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Greek Proverb Relating to Volunteering, Reaction Paper Example

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Words: 576

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The Greek proverb “a civilization flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit” captures the essence of altruism and of volunteering, in so far as the aphorism entails the ethical commitment to performing acts that are not in one’s own self interest, but primarily for the benefits of others. Hence, the gesture, of planting trees for another — trees under which the person doing the planting will never sit — clearly underscores the importance of committing oneself above all to the well-being of the general community. This aspect of community is clear in the proverb’s reference to a civilization, since the benefit which is extrapolated from the ethical commitment to others is expansive in scope. The altruistic gesture, in other words, is not only of benefit to an immediate community, but rather to the more abstract concept of a civilization. Civilization here transcends immediacy: it speaks to a greater cultural legacy, according to which the commitment to community transcends temporal boundaries and expands to create something greater than the individual life could ever aspire to.

In the context of hospital volunteering, the relevance of this proverb is explicit. The very essence of volunteering in a hospital is the ethical commitment to the well-being of others. It is an attention placed to the needs of others as opposed to individual needs. In the hospital setting, the volunteer is constantly engaged with providing an improved environment and quality of life to those affected by the hospital experience: not only the patients who are treated, but also to the family and friends of the patient, who are affected by the stress of not uncertainty regarding their loved one’s condition. The hospital is by definition a stressful environment. None of the visitors to the hospital are there on account of their own free will. Instead, they are forced there by certain circumstances. But the volunteer at a hospital, understanding this situation, alleviates the trauma, pain, suffering and sadness of those involved in this event, by selflessly committing him or herself to improving this undesired situation. The hospital is arguably an environment in which we most directly encounter the contingencies of life in its most negative sense, as those affected by illness, disease and injury enter this place so to receive help. The hospital volunteer understands this contingency as well as the contrasting ethical necessity to alleviate the difficulty of the situation for both the patient and his or her immediate friends and family.

The Greek proverb places an emphasis on civilization and this can be understood as an emphasis on culture. It is consistent with the ethical question: what kind of world do we want to live in? A world of self-sacrifice, of working not for one’s own needs, but for the needs of others, creates a culture of compassion. A “flourishing civilization”, in this sense, can only be an ethical civilization: a civilization or culture, which has lost its moral compass, is one that is in decay, in decomposition. The hospital volunteer accordingly dedicates him or herself precisely to a culture in which self-sacrifice is the norm as opposed to the exception. In an increasing individualistic culture, this is a radical gesture, one in which presuppositions concerning the individual as foundation of society are greatly challenged. Rather, this proverb emphasizes the importance of relationships to others above all. The hospital volunteer clearly maintains this emphasis on relationships to others at the center of his or her ethical world-view.

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