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I do worry that the world we live in is becoming meaner and more… - Sally's Journal
February 11th, 2004
11:56 pm

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I do worry that the world we live in is becoming meaner and more narrow minded.

This has been brought home to me by the sheer effort of fundraising for CAMPUS. We have been running at a loss for years, and not just financially - we're running out of new helpers as well.

There was an article in the Church Times the other week, saying that the number of hours of voluntry work done in the UK has fallen by 25% over the last few years. It's a trend that worryingly seems to be reflected in Cambridge. Society membership has fallen across the board, and although committees have always had to be "gently persuaded" to stand for the whole of Cambridge history, it seems harder than ever.

Not sure why - I think that people are more worried about houses and careers and working hard, and see the other stuff as frivolous unimportant things they don't have time for. In the old days, once you'd got into Cambridge you just got yourself an "education" and then could go off to be highly respected and walk into a good job. Now oxbridge types with firsts are being regularly turned down for graduate jobs, people are worried that anything less will make them an unemployable leper, and are working too hard to make up for this.

Also, the world has shrunk. In the old days, you saw the problems of your own village and knew you could probably deal with them. Now people are bombarded by every social problem in the world, from AIDS, to RSPCA, to starving children... This works against us in many ways, because the local charities (err, yeah, we take kids on holiday) look much less important, and so don't deserve money, and the big charities are something so unattainably unchangable and remote, and there's so much of everything that you can't give to any. Not that we shouldn't feel globally responsable for stuff, but I think people arn't conditioned to deal with the sheer volume of problems they get exposed to nowadays, and just desensitize.

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From:rmc28
Date:February 12th, 2004 08:36 am (UTC)
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Yup. Having non-academic experience to point at really helps at jobhunting time, especially in the commercial sector. Easy way to demonstrate organisation, teamworking, communication skills, financial management etc etc etc
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From:emperor
Date:February 12th, 2004 09:18 am (UTC)

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Maybe if one is just doing voluntary work for CV points, one is missing the point?
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From:ptc24
Date:February 12th, 2004 10:53 am (UTC)

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Partly - the old "reward for true altrusim" paradox rears its head here. But it's a lot better than not doing the work at all. The work gets done this way, and that's the main thing, and the CV padder may end up with some useful skills and experience.
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From:rmc28
Date:February 12th, 2004 12:43 pm (UTC)

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atreic suggested people were put off doing voluntary work that they might otherwise do for fear it would affect their ability to get jobs. I was pointing out that it was a stupid fear.

I think it's very hard to do something entirely selfless. My father says that one of the great secrets in life is that service to others is hugely satisfying. I don't think that makes it less worth doing. One of the major points of doing voluntary work is that the volunteer should also get something out of the experience (be it greater knowledge or sympathy or a sense of usefulness or even CV points). Though if all they got was CV points, one would hope that was picked up at the interview by any competent interviewer.
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From:atreic
Date:February 12th, 2004 01:59 pm (UTC)

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I think the fact that this post came out of me thinking about CAMPUS made everyone think of charity voluntry work, which is interesting in it's own right. But I think people are doing less fun stuff in Cambridge that wouldn't really earn them CV points, whether it's just going along to society stuff, or even just having parties, picnics etc as well. This may be my biased view (I'm watching my year group grow older and closer to finals) but society recruitment was down for nearly everyone at freshers fair. People just seem to be more exam driven and less fun, to the detriment of social stuff and academic curiosity
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From:theinquisitor
Date:February 12th, 2004 02:06 pm (UTC)
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Yes, it felt to me like society recruitment was down, and I think the numbers support me on that one - so far as I know them, at least.
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From:antinomy
Date:February 12th, 2004 04:49 pm (UTC)

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I think this probably has a lot to do with students feeling that if they're paying all this money for their university education it's somehow negligent of them to go about having fun when they should really be getting their money's worth. That said, CUSFS had another really good recruitment year this year, so *shrug*...
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From:tienelle
Date:February 13th, 2004 01:00 am (UTC)
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The ones I'm in seemed to pick up last academic year, then sag a bit from that this year.
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From:the_alchemist
Date:February 12th, 2004 11:48 am (UTC)
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Interesting.

I prefer to give my time to local causes, but my money to international ones. I've got an overly logical mind that can't help thinking, "save lives, or take children on holiday, who are underprivileged by British standards but overprivileged by international ones?" and think there's no contest.

But I'd much rather do face to face work with people who need help than (for instance) work in Oxfam or do admin for an international charity. My reasons for that are mostly selfish I think - more instant gratification, and also 'work experience' for the priest thing.

And I always assumed that an Oxbridge first was actually a bit of a liability in the commercial world - that people would assume you're an academic with your head in the clouds. I'm sure I've heard that... As others have said, I would have thought that a II.1 and some voluntary work would have been preferable.
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From:pw201
Date:February 12th, 2004 01:06 pm (UTC)

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I always assumed that an Oxbridge first was actually a bit of a liability in the commercial world - that people would assume you're an academic with your head in the clouds.

Or a prima-donna: at the most recent interview I had, they didn't seem to mind my 2:2 and said it was preferrable to having someone with a 1st who might be completely uncontrollable.
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From:atreic
Date:February 14th, 2004 01:05 pm (UTC)

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The thing is, I agree with you. But I care an awful lot about the kids who come on Campus. It never crossed my mind that this might end up being an issue for me - it was a free week of working with kids when I wasn't doing anything else, and it's about the only sort of charity work I can do in the summer - I have neither the money nor the language/teaching/engineering skills to go flying off to countries that need help more.

Now Campus is in a huge fundraising crisis, I feel guilty about trying to get people to give us money, and there's a bit of my brain that says that we should just give up and fold, as we're obviously a useless charity. But the kids do get so much out of it, and Campus is a great way to get intelligent people from Cambridge, who wouldn't otherwise do stuff for my reasons above, involved with kids and charity work. We've changed quite a few people from historians to social workers...

My personal solution to at least part of the crisis is to suggest that, as the people who do campus are the only ones who care personally about the charity and the children involved, we should take the leap of charging our members per week of doing campus. This isn't disimilar from organisations like IVS, etc, (it cost me 100 pounds to do a week of voluntary work in Warrington with them this summer) and 30 quid from everyone on a week would be an extra 2500 pounds a year. It's not even too much of a strain on impoverished students, as the Newton Trust pays for people doing community work in the UK if people can be bothered to fill in a grant form. And we pay far more than that per volunteer in food and activities like horseriding, canoing, rock climbing etc. But I've been shouted down by the rest of the committee, who think that it will make our recruitment crisis even worse, and change the atmosphere of campus, and discourage old volunteers from coming back, and discorage people from doing more than one week.

All opinions greatfully recieved - it will give me heart / persuade me to drop the idea before the committee meeting if nothing else!
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From:the_alchemist
Date:February 16th, 2004 11:05 am (UTC)

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I think that's a really good idea, so long as you point people in the direction of the Newton Trust.

If the committee really aren't happy about it, what about making it a voluntary charge, but being honest about the organisation's financial difficulties so people see it's important for them to pay if they can.
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From:pw201
Date:February 12th, 2004 01:10 pm (UTC)
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For donations from non-students, it's probably party down to the recent economic conditions. One of the major industries in Cambridge hasn't been doing well for the last few years, so people may be unwilling to donate (I know I was when my college came asking for money for an access fund a few months after my company had made people redundant).
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From:robert_jones
Date:February 28th, 2004 02:50 pm (UTC)
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There was a Guardian article recently, which, despite looking through their site, I am now unable to find, which reported a think-tank as saying that people are now inclined to salve their consciences by wearing ribbons and going on marches, rather than actually to contribute to making the world a better place. "Feeling good, rather than doing good" was the tag. It's an interesting thought, although I suspect only partially valid.

It relates to what you were saying about local and global causes. The War in Iraq, for instance, may well have been a bad thing, but it is completely outside my control, and therefore condemning it does not actually compel me to do anything. My idea is that the Kingdom of God will only be built by making the small part of the world we live in a slightly better place. If only every one were to do that, then the whole world would soon be wonderful. I believe that this is what is meant by the expression that "Charity begins at home": that it is no use feeling sympathy for all sorts of people we have never met, if we're horrid to those we do meet.

I don't often manage to put this into practice, mind.

As for Cambridge specifically, I think you are right. It seems that there has been a steady decline in non-academic participation in Cambridge for several decades (despite local trend violations). There are many factors: changing intake profile, university funding arrangements, changing employment market, and so on, but partly it is a reflection of the general trend which Millbank called "social atomisation". (In fact, given that Millbank was a Cambridge don, perhaps he had it in mind.) Intermediate social structures, between the level of the individual and that of the state, have been steadily declining for some time: not only churches, but working men's clubs, local charity associations, and so on. Anything which gives meaning to the concept of a local community. It is often said that we live now in a "global community", but a global community is necessarily impersonal. Per se it is a good thing, but society needs other, smaller structures to be meaningfully a society at all.
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