habits of humiliation

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Cornell and Dartmouth recently published the names of students who had not contributed to the senior class gift.

Pushing for 100% participation, students were mortified when Laura DeLorenzo, a physics major at Dartmouth , refused to give. “You have symbolically shown the class of 2014 that you do not consider their chance of happiness valuable,” one student wrote in the college newspaper.

Their “chance of happiness?” Another donor would match their gift if everyone gave. Happiness, apparently, is when you double your money, regardless of the means.

A popular campus blogger also chimed in. He wrote, “You aren’t even worth the measly dollar you wouldn’t give,” posting both her name and her photo. For her part, DeLorenzo circulated a letter saying she resented the pressure she felt and had concluded that the negatives of her experience at Dartmouth outweighed the positives.

Good for her. The pressure was intense, as 4 interns were given stipends of $1500 each to hector their classmates, sending email lists around of those who hadn’t contributed and calling them on the phone, offering to drop by the dorm and pick up their money.

At Cornell, where a similar program played out, organizers even told seniors that their gift would increase the university’s ranking in the U.S. News and World Report, which isn’t true.

Nor should it be. If a school’s ranking depends on whether or not every senior gives a dollar it’s not a credible measure of anything, especially in schools where it costs about $160,000 to get the degree in the first place. Nor does it achieve what its organizers intend—creating a habit of giving, an early connection with the university.

What concerns me are the habits of humiliation the student leaders are learning. They’ve turned gifts into obligations, and generosity into duty. I’d hate these people to be running my country. Or my church.

That’s because character and conscience are not the same thing. Our conscience can be manipulated, trained, seared, destroyed. It is inconsistent at best. Character, however, is more deeply rooted, connected to our understanding of what matters and what never changes. It calls us to noble methods and purposes.

Few fund raising appeals ever rise to the level of touching, perhaps even transforming, our hearts. Content to merely open our wallets, most of them are manipulative in some way. Even cynical.

This is unfortunate, since our best examples of giving are sacrificial and substantial—the widow’s mite, the cross of Christ. These examples are never about the givers’ happiness or worth. They are about glad-hearted, redemptive responses, from generous hearts for selfless ends.

In another example, Paul says the church at Macedonia “gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.”

To beg for the favor of giving is better than to give for the favor of being left alone, as several students at Dartmouth and Cornell admitted they finally did. Their administrators were unwise, and their peers were unkind. Nobody was the better for it.

I’m sure they are all well educated.

They just have a lot to learn.

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

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