When I was asked to write an article about Non Sibi, Latin for “Not For Self”, my first reaction was that it was impossible. Everyone, in one form or another, is really out for him or herself. Now that may seem crass and overly critical, but in some ways it is really true, though not entirely. In many ways culture has moved to the more materialistic than the altruistic side of our base nature. Again, a gross generalization, but when I initially thought about the question – I was hard pressed to think of it seriously. But then I received a Wechat message from one of my parents, about a letter she received regarding her son.
Many schools offer a plethora of community service projects. I have seen an array of student responses to community service, from “it will help my application”, to reluctance to participate or “hey, I need to think of something to do”. Lots of students freely give of their time, others do so begrudgingly, but those with a true heart of giving are the ones who stand out. They do things because their heart tells them to do it, it feels good and most importantly, they do it for no return.
The message I received from the mother was about how her son volunteered to go to an orphanage to play with the children. He’s a young boy and he has been taught well. But it was not just the act of volunteering; it was what else he did when he was there. After playing for a while, he sat down at the piano and starting playing, bringing joy to everyone. He did it because he could and he did it without thinking, giving of his talents to bring a bit of joy. But he also, most likely did not think about the example he set to the orphans and other students who went with him.
The other day we had a breakfast celebration at school. There were tons of kids milling about and eating. One little boy sitting on a corner sofa knocked his full plate on the ground, food everywhere. He sat stunned, embarrassed not knowing what to do. Almost immediately another boy got up and started cleaning up. He did it because, I think, he sensed the boy was completely baffled and about to cry. But he also did it because he could. Not for accolades, not for anything other than reaching out to help.
Now these are not amazing contributions that will set the world afire with altruistic endeavors. They are little things. And that in my mind is the essence of Non Sibi. Sadly, the world has moved in the direction where people are only concerned with themselves and what they will get out of life. But true altruism comes from deep inside. The benefits are enormous.
I belong to an organization where helping people recover from a fatal disease is all about giving. In fact, we have a statement “You have to give it away, to get it.” To get the recovery from this particular disease, people have to share how they recovered. There is no medical treatment; only working with others keeps this disease at bay. Giving of time to help a sufferer helps members realize a number of things – 1. That suffering could be theirs. 2. Helping others overcome helps them find the path to end their suffering. 3. Giving is one of the greatest gifts. And amazingly, everyone gains. There are many other wonderful things that happen, but in the process it creates a community of people out to give and share.
Our upbringing – our parents, our schools and those around us teach us about being selfless. But it is only through action, that we reap the rewards – the rewards of being a part of humanity. There needs to be more humanity in our world, a little more giving. I saw a post the other day about giving and taking. “Those who give can keep on giving, but be aware of takers, they are never satisfied.” So teach your children to be givers, to give freely without expectation. There is no loss, only amazing rewards.
Increasingly boarding schools and universities (particularly in the US), are looking to see how students show, express and personify character. SSAT, next year, will be introducing the Character Skills Assessment (CSA) to see how students respond to questions or themes related to their character. When schools are reading through essays (both boarding schools and universities) they are looking for character. Not just stated character but expression of how character improves ones life. If a student has been resume building, the words and expressions of how Non Sibi affected them will ring hollow.
Lots of students tell me they want to change the world. Sometimes it feels earnest, other times it sounds like they just want to make money. Changing the world comes one person at a time, helping another, selflessly. Changing the world does not take money. it takes people who are willing to give freely of them selves, with no expectation for return. And therein lies the conundrum of Non Sibi.