Today's morning commute was reasonably light, just the typical slow patch a bit north of the 610 loop. As usual, with no distraction from my out-of-commission car audio system, my mind is free to wander. Hundreds of thought fragments float behind my eyes, a tiny thread dangling at the bottom of each. I grab one, follow it for a few moments until it carries my brain to another. Then I release it and follow the next thread. Every so often this stream-of-subconsciousness bubbles up to the surface and calls for my conscious attention.
It happened that way this morning, one of these thought fragments caught my attention and took me to the phrase noblesse oblige. It reminded me of a conversation I had with someone a number of years ago. The content of the conversation was regarding community service and the source of personal motivation to become involved in service. At the time, I had never heard this phrase and did not know the precise meaning. And my stupid pride stood in the way of just asking. Within the context of the conversation, I had a feeling that the definition had something to do with extending oneself in service due more from a sense of socio-economic obligation than desire to extend a helping hand.
So, I looked it up today, all these years later. Seems as though the precise meaning of the phrase needs to be inferred from the tone in which it is spoken. Makes sense. It is an old phrase, originating in an age where hard class distinctions were routinely observed as part of daily life.
And I wonder, now, if it matters. I mean, in terms of that original conversation years ago: is the act of performing community service somehow invalidated if it does not come from a pure place of love, but rather from a sense of obligation? Right now, I’d say no. I think the real question is whether the individual performing the service will realize that his or her time and effort is needed and valued. And consequently, whether that person can then forge a personal link to our innate human tendency to offer help, transforming the motivation into a human connection, rather than a chore or obligation. In other words, is this person likely to integrate community service into their life because it is meaningful?
Hmmm, just a thought for the day from the meandering mind of the commuter.