NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 7, 2014

Taking action against humanity's most daunting problem

Viewpoint
Joe D'Amore Jr.

---- — I’m a sophomore at Stonehill College, a small, Catholic liberal arts school in Easton. Easton is a lot like Groveland: quaint, wealthy, white and neighbor to a run-down industrial town. Stonehill students’ attitude towards Brockton is like many Groveland residents’ attitude towards Haverhill or Lowell or Lawrence: We call it the bad place, the dangerous place. Doubtless this has at least partially to do with economic inequality.

Poverty is unhealthy socially, politically, economically and otherwise. This is recognized by Nobel laureates and popular conservative economists alike, for poverty affects not just the people in it but also the rest of society. Unfortunately, this fact loses ground to mental blocks of the privileged reinforced by political ideology and the virtue of entrepreneurial individualism, a noble one that goes tragically awry when it informs contempt for and fear of those who struggle to transcend structural inequality.

For these reasons I founded the Stonehill Homelessness and Poverty Initiative. The group aims to provide superficial remedies for local poverty (clothing drives, etc.) but is more interested in educating the Stonehill community about poverty on a broader level so that real change — legislative change, structural change — might be affected some day. Clothing drives won’t do even close to enough for humanity’s most daunting problem.

The group has a curious eye for apathy. That Stonehill students, like many of us, are apathetic and disinterested in the cultivation of social and political consciousness is striking, on the one hand, because of the school’s Catholic identity, and on the other because community service and kindness are central to our teachings of American citizenship. We want to combat apathy in privileged culture, and a clothing drive won’t be enough. We want to nestle our way deep into the Stonehill consciousness.

The mental work we perform and hope to inspire is just as important, if not more important, than the coats. Membership in the initiative functions as what I like to call “an exercise in conscience.” Every Friday night, we stand outside the Dining Commons during dinnertime to advertise for the clothing drive, which serves not only to popularize the group but also to ritualize meditation on what we are actually doing. This has transformed the way we think in many ways.

Personally, for instance, my thoughts have led me to consciously resist the urge to get a fuzzy feeling when I collect clothes. There is something to be said, of course, about how servicing others fulfills us, but for cynics who see service work as nothing more than temporary guilt assuagement (younger me), it is important to note that many of us are genuinely interested in the deeper questions. Many of us know that service is intended not to make us feel fuzzy but to make us muse on the nature of citizenship and, primarily, to actually fix society. I remind myself of this through incorporation of service and concern into my daily consciousness, and I hope others will follow my lead.

With these philosophical complexities drawn out, I encourage the readers to find ways that they can contribute to their communities, not just to feel nice but to invite themselves to the type of sophisticated questioning which we are all capable of that is crucial to democracy and thus to happiness — others’ as much as our own.

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Joe D’Amore Jr. lives in Groveland.