Rain soaked the campus, and I cross the street in a mid-day downpour and noticed the Circle K wrapper. Soggy, dirt-speckled, floppy litter on the side of Route 11, so I reached to pick it up. What drives this impulse? What makes us care in this manner? To pick up after others, to tend to the place where we live? Over the course of this week I have been in several conversations about community and care, about how to nurture this impulse and how to better instill it. What can we do to better take care the Wise, Slocumb, the Brown Dining Commons, or the Adirondack shelter up at Mud Pond? Or that which is beyond Proctor? How do we awaken this instinct?
The stewardship impulse doesn’t arrive with birth. It sits within, waiting to be triggered sometimes early in life, sometimes later. Always there is a process. We learn it from parents, grandparents, teachers, and mentors. Maybe childhood chores have something to do with it – taking out trash, doing dishes, feeding the dog. Maybe it is the jobs bussing tables, mowing lawns, working construction. Maybe it’s church or a service trip. Somewhere along the way we all learn (or should learn) to take care of space and not take it for granted. It starts as responsibility and evolves into genuine caring, becoming reflex to pick up the bits that need picking up.
Gradually, inexorably, the interconnectedness of the larger community reveals itself; the greater web of need catches sunlight. Family, our school, our church community, our towns, and our environment – we begin to see these as not simply self-sustaining spaces to be leveraged. We begin to appreciate the greater whole. We understand the structure behind the institution. We look for ways to contribute, to support. The gift of time, the gift of compassion, the gift of talent – these are air, the lifeblood, the underpinning of caring we learn to dispense in our communities: awareness of needs on the one hand, capacity to support on the other. Yesterday I read an email from a friend asking if I would consider supporting a Kickstarter fund. A musician was looking for help. Would I listen? Consider a donation? I did. I will. It makes sense to give back to that which sustains my spirit, and music is a part of that.
According to Giving USA, individuals, foundations, and corporations gave away more than 373 billion dollars in 2015. We are a generous nation. Millions of people contributed to a variety of causes: religion, education, human services, foundations, the environment, and animals…the list is long. What drives this? Malcolm Gladwell in his podcast Revisionist History explores the philanthropic impulse in My Little Hundred Million, an episode that looks at the why behind giving, specifically large gifts, to institutions. Does it all go back to learning to care? Is it about having impact? Does ego start to dilute the altruism? In the best philanthropic spirit, the ideas represented by an institution are unique and impactful enough as to trigger altruistic investment: this model of education has merit, that church impacts community, this block of wilderness must continue to exist. That which sustains more than us inspires support.
Does it all come back to the Circle K wrapper and early lessons moved forward? To me it does.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School