Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Life Lived For Others Is A Life Worthwhile

The following is a reflection written by Andrew Kuttler, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

Widening the lens with which we look at the world seems to be the theme of an Amate House Volunteer. Most of our Community Nights tend to try and strengthen our faith or experience within our houses because our experiences do plenty to open our eyes. That was my feeling until recently when Alex Kotlowitz joined us for a discussion.

This was something I was looking forward to throughout most of the year. I had heard that the Volunteers did it last year and so to prepare for such an occasion, I naturally read every book by Alex that I could find. To be honest, I really had no idea about the books prior to reading except them being strongly recommended by friends. Those books…definitely something I should have indulged much earlier in life. I read There Are No Children Here and Never a City So Real. Though reading these after deciding to come to Chicago seems almost like a waste of time to those unfamiliar with them because they highlight most of the things we have learned this year volunteering; they still managed to open my eyes to many different things.

Take Never a City So Real for example. This book highlights about 7 or so neighborhoods throughout Chicago through one person’s experiences. These unique stories are a only a tiny glimpse into the vast diversity in Chicago.

Prior to this year, when I would think of diversity, I would immediately associate it to race because that is what our culture deems to be the only definition. So society looks at Chicago, especially Rogers Park, and says that is a diverse area. But what truly makes this city diverse isn't necessarily the number of different races in the city; rather, it’s the varying stories that all come together to make this great city. It’s hard to imagine 12 people to live in the same house with many core values the same and we think of Chicago and don’t comprehend how many completely unique stories are joined together by their living parameters.

Let’s face it, many of us are naive to the world and its issues. I only know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems our within our society and even that overwhelms me. So far, I have been unable to wrap my mind around how to fix issues that plague us. When I work towards the heart of the issue, I find another couple issues that need resolved before more can be fixed. And that is the problem that as we work towards one solution, we find other issues that need addressed.

And that is what I am contemplating to do with my life? Work in an almost paradoxical system that says that we can achieve perfection in society based upon an imperfect set up. It is a tall task then to take on changing one aspect of society without getting caught up in trying to fix everything else. I could legitimately spend my whole career working to fix one issue and never succeed because other things needed to be taken care of.
To many people, our societal problems are insurmountable. But if there’s one thing I have learned from people like Alex Kotlowitz, my boss, and my housemates it is that as a collective we can make a change by each working on our own tasks and collaborating.

Daunting work lies ahead of me and you know what? Bring it!