Tuesday, June 8, 2010

altruism

The Community Action Corp (CAC) was a student organization at the University of Buffalo in the early 1970s. It had evolved because the university had been the center of student activism in 1970 which had created a clear rift between the school and the community. Most schools after the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings had become sites of student protests, but UB (as it was called for short) had been especially strident.

In an attempt to bridge the gap, several altruistic students created the CAC. I remember the student newspaper referring to the head of the CAC as someone who was too altruistic to be believed. He seemed genuine enough to me, but I only knew him superficially. I got involved in the CAC as a basketball coach for 10-12 year old kids in the community. Someone I knew from a camp where I'd been employed recruited me for the job and it was a delight.

Every Sunday morning from October until April, I coached my squad at either 8 a.m. or 930 depending on the schedule. In early October there was a "draft". Fliers had gone out to Buffalonians and to the elementary schools announcing that the CAC basketball league was about to begin. One Sunday morning in October, hundreds of kids came to the big university gym (big to them, the place was actually tiny by college gym standards) had a number tagged to their tee shirt and bounced basketballs in something akin to drills as we coaches decided who we would take. Then there was a draft where the coaches picked the players. Every kid got on a team. And every kid that showed up had to play every week in an intricate system of 8 time periods per game.

The kids loved it. The coaches loved it. The parents sat in the bleachers and thanked us, the "coaches" for giving up our Sunday morning for their kids. We had, the CAC, helped bring the community closer to the students. We weren't all, apparently, snooty privileged anti establishment miscreants.

Were those of us who participated in CAC altruists?

Altruism is a word that is often contrasted with selfishness. I often wondered though if the words were not different at all. Isn't an altruist someone who enjoys doing something for someone else, and if so, isn't the enjoyment the self derives from that activity the reason for the behavior, and consequently then isn't it just a more attractive form of selfishness.

I liked coaching those kids on Sunday mornings. My roommates and occasional Saturday night sleeping partners would often shake their heads when I bolted up at 7 on a Sunday morning to get to the gym. But I liked it.

By the way, my team, The Braves, won the championship in one of the three years I was coaching. We won in a sudden death overtime game--a peculiar rule implemented because the woman's volleyball team was about to come in and take over the gym. I'd brought a cigar to the game and ala Auerbach who used to light up a stogie when a game was won, I lit up after we won the game. I can still see two of the parents pointing at me and laughing.

One guy whose son was the star came up to me at the end of that championship run and thanked me for giving up the time for his kid. Fact is, I loved it.That's why we do things. For love.

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