August 13, 2011
Love One Another: Business, Law, and the Power of Serving Others
Peggy Noonan opines on the recent London riots in today's Wall Street Journal and suggests that, "What we're seeing on the streets in Britain right now is something we may be starting to see here." I tend to agree. She mentions the "flash mob" curfews in Philadelphia as evidence, and we have the same thing in the suburbs of Cleveland where I live. While reading the Wall Street Journal has taught me that no matter how bad the news, there is almost always someone profiting from it--it is likely fair to say that few businesses flourish in riots. So what, besides instituting curfews, is the law to do? Noonan notes that government is in general in no position to throw more money at the problem right now, and even churches "too are hard-pressed these days." What she offers as a solution is Love:
The problem, at bottom, is love, something we never talk about in public policy discussions because it's too soft and can't be quantified or legislated. But little children without love and guidance are afraid. They're terrified—they have nothing solid in the world, which is a pretty scary place. So they never feel safe. As they grow, their fear becomes rage. Further on, the rage can be expressed in violence.
But in fact the benefits of a version of Love--helping others--has already been quantified by Dr. Maria Pagano (who also happens to be my wife--but please don't hold that against her). Pagano has already proved that helping others improves the likelihood of staying sober in addicts; is currently studying the effectiveness of helping others in teenage populations that have come into contact with the judicial system and are struggling with substance abuse; and is in the process of submitting a grant proposal to study the benefits of helping others for reducing the incidence and spread of HIV/STDs. You can find her "Helping Others" website here.
Of course, actively leveraging the benefits of service would only constitute one part of what will need to be a much broader solution to the related problems we are currently facing. But it is arguably a relatively inexpensive solution and can reasonably be expected to produce less negative side effects than at least some other typical interventions. The application would include, for example, simply incorporating service into the sentencing of juvenile offenders. Nor is this a completely novel idea. "Service learning" is being incorporated into education programs here at Akron and elsewhere, and programs like the Law & Psychology one at Nebraska already include altruism as one of their areas of study.