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Service and your health
Institutions of higher learning can foster lasting behaviors that further the public good. The result of these efforts: stronger, healthier democracies, communities and individuals. BeWell spoke with Thomas Schnaubelt, PhD, assistant vice provost and executive director of Haas Center for Public Service, about the individual and collective benefits of contributing to the greater good, and why we should all be involved.
Why is public service important at Stanford?
When Jane Stanford amended the initial charter in 1902, she talked about the instruction at Stanford as “given in the hope and trust that students will become thereby of greater service to the public.”
Institutions of higher learning exist not just to provide individuals with socio-economic mobility, but rather to enable communities and the public to grow and improve the overall quality of life. In fact, public service is a powerful reminder of interdependence.
What do we personally gain from civic engagement?
From a mental health perspective, we know much about student involvement theory. Alexander Astin at UCLA has studied college students for 40 years, and from his research we know that students are retained more in college when they actually get involved with a peer group and they have peer support. This relationship is no different for adults or people who are employed by the university. We know that people feel a sense of kinship, loyalty and connectedness to others when they are doing things that contribute to a good that is greater than themselves.
There are numerous studies showing a link between our happiness, sense of interconnectedness, health and well-being to an active, vibrant connection to community and to others. So there’s a real reason, from a health perspective, why people need to be involved with public service and community service.
What is the simplest way to get started?
A great way to start is to use an online tool we’ve developed that helps one discover predispositions toward particular types of service (direct service, philanthropy, political involvement, etc.). The Haas Center developed this tool for use with students, but there was a great deal of interest from university employees — so we created a version for staff.
Second, go to one of the online volunteer sites, such as http://www.volunteermatch.com or a new one called http://www.goldenvolunteer.com. These services help you identify needs in the community and ways of becoming involved that meet your own needs, interests and skills.
In the face of overwhelming need, how can I begin to narrow the field of volunteer options?
I recommend asking yourself these questions: “What do I want to do next? Where are my passions and where are my desires to learn more? What organizations locally could I become involved with now that could get me there?”
Or, sit down with your partner or someone you feel really close to and talk about the things that you feel passionate about — which may be connected to your work, or not. You might consider things that help you expand your current knowledge base or new things you want to accomplish as a community member. And then commit to doing that.
Keep in mind that you can only open so many doors at one time. The depth of the commitment should be every bit as strong as the breadth of commitment. So don’t overdo it.
Should we get our children involved?
It is never too early or too late to get children involved by modeling the life for them. Richard Louv’s fabulous book, The Last Child in the Woods, theorizes that there are two things most important for having a sacred relationship with the environment. The first is having regular exposure to the natural world; and the second is having someone who models or shows the way.
It turns out, time and time again when I am asked to speak on a topic, that those two items are key ingredients for engagement: being exposed to something and having opportunities to become involved, even if briefly; and having someone that you look up to who can model the way. These same notions apply to becoming involved in community or public service as a parent, guardian, or mentor to a young person. By engaging in creative, productive activities in your community, you are giving the young people in your life an opportunity to become involved.
… any final thoughts?
There are two paintings that hang in the entrance of the Haas Center, and when I give a tour I like to call attention to them. One was created in partnership with the Music Mural and Arts Program in East Palo Alto, and one is a depiction of the Rwandan genocide. Both are vibrant in color and remarkable in their own right. One is a very positive, liberation type of painting that evokes strong sense of community. The second painting is very different; it is stark, jagged and disturbing.
These two paintings represent two primary motivations people have for becoming involved in service. For some people, it is about hope and optimism, bringing community together and being part of a community. For other people, service is about not being able to sit idly by when they see darkness or injustice in the world.
I love that by serendipity these two paintings are facing each other … because they provide a great introduction to talking with someone about why they should consider involvement in public service.
Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna
October 2016 (updated: Oct. 2017)
The Cardinal Service Connectors Program is for people desiring to contribute to Stanford’s reputation as a university that contributes to the public good. All faculty and staff are welcome to attend.
Cardinal Service Connectors meetings for the 2017-18 academic year:
- Wednesday September 20, 9:15 – 10:15 am – Cardinal Connectors Welcome Breakfast
- Thursday October 19, 9 – 10 am, Introduction to Cardinal Service
- Friday November 3, 9 – 10 am, Cardinal Service Refresher and Community Building
- Monday January 22, 9 – 10 am, Introduction to Cardinal Service
- Friday April 6, 9 – 10 am, Introduction to Cardinal Service
If you have questions about Cardinal Service Connectors, please contact Megan Swezey Fogarty.