Creative Altruism

26 Sep

Most mornings when I manage to write, I do so to the tune of the Soundscapes Channel on my television.

Well, to be truthful, the meditative music on Soundscapes often seems to barely have a tune at all; its very appeal is its lack of melodic busy-ness, the refusal to insist that you pay the music any attention at all.

Only, since it’s TV, there are slides, and the slides include inspirational quotes. I seldom write them down; I’d never write any of my own words if I did. But I made an exception a month ago with a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Every man,” Rev. King stated, “must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

“Creative altruism”: The tension between those words intrigued me. In one of my earlier lives, I’d left Alabama – and a life filled with volunteer obligations – for a creative writing program. Wary of the threat of my extrovert tendencies posed for any kind of solitary writerly endeavor, I shirked volunteerism as if altruism itself existed in opposition to creativity.

Of course, I came to know better: Service can involve a wide range of creative and even ingenious acts. Still, for the last few months, I haven’t been sure what to do with the quotation from MLK, even though it reminded of its existence every time I scrolled to the bottom of the word document I use as my writing journal.

Then came Lisa Pastille. Lisa is the sister of the late Professor Catherine Pastille, one of our most creative practitioners of community service-learning at Assumption College. Lisa saw my recent blog about Catherine here at Serving … the Story, and I was blessed to read two emails from Lisa afterward.

Lisa noted how her sister thrived when she merged business expertise with community service, putting her students to work for real-life customers.

As Lisa put it, “Assumption made it possible for her to express herself and her passions.” The result, Lisa said, was like “plugging a wire into an outlet.”

Lisa, an artist herself, was reminding me of my earlier life lesson: That the obligations of community service don’t exist in opposition to the creative life. Instead, service itself is an energizing form of self-expression.

And when teachers use service-learning in the classroom, we’re expressing several things  at once: Our need to design learning experiences that might make a difference in their lives decades after they graduate, our passion about fostering awareness of community needs and issues, our commitment to imaginative teaching that sets aside the safety of old classroom for something more adventurous – because that, after all, is what creativity, and altruism, are so often about.

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