By Aaron Canales
Recently, I went on a short trip. Just a weekend.
It was about a month ago, give or take; the weather still a tad on the nippy side. With me was a small group of individuals, with whom I’d had the laborious joy of being elected to the student board of the Hillel of the University of Memphis, the school we call our Alma Mater. As our campus’s Jewish connection, we have an obligation to have a plan, and we decided that this retreat would help with that plan’s formation. We had not only gone on this trip to ensure that the coming semester would be planned at an accelerated pace due to our proximity in a small Paris Lake cabin, but also to enjoy one another’s company and to enhance our familial bond. It was pragmatic and fun: a wonderful time.
But a particular element of my time there with these people touched me much more deeply than I had intended it to, and now, I intend to share that with you.
I led a program on our second night there, as we had intended each member of the student board to take a center stage position for a moment to show their way of connecting us to one another. We hiked, we made arts & crafts, we played Cards Against Humanity. But I wanted to take it a step further.
That night I sat us all down, around the small wooden table in the cabin, and asked the group to think; think of a time when they were thrust into a leadership position, wanted or not, and what they now carry with them because of that. At the end, I asked the group again to think; having heard all of that, how do they think that this position of leadership that they’ve been granted will impact them for the future?
Almost ubiquitously, the answer was that a positive change would be woven into them, whether in terms of interpersonal skills, organizational skills, or merely simple patience. They expected this labor, this challenge, to better them.
In that moment, I realized: when we, as people, assume a position where we take initiative to ensure that the experience of others is positive, it is not only they who benefit. I realized that there is something about giving up your weekends and afternoons to ensure that something runs smoothly for other people that is not only so darn satisfying, but genuinely improves us.
Who do we look to for knowledge and insight during times of uncertainty? Those in our lives who have taken on so much: mentors, teachers, parents and grandparents, bosses, religious leaders, and so many more. I believe it the natural human superlative, one of our most intense unconscious drives, to make better the lives of others through our sacrifice. And although I claim no great sacrifice by my contributions to my college’s Jewish Student Union, I can say now, partially due to my time there, that doing something for free for someone else ends up being pretty cool.
So what can we gain from this time spent together around the table, plotting and planning something that may go unnoticed?
We become better people.
My advice to you is that you go and get yourself involved with some selfless people, and be selfless yourself! Get involved, and you’ll thank the people who gave you that opportunity.