Reflection Three


Address your motivations.  What motivates you?  How do you explain your motivations?

Anytime we engage in service, there are ways in which we might benefit — in what ways do you think you have benefited from your PE, and how do you reconcile this benefit with your motivations?

The key to this reflection is to keep pushing deeply — keep asking yourself “why?”  When you attempt to uncover your motivations, do not stop with your initial thoughts or feelings.  When you feel as though you come upon a motivation, ask yourself where that actually comes from — ask yourself why that is what motivates you.  Continuing this process will hopefully help you to complete this reflection with greater depth.


I grew up in a low-income neighborhood, and I went to school under a district called PUC (Partnerships to Uplift Communities) Schools. My high school really served a place to go so students wouldn’t pursue illegal activities and kept students from dropping out of school. Every administrator knew my name and background. They monitored and supported my progress through high school. I developed strong relations with my teachers because they dedicated so much time towards my personal growth as a student and a community member.

Every year, the founder of PUC, Ref Rodriguez, talked to us about what he envisioned his schools to become: graduates of his schools would come back to serve the communities in which they grew up, just as he had done.

Furthermore, growing up, my parents would tell me that when I have a career, I would have to take care of them as they got older. That was my duty as their daughter. My parents have also taught me that I have to help people around me. Before I went to Vietnam, they advised me to give the poor what I could. Although my parents don’t make a lot of money, they sacrifice their time help neighbors with chores or volunteer at our church.

The point is, it has been engrained into me that one day, I’m meant to get my education and serve underserved communities and contribute back to the family. This is something that I felt like I had to do because the thought was so prevalent in my background. Illich points out that there is “the idea that every American as something to give, and at all times, can and should give it …” (188). Because of the traditions that have been instilled in me, it has become something like an expectation to uplift and take care of the people around me.

As insincere as it sounds, I realize that external factors are a large part of my motivations. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. For most of my life, I have depended on other people, and I would never want to let down anyone that helped me, nurtured me, or supported me. Doing what they “expect” of me is my form of repayment and my expression of gratitude.

I honestly fear that I won’t become a daughter that my parents will be proud of. I know that they and many others have invested their time, money, and energy into raising me and making sure that I make good decisions that will enrich not only my family but also the community. That is the overarching goal of my life.

I came to Cal with that mentality: I was going to get an education and give back to the community. However, after going through some of the motions of GPP, I question why I want to continue in this work.

I feel like GPP classes have taught me to be critical about how development work is done and sometimes, that could be discouraging. Illich claims that when Americans travel to foreign countries and try to help, they are ultimately, imposing “ideas of democracy, equal opportunity, and free enterprise among people who haven’t the possibility of profiting from these” (189). There are power dynamics. People engage in communities and environments they don’t know about. Methods that are successful in some areas are not so in others. There are inequalities to address inequalities.

But, the motivation to “repay” the people in my life is still true. In addition to that, I also feel like when I can assist people or do something that is for their benefit, I feel good about it. Phoebe from Friends once said, “There is no selfless good deed” and I believe that’s true because from an economic theoretical standpoint, people would not engage in activity if there isn’t a gain. The gain in this case is feeling good and knowing that I made a difference, even just for a little bit.

It’s a very romantic notion to want to change the entire world. Many of us are not going to do that, and that also scares me.   I want to matter, to be unique in the world. I was once told that if I don’t make some profound contribution, I would be forgotten in three generations. That makes me sad because I, myself, have put a lot of effort and work into my life and then, it just ends. There are over seven billion people in the world, and I am only one. It makes me feel insignificant, so doing this kind of work helps me feel like I can make an impact in some way. Loeb says, “community involvement … allows for our lives to count for something” (198), and I agree. Even though I know that I probably won’t be remembered or change in the world in a large scale, I find meaning for myself if I can do something for someone else.

I think I just want to be useful and not be just some person that takes up space. In Mary Oliver’s poem, she writes, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited the world” (203). When I was in high school, I learned about global warming and the fact that humans overuse the Earth’s resources. I took this very personally because (1), I was interested in fair resource allocation and (2), it made me think about what I was doing on the planet. I was using resources, but not giving any of it back. Resources are wasted on me. I frequently question whether I am using my time wisely because just by living, I harm the planet and feel guilty about it. Every breath that I take could be for someone more deserving. I guess I feel like I have to earn my time on Earth, and the way I feel like I can do is to give back to it and its inhabitants.

I feel like what I’ve written here makes me sound disingenuous. Part of my motivations comes from feeling like I owe the people who have supported me. Part of it comes from selfishly wanting to make a difference in the world. I’m still working on what my role is on how I contribute back to society. I enjoyed my PE because I was about to learn about resource allocation and a developing economy while assisting my organization. Within my limits, I feel like engaging in service in the way that I choose to do service (mentoring at Longfellow Middle School, my PE, public policy, etc) is my way to appeasing those two sides. It’s something that I feel like I have to do.

However, it’s also true that I want to do contribute to the society because I have personally seen what hardships people in poverty have to endure. I care about the communities and the people that I work with. I have studied what happens to people when other people only care about profit and society functions in a neo-liberal economy. So, I believe that people can make a contribution by “paying it forward”, trying to “out-kind” each other, and working together as a community instead of making everything a competition. I don’t know if I was conditioned to feel this way (I probably was), but I honestly can’t see my life focused on anything else.

Over and out.

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