children potentially begotten by the act.
While Dr. Finer is justified in clarifying statistics on unwanted pregnancy and the use of contraceptives (Letters to the Editor, November 9 issue of The Tech), and while contraceptives are nearly completely effective when used properly and consistently, he misses the point: contraceptives are available in this country and have been available for about half a century, yet we still have a high unintended pregnancy rate. The fundamental issue is not whether there is access to contraceptives, but rather what attitudes and behaviors are cultivated regarding the sexual act. Using contraceptives properly comes down to a behavioral issue, not a technological issue. Proper and consistent usage would require a change in behavior, but it would still lead to problems: who wants to achieve the greatest physical union with another only to say, “I don’t love you. I don’t want to be with you forever. I won’t support your children.”
Since the issue is one of change in behavior and attitude, why not move in the direction of greater meaning? Mankind was made to serve others, and it is this service that gives meaning to any number of actions. At MIT, we are regarded as the future leaders of the world. We serve as examples, and people everywhere watch what we say, do, and think. Let us, then, make the most of our position and drive a meaningful change. In our lives, in the domain of what we can control, let us live meaningfully through serving others. Let us serve others not only through the jobs we take or the volunteer activities in which we are involved, but also through our closest and most intimate relationships.
Let us be honest, genuine, and respecting of our partners, knowing when to say “no, we aren’t ready,” and when to say “yes, I love you so much that I will give of myself to be with you and your children forever.” In the sexual realm, this is the fundamental choice that must precede all others. Let our community demonstrate how this choice can be made with meaning!
Russell Rodewald is a graduate student in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.