Dear Students – 2: Sacrifice

20 Mar

This post is no longer available on this blog.

This post is now part of J.’s book, Letters Left Unsent, available on Amazon (click the image below to visit the Amazon purchase page).


15 Responses to “Dear Students – 2: Sacrifice”

  1. Clare 21 March, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    I just finished grading a stack of essays about ‘voluntourism’ and it struck me that, indeed, there might be such a thing as “service chic,” in which you become both more fashionable and more righteous than those who do not do service work. Your post nails the concept more thoroughly than I had as of yet. Thank you!

  2. Kate 21 March, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    You are right on the nose when you talk about people who frame their career choice in this way and who make such work “about them and their sacrifices.” To me this seems to be very anthesis of a “calling,” especially if the idea has its roots in religion.

    Service is a priviledge. A calling to serve must go hand in hand with humility. From this perspective, implied claims of moral high ground are entirely inappropriate. I think that only those who are not honest about their motivation will find themselves framing their sacrifices in this way because they are the ones who tell themselves they are entirely benevolent and thus their sacrifices are totally deserving of credit and recognition. Whereas if one is honest that one’s motivations consist of a wide range of preferences then one likely better understands that sacrifices made are simply a result of career choice (as there would be with any career choice) and any sense of doing the work you were called to is a benefit of your chosen career.

  3. angelica 21 March, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    so on the nose, students listen to this carefully, choose wisely, this will BE your life, so make sure you are making the choice for the right reasons

  4. Slim 24 March, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    Oh Students;
    There are many reasons to go into development work. It is a growth industry and you will have a job as long as you want one. There are a lot of poor people and you can be absolutely certain that in every population half of them will be below average. They need you.
    Two things to remember.
    First. Too often you can equate your development work with putting your hand in a bucket of water. The long term effects of your work are usually equal to the impression your hand leaves in that bucket of water after you take it out.
    Second. When you become a seasoned air traveler you will hear many times in many languages “in the event of a loss of cabin pressure oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling. Please put on your own oxygen mask before trying to assist others”.
    There is no net benefit to the world if the aid workers suffers like the aid recipient. If you want to live poor join the Peace Corps. You will make friends, see the world from a very different POV, and set yourself up for a career growth path and fine expat life style when you eventually get your Masters and go to work for an agency.
    And it is a great lifestyle especially after you move up to management and get that fine villa with staff and the workshops and training trips all over world. Its been very, very good for me.

  5. Joe Turner 28 March, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    J, I’ve been thinking about this – are you saying that there is something wrong with the notion of a ‘calling’ in general, or just in relation to aid/development work?

    Could it not be said that doctors (some of), lawyers (some of), paramedics, social workers etc might be motivated by a moral sense of trying to make the world better rather than trying to make themselves rich? Indeed, would anyone seriously consider social work as a career if they were in it for the money?

    I’m sorry if this comment sends you to drink, but I’m not really convinced of your position.

    That said, I don’t know many aid workers so I’m really talking about the philosophy rather than the practice.

    • Emily 1 April, 2011 at 12:18 am #

      Joe, if I may reply as a humanitarian worker who used to be a social worker. The fundamental difference between the two, and likely doctor/lawyer, is that humanitarian workers commit to a life. You move with your job and so your lifestyle changes dramatically. Often living in places that are difficult, that are remote, that don’t have the same standards of living that you’re used to. That’s where the notion of ‘sacrifice’ comes in.

      Personally, I do feel that I sacrifice for the opportunity to work in a field that I love. But it’s a by-product, not a driver. But as J says, that’s just the way life is. We all make sacrifices and trade offs for our careers.

      I think that you’re entirely right when you say, that people can “motivated by a moral sense of trying to make the world better”, so long as you don’t really believe that you’re going to do that alone! I don’t believe that I make a huge difference but I’m motivated knowing that I can serve a few people, that I can be of some use and hopefully, not do any harm in the process.


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