Impulsive volunteering

Young people can learn to become impulsive volunteers.


Recently I met one of my students on a Kyoto City bus. We both sat down and began to chat. After a while the bus got crowded. When a couple of elderly ladies began to board, the student suddenly jumped up out of her seat and tugged on my shirt sleeve, urging me stand.

I was pleased by her good manners, and the speed of her response was incredible. She didn’t have time to think; she just acted on impulse. Traditionally, altruistic behavior could be expected of any young person, but today it’s so unusual that I call it impulsive volunteering.

How does a young person become so alert and so responsive to the needs of others? Our university is part of a Catholic school organization that includes a coeducational elementary school and a secondary school for girls. The student on the bus is a graduate of our secondary school. Last week at a workshop on education and volunteering, I reported my experience on the bus. School teachers at the workshop were pleased but not surprised. They work hard to instill a spirit of autonomous volunteering in their pupils.

Parents and school teachers can help young people learn to act without hesitation. For example, they can provide opportunities for children to visit hospitals or institutions for the elderly or to interact closely with people who have various disabilities.

Good manners and acts of kindness are learned, and the courage and impulse to act become automatic if they are learned through experience in childhood. By closely communicating with people in different situations, young people can become impulsive volunteers.