GENE ROBERTSON: Instill caring in youth through public service

Monday, September 27, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:05 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 27, 2010

I recently watched a discussion among Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and a group of Columbia University MBA students. The students were eager to learn the secrets of becoming billionaires, while the two billionaires were trying to teach the students how to find fulfillment in life. The two groups tolerated each other with respect, but they were both dissatisfied.

The young students appeared to not be able to understand fulfillment without a high income. The two billionaires were trying to convey the need for having a passion for what you are doing, and that financial rewards will follow if it is done well.

In order for our youth to appreciate non-financial fulfillment and contributing to society, they have to have caring instilled in them. Unfortunately, too many parents used the time we should have spent teaching our children to care plying them with all of the things we never had when we were young. They care very little about anything that does not address their material needs.

I propose a plan to at least partially address the short-term employment crisis for our youth while instilling some values of  caring and making a positive contribution to society.

When the two billionaires were asked what they considered to be the most important ingredients for success, Mr. Buffet suggested the principles taught by parents in the home. Mr. Gates agreed and added a belief that all humans have equal value.

I thought about how well my parents modeled and taught me to care and not be indifferent to the world and its inhabitants. I regret that I was not as effective at teaching caring as I was at teaching acquisitiveness.

We are now facing natural and man-made disasters of an immense magnitude. We still face an economic crisis and a dearth of employment options.

The rich keep getting richer while the middle class is steadily shrinking. My proposal is a partial means of addressing the urgent employment crisis for some of our youth. It should also be open to enlistments from other segments of our society who have the means and urge to contribute.

A two-year service requirement would be mandatory for all youths after graduation from high school, with deferments given to college and other post-high school students until graduation. Many countries around the world require this kind of service.

In first world countries, there is no excuse for selfishness. Compulsory service, which encourages service at the local level, could be a priority if it is not military service. This will assist in the maturation of caring employees at later stages of their lives. We must find ways to extend the legacy of caring that was exemplified in the statements made to the business students by Gates and Buffet while reducing the current increasing unemployment.

Caring may not be a legal responsibility, but it is certainly a moral one. Compulsory service can start the caring engine while slowing the unemployment train.

We may face times when our financial resources will be far more limited than in the past. We need caring citizens as a resource to help us through that rough time as it has in earlier times. The “me generation” must evolve into a caring “we generation.” The Peace Corps, AmeriCorps Vista, and Teacher Corps were able to do in the past.

This program could supplement the need for some local public service. Recently we closed a fire station. We need more police personnel. These needs might be addressed if more people were available for public service organizations.

Finally, we must celebrate caring, and reward caring role models, just as we do for financial excellence and other endeavors. We must spotlight caring efforts by all of us.

Caring must be an indelible part of our value system.

"Free societies do not stay free without the involvement of their citizens" — Richard Stengel

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU.

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John Schultz September 27, 2010 | 10:11 a.m.

"Compulsory service" has no place in a free society. People should not be forced to give of themselves just because society thinks it will make them better people. Caring, compassion, and voluntarism is a message for parents, peers, and role models to teach, not have forced upon someone by government programs.

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