Martha Wyatt-Luth ‘25
Some days I’m in awe of how incredibly selfless, generous, and caring people can be. Usually, it’s when I’m on Instagram at 2:00 a.m. looking at videos of people saving animals. And no, it never gets old. Other days, I’m dumbfounded by how completely inconsiderate, selfish, and heartless people can be. If you haven’t experienced this before, just drive through Worcester’s Kelley Square and you’ll get your fix of unjustified road rage. It made me wonder: am I just biased because I drive in arguably the worst state of drivers in the country, or do humans seem to lean more towards selfish behavior?
According to Psychological Science, it appears people across cultures globally are exhibiting more selfish behavior due to increasingly individualistic societies. This is especially true in the United States, as we are notably one of the most individualistic countries. While collectivistic cultures place emphasis on community respect, collaboration, and social harmony, individualistic cultures emphasize personal freedom, self-reliance, and self-fulfillment. In short, it often feels like people are just out for themselves.
Is that a bad thing? I mean, isn’t our first primal instinct to look out for ourselves? Even on airplanes, you are required to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. But in movies, it’s often romanticized when people sacrifice their own lives for others. So which is it?
To make matters worse, it seems social media has contributed to fostering more self-centered societies. Sure, we all look at other people’s photos, but really it’s often to compare them back to ourselves. Rarely do I leave Instagram happier than when I opened it. But we connect to it as a generation, for better or for worse.
I find it incredibly ironic that our school’s Jesuit principle of “for and with others” is overclouded by our increasingly self-centered society. Maybe it means that this Jesuit principle is a fading, powerless mission. Or perhaps this means that our college is even more important because it’s one of the last fighting chances for our society. The optimist in me is clinging dearly to the latter.
What does this mean for our future? There could be degradation of social cohesion, as a lack of empathy will cause a collapse in class functioning. Social inequality will worsen and innovation and entrepreneurship will stagnate. A lack of cooperation will likely cause an increase in global conflicts. As the recent movie “Don’t Look Up” reveals, a lack of self-awareness and social cohesion may even be the atomic blight on humanity.
What needs to occur is a shift in what it means to be in an individualistic culture from the ground up. Even with community service, understanding how one is impacting another human being has to be completely redefined. As Robert D. Lupton said in his book “Toxic Charity,” “Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.” What givers see is a beautiful act of giving someone worse off some gift of food, toys, or clothing that they need more than the giver does. But, studies have shown that giving such things is a band-aid on a greater issue and that band-aid may be worsening the situation by creating an extensive dependency. We feel good about ourselves “helping others” when in fact we could be doing the opposite. Many people will turn a blind eye to this situation. But it rests on us to turn this around, us, the future generation, leading humanity into the unknown.
We can make a difference starting on our very own campus. As it has been pointed out countless times, we are indeed on a hill looking over the city of Worcester. While there are some people that involve themselves with the local community, whether that be through CBL, Working for Worcester, or SPUD, many people seldom venture below College Street. Even within these organizations, improvements can be made to make volunteering a more interactive experience with Worcester community members. Rather than just “give” to the community, we need to think about our interactions as a reciprocal relationship. We, students of the College of the Holy Cross, can gain immense knowledge and experience from our Worcester community.
It’s time to get back in touch with who we are, who we want to be, and what it really means to be “for and with others.”