Non Sibi. From the moment students attend Andover to the moment they leave, there is no value more expressed than Non Sibi. It’s fascinating that such a little phrase, communicated through a dead language, has such an immense influence on the Andover community. It implants the seed of compassion, of giving back and paying it forward. At face value, this seed fosters a community of volunteers and involved community members who assist and support one another. But when only given the outcome of what the seed will become, omitting the instructions to care for the seed, it can foster a community that believes that they must always be available to help others and live up to the standards of Andover, regardless of their own needs. While the value of Non Sibi is essential in cultivating community members that are meaningfully involved in the world, advertising a one-sided story of simply being for others erases a large part of what being Non Sibi entails: taking care of yourself.
On one hand, Non Sibi is just like it sounds: “not for oneself.” It’s thinking of yourself as a single cog in a machine, a collection of parts that rely on each other to maintain the integrity of the unit; no one part is more valuable than another. Andover does an impressive job at circulating this idea throughout the community of Andover through the numerous community service options, the repetition of the motto, and the countless opportunities students have to receive help. However, in my opinion, Andover best exemplifies the meaning of the Non Sibi Spirit through its need-blind admission philosophy. In episode three of “Every Quarter Podcast,” Jim Ventre ’79, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, describes Andover’s prospective students as “[students who are] admitted based on the merit of their application, and not because their families can afford the tuition.” Andover, itself, holds the admission office to a standard that puts the public before all else, giving numerous students, regardless of socioeconomic status, an opportunity to be a part of such a prestigious institution. If that doesn’t promote community and humanity, I don’t know what does.
However, in promoting this idea of Non Sibi as a one-sided coin, where one must simply be for others to live up to the school’s motto, to truly live up to the position of an Andover admit, Andover promotes a culture of neglecting your own well-being in order to put others first. On many occasions, I have found myself taking on larger portions of work when it comes to group projects because I feel as though it is my duty to step in. Though I might have the same amount of homework, or be just as mentally and physically fatigued as my partner(s), I believe it is my responsibility to make myself available when others can not. This same mindset has surfaced through conversations with other peers and upperclassmen. But there is a thin line between compassion and self-neglect, and that distinction isn’t addressed as much as it needs to be among members of the community. Although the compassion that Non Sibi can promote is a necessary tool that allows us, as humans, to have a public purpose, it can also be a tool for self-destruction when one is so occupied with helping others that they lose themselves in the process. While simply promoting the idea of Non Sibi, we, as a community, are failing to educate students that being Non Sibi is only fruitful when you know that it is impossible to address everyone’s needs and prioritize your own care. Embodying Non Sibi is a two-sided coin, where the giver’s health and needs are just as important as the needs of the receiver.
Andover sets a critical foundation for the community as to the values that students are expected to uphold, but that is all it is a foundation. As students, we must use the tools that Andover has supplied us as a blueprint for how we should carry ourselves in the future. We must use the concept of Non Sibi as a principle, a seed upon which we build our interactions, but also not forget that we too are humans ourselves. Upholding Andover’s values and being Non Sibi does not mean that you must neglect your own being and change for the sake of others. It means realizing that you are only one part of a community, but an important and cherished part nonetheless. Realizing your self-worth does not make one any less compassionate. On the contrary, it makes you healthily Non Sibi.