Thursday, July 04, 2013

If national service is proposed for young adults, could it also be expected of retirees?

There’s been buzz about national service recently, especially a proposal by Ret Gen Stanley McChrystal to set up an “expected” but legally voluntary form of national service for people between ages 18-28, for one year. 
  
E.J. Dionne, Jr. weighs in on this proposal on p. A19 of the July 4 Washington Post, “A call to service”, here.  Dionne ends his piece with an important reference to the idea that “inalienable rights entail certain unavoidable responsibilities”.  Indeed, these common responsibilities, and higher calls to socialization, tend to drill deep into person areas and reinforce the need for complementarity in personal relationships, and foster the interdependence necessary for sustainability.

President Obama had mentioned such an idea about the time of his first term inauguration in 2009 (particularly in commencement speeches), but has backed off a bit from the idea. 

A natural question would be, should it be limited to just young adults?  Maybe it should be expected of physically capable retirees, too. 

I did attend some sessions on the Peace Corps in 2003 (while still in Minneapolis), and heard that the oldest volunteer was 82 at the time.  But the volunteer form seemed to place a lot of emphasis on previous volunteerism and activities indicating a lot of socialization, such as personal caregiving or childcare, as well as participation in organizations.  I recall a prescient comment at a session about online reputation of volunteers, too -- that could become very sensitive overseas in less developed, less democratic countries.  
  
In fact, there is something disturbing about connecting volunteerism to bureaucracy, which becomes a source of power for some people.  I’ve even run in to a little bit of this with AIDS-service organizations in the past.
The government has had is own volunteer bureaucracy (like AmericCorps and Teach for America)  since 9/11, and it looks like just that. 

Let's not forget that for many adults today, including the childless -- caring for elderly parents (filial responsibility) and sometimes other family members is quickly growing as a kind of "service".

But Dionne is probably referring to a more regimented kind of experience -- where you live in a unit or group and do not have everyday touch with your own affairs or even on-line life, a bit like military service. 
    
For young adults, it’s worth noting that faith-based organizations often sponsor overseas infrastructure projects, especially having to do with clean water.  For an engineering school graduate, this may be a kind of service, but it’s a great first job on a resume and an adventure.  

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