At the small liberal arts college where I went to school, service was a priority amongst the students, staff, and faculty. Somewhere around 50% of students performed a couple hours of community service every week. The faculty and staff could be seen working alongside their students at campus-wide service days. Spring and winter breaks were always the big ones. Instead of heading home or on vacation, many boarded buses and planes to travel the country and abroad to perform week long projects. In my time, I went to Virginia and New Orleans to repair and gut homes that had been worn down over the years or damaged by Hurricane Katrina. While I am proud of the work my peers and I did, rarely was the question "Why?" asked. The culture of the school made service intuitive -- as natural to the academic experience as going to class or writing papers. When the question of 'why' was raised, the common response was that we served, simply, because we were men and women for others. In one sense, this is a satisfactory answer. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves and to maintain that community it is necessary to take this interdependent view. But then, and especially now, I felt there were bigger questions and bigger answers beyond that first one of why we serve.
After a couple of days interning here at the Center for Civic Reflection, these questions not asked and not answered have come back rather strongly. What initially drew me to the organization was that it made reflecting on these kinds of questions a priority. The idea that by talking to others and asking difficult questions, we can build a stronger community and come to an understanding of why we do what we do. And when we consider the questions the Center for Civic Reflection asks, community bonds are tightened, imaginative solutions are offered, and the desire to continue to be civically engaged is revitalized. This, I am quickly finding, is a new sort of conversation; one that calls for a recalibration of how I consider my work and its relation to my community. That is, I need to not only question why?, but also how? How am I connected to people who do similar work and to those whom I serve?
Finally, I want to consider the idea of an answer for a moment. Transitioning into the Center for Civic Reflection from graduate school, where I also sought answers to large questions, I still have the desire for tidy conclusions. As I learn to join this new conversation, I am realizing this drive needs to be modified. Reflection is a process that calls for a constant consideration of why, how, and what next. The answers we offer are not necessarily definitive, tidy, or a solution to all the problems we face in our work. But what is important, I am learning, is the need to keep the questions flowing. And it is through this discourse that we strengthen our work and the communities we serve.