So yes, the criticism is well founded, but it's feels like it's bathed in cynicism.
I'm sure that I've shown my share of cynicism in my day. In fact, I've pretty much breathed it for a while. But it's tiring. I've always kind of thought that those of us who gravitate towards the cynical mind set have high ideals and beautiful ambitions, but have lost the hope and energy to achieve them. When the odds become so stacked against us, and it seems there are no options left but to throw stones to mock the things that cause the pain. It's an expression of impotent rage and spiritless protest. It's an extension of doubt and insecurity. The only solution is to force yourself into motion, as Goethe says "Doubt can only be removed by action."
The fact is, that though the system has flawed, that the people who exist in Americorps are an inspiring group of people. It's a program that let's people share their ideals with each other and band together to do more than throw stones. People have pretty low expectations for the youth of our generation. But that's not something that's really new.
People have always had low expectations for the youth of the day, from the 50's and 60's where parents bemoaned their children's lack of "ducking and covering skills" and yelled at them to "cut their hair, get a job, and stay away from that damn Democratic convention." back to the Reformation where adults decked out in mercury coated wigs and repressive bondage gear(girdles) poo pooed this new concept of a God who let man into heaven based on faith alone that the kids were spouting("Ye Olde Martha," they'd say "They're just too cheap to buy indulgences and too lazy join there faith with good works.") and even stretches back to the dawn of history days when prehistoric parents shook their heads knowing that all of this fire and standing up straight would lead to nothing but trouble.
So it's really nothing new, but it's something that cuts as deeply and hurts as much in every generation. It's nothing new, but neither is the fact that every generation defies the expectations and creates something great. Americorps is a way of overcoming the deepest of low expectations and marrying hope and ideals to ambition and action. It's inspiring to know that there are people out there who are willing to take a year and turn their lives completely upside down to spend some time funneling their skills and abilities into something that makes a difference to individuals in a community. Changing something is hard. It can be a horrible and violent thing. An upheaval of everything we're comfortable with and an embracing of chaotic uncertainty. It's inspiring to know that there are people who actively seek out this challenge. That there is a group of people who would wade into some of the most dangerous situations and communities shielded only by there ideals commitment improve the lives of others speaks volumes about a society.
So yes. There is the question of "poverty tourism" and temporary(year old) aid. But to focus on that is to miss the entire point. The point is that there's a group of people out there who are using the best parts of themselves to enable the best parts of others. That there is a group out there who are willing to give up time,friendships,and comfort to effect even the smallest amount of change. That our hope and desire for progress is strong enough to withstand the loudest cries of doubt. That we are still able to care and act. That Americorps seeks not to help and bail out, but to enable real sustainable communities that continue to grow and flourish for generations to come.
So I still feel a little cynical. But it takes way more mental energy to feel that way. So I'm saying yes more and getting excited about my job. I'm seeing that things are actually possible as long you're moving in a direction(any direction). So that's good. I've learned a lot by wanting to be a part of something. I've learn a lot, but perhaps the best reason to reclaim idealism is that, as it turns out, cynicism is pretty boring to talk about at parties.
This has been pretty ranty, so here's a picture of a cat.