Practice What We Preach

“If we are not ‘Non Sibi,’ then ‘Non Sibi’ cannot be our motto!” I snapped across the breakfast table last week. If the not-for-self spirit is not practiced in every Andover dorm, academic building and sport field, then how can “Non Sibi” be our community’s defining phrase? Specifically, I was trying to articulate the trouble that I have with the idea of Non Sibi Weekend: many students walk away from the three-day weekend feeling as though they have fulfilled their “Non Sibi” obligations for the year, when, in reality, a single community service commitment is only the start. “Non Sibi” is so much more than just a weekend.

To be clear, I am not saying Non Sibi Weekend is without merit. The weekend provides an invaluable opportunity to engage in “Non Sibi,” but it should not be the only time we think about helping others. On campus, we seem to live in an environment where it is sometimes okay not to care and permissible to strive only for personal benefits. This is what invalidates our proclamation of “Non Sibi” – not our participation in a weekend that is the product of countless hours of incredibly hard work by the Community Service Office, which is absolutely invaluable to Andover’s community.

For Non Sibi Weekend this year, I visited the Beverly Food Project in northern Massachusetts where adults and teenagers work together, devoting time in the summer and school year to sustainable agriculture and hunger relief. As I listened to someone my own age passionately explain the injustices in our food system, I was inspired by the “Non Sibi” these students demonstrated and felt guilty about how little “Non Sibi” I was doing. For the volunteers at the Food Project, “Non Sibi” is not just a saying but a way of living. Standing in the fields of the Project, whose motto is “Youth. Food. Community.”, I could not help but feel complicit in some sort of terrible lie. Andover students too are youth, but our students – grumbling and whining about their mandatory service commitments on their day off from school – did not even begin to resemble the dedicated teenagers I saw here. The volunteers in Beverly worked tirelessly to produce food for others, yet we were the students meant to embody “Non Sibi.”

I worry that students at Andover are forgetting how to engage in selfless acts without being required to do so. This student mentality – that “Non Sibi” is confined to a single weekend in which Friday classes are cancelled, and all students deserve a congratulatory pat on the back from each other and the adults on campus – is unhealthy and even dangerous. If we put the concept of “Non Sibi” on a pedestal by overemphasizing our adherence to it, then we begin to forget that “Non Sibi” can and should be inherently part of our everyday interactions. We are not somehow special in our “Non Sibi” endeavors. I must stress that “Non Sibi” is not an ideal unique to Andover but, rather, is something everyone should strive to. Altruism is not a strenuous act of martyrdom; there may be no greater disservice than to chant “Non Sibi” hollowly.