I enrolled in Pulse for all of the wrong reasons, if I’m being completely honest. I made the decision partially considering it as a matter of default, having heard that as a student at BC you should take either Perspectives or Pulse, no matter what. My other reason was undeniably misguided; my peer advisor (who hadn’t taken Pulse) told me that it’d be an easy A, because one can’t be bad at volunteering.
Needless to say, none of this sufficiently prepared me for the first day of class, when my professor assigned 90 pages of reading. The first month of the class was far more stressful than I could have ever imagined, as I frantically scheduled tours at places that didn’t involve tutoring or children, and I quickly realized my schedule wasn’t as amazing as I originally thought. I ended up scheduling tours around my availability, which I learned was an incredibly bad strategy, as none of the places really seemed like a good fit. Come October, I found myself checking in on places that still needed people, and I wound up as a social work intern at Housing Opportunities Unlimited, a placement I’d originally overlooked, given its location in Dorchester.
The truth is, Pulse is no walk in the park in terms of readings and work, but a large part of the learning happens outside the classroom. This was a difficult concept for me to grasp, as I came in with a different background of volunteering for service hours in high school, where most of the work was defined by its ephemeral nature, and I was never graded based on the value of my contribution.
Pulse is about giving yourself in a way that was completely new to me. In a sense, I felt like I was thrown in the deep end as I worked alongside social workers and case managers on a subsidized housing property, but I think that my attempts to compensate for my lack of knowledge and experience have made me a better person. Come midterms, I started to realize how big of a piece of my life I had given away by committing to 8 hours a week in Dorchester, and I wrestled with whether or not there was enough of me left to still participate actively in my other commitments.
And then I began to see the error in my thinking. The Pulse service isn’t about me and what I can give. It’s about how I can engage in the community and learn from the people I’m working amongst. It’s draining to expect service to be a one-sided exchange, which is not at all what Pulse (and service in general) about. And if you won’t take my word for it, you can reference Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics for an explanation on how by acting virtuously, the individual practicing virtue is benefitted.
As the semester comes to a close, I’m mindful of the impact I had on my placement, but I find that I’m more consumed by my feelings of gratitude for the opportunity I was given to learn and form relationships.
And in light of the Christmas season, I’m grateful for this new perspective on giving. I’m going to resist the urge to employ clichés about the materialism of Christmas, but I do urge everyone to consider the limitations of some of the “giving” rituals of the Christmas season. There’s a lot of literature on this, but the truth is that some of the virtue of action is lost if it’s done exclusively once a year as a form of boosting our egos and alleviating guilt from indulging in the Christmas season. Remember to be giving this holiday season, but do it for the sake of the action, not yourself.