Only a few short years ago, aspiring doctors didn't necessarily need to have "philanthropist" in their title. College students were content with the heavy assignment workload and late-night pizza runs. Busy professionals were furthering their careers instead of their karma count. Flash forward to 2011, and philanthropy is the new black. Everywhere you turn, people are spending a few months abroad to build a school, or volunteering at the blood bank in the evenings after they finish their 9-to-5 job. Everyone has a cause.
Obviously, this isn't a bad thing. This nouveau philanthropic righteousness is definitely making the world a better place and is empowering a generation to believe that they, as concerned citizens of the world, can make a difference to global issues. The only question: Why now? What is it about contemporary society that has everyone taking up the good fight and lending a hand with the perils of the world? It's not that we're getting less busy; if anything, schedules today are more jam-packed than ever before, with the gift/curse of the smart phone that keeps us working while in the dentist's chair for our annual cleaning, at the beach with friends or while watching our favorite movies. So, what's with the boom in charity work in recent years?
There isn't only one reason for this newfound sense of social responsibility; there are a plethora of factors to consider. For example, candidates for medical school are becoming more and more qualified right out of university. With great grades and amazing recommendations, it can be hard to differentiate yourself from the pack. Enter philanthropy. Taking three months to travel the world and help those in need can put you at a significant advantage and make you stand out from the crowd. It adds some much-needed clout to your character and shows you can commit yourself fully to a project and see it through until the end. Pair this with the fact that we're constantly being bombarded with messages telling us that in order to lead a worthwhile, "good" life, we must give back. Bus ads, billboards and online banner announcements all broadcast the latest causes to hit the scene. Perhaps all this good karma talk has seeped into our collective subconscious minds and led us to believe that the only way to live a worthwhile life is to include a little do-gooding in our daily activities.
Let's not forget the most important factor at play when it comes to philanthropy: the pure, selfish, unadulterated sense of warmth and happiness that comes from knowing that you've just used your valuable time to help someone who's not you. Maybe the warm and fuzzy trend has just finally caught on, and we've all started realizing that helping other people is just another way of helping yourself. Don't mind the worn out cliché; every once in a while they do come in handy. It seems to come down to the classic debate over whether or not there is truly a selfless good deed that one can partake in, because no matter what altruistic endeavor you're undertaking, you are still selfishly reveling in every little good vibe and pat-on-the-back that comes your way as a result of your labor. The thought that somewhere out there someone is directly benefiting from the fact that you exist in this world is pretty enjoyable. And you know what? You should enjoy it. Drink it in; you've earned it!
Regardless of intentions and motivations and all that other Freudian jazz, here's the bottom line: Volunteers are awesome. They truly make the world go round, and speaking as someone who often relies on the kindness of strangers (comes with the territory when you start your own charity!), behind every good charity organization, there stands an army of amazing volunteers. So, here's to all you karma junkies, altruism enthusiasts and kindness fanatics out there. Consider yourselves all cyber high-fived, because the work you're doing is actually making the world a better place.
Follow Yael Cohen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MsFuckCancer