Advancing the Common Good
through Community Service at Bowdoin College
Michael Taylor '07
Michael Taylor '07
Major: Biology/Environmental Studies Coordinate
Hometown: Newtown, CT
- Alternative Spring Break Student Coordinator 2006 - 07
- Special Friends Volunteer 2006 - 07
- Connect 4 Charity Tournament Director 2006
- Common Good Day Volunteer 2006
- ASB Peru Trip Leader 2006
- Adopt-a-family 2005
- Solidarity in Action (Lima, Peru) Volunteer 2005
- Service Learning Courses: Perspectives in Environmental Science, Fisheries in the Gulf of Maine, Anthropology of Islands,
- Environmental History of North America
- Falcon Friends Mentor 2003 Ė 2005
How did you first get involved in service at Bowdoin?
My first introduction to service at Bowdoin came through the Falcon Friends mentoring program at Bowdoinham Elementary School Ė a simple hour in the midst of the busy school week. It wasnít much to give but the happiness and self-esteem my mentee Jacob seemed to gain from our friendship was wonderful. This was an easy way to find some sort of greater fulfillment without disrupting my previous commitments. Following a broad range of inner urgings, I traveled to Peru in March of my sophomore year to meet up with the Bowdoin Alternative Spring Break trip that was working in Dos Cruces, a shantytown of Lima. This was my first time out of the States and my first experience with the poor of the third world.
What have you gained from your service experience and working in the community?
The trip to Peru was also the first time I felt the vulnerability and urgency of the poor. Not only did I gain a vastly more complete worldview, but an even deeper respect for the poor everywhere and in all times. Comparing their daily trials with my own was so very humbling. I gained a real and physical understanding of how incredibly privileged I was (and am) and thus how important it was that I used this privilege, my skills and talents, my passion, to work to better the condition of those without my opportunities. This sense of personal responsibility came not from a belief that I had something they needed but from the sense that there was injustice that I might be able set right in my own small way.
In Peru it was apparent how important the community was for the wellbeing of every individual, and that none of us could ever truly make it on our own. This is not because we are all incapable, but that, whether we recognize it or not, human beings are, essentially, individuals living in community. Upon my return, frustrated with a society that seemed to hold the individual above all else, there was a reordering of my life which gives me a great deal of hope and a way to direct my efforts while finishing school. I sought to share my experiences with others by leading the trip to Peru the following year to another shantytown called Las Gardenias with another incredible group of people. And Iíve found that the old adage is true: the more I give, the more I receive.
What does it mean to serve the common good?
My best understanding of the common good comes from Martin Luther King, Jr. In his "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," King responded to a group of clergymen who objected to his coming to Birmingham, arguing that he was an "outsider" to their community and therefore had no place in it. King answered them with a compelling picture of community, saying that he was duty-bound to bring his message and to act beyond his particular hometown:
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."
King showed that wealthy or poor, urban or rural, and no matter what race, religion, or culture, we were all interconnected, not only in a spiritual brotherhood, but in a very concrete and pragmatic brotherhood of mutual service, need, and responsibility.
For King, however, even the wider vision of community was not enough. It had to go hand in hand with the willingness to give, even if it meant paying a price. In the last sermon he gave, delivered on April 3, 1968 the night before he was assassinated, King retold the parable of the Good Samaritan. Many that passed by asked themselves, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But the Good Samaritan Ė a supposed enemy of the fallen manís country - reversed the question and asked, "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
To serve the common good does not mean following one particular set of concrete requirements since the contexts are always changing. Rather, to ask the Good Samaritanís question, to judge the answer with a heart of compassion, and to act with an understanding of our "single garment of destiny" is, to me, what it means to serve the common good.
Story posted on September 13, 2007
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