Chapter 54 Summary

Be a Communitarian

Americans place a lot of emphasis on the idea of personal rights, and that is how it should be. However, no discussion of rights should be held without a discussion of responsibilities as well. Rights have an origin, and in America Pausch believes they come from the community. In return, each citizen has a responsibility to his community. While some people call this being a “communitarian,” he simply calls it common sense.

Unfortunately, this is a concept which is no longer common. In his twenty years of teaching, Pausch has observed that more and more students are completely unaware of the reality that rights come only with responsibilities. At the beginning of each semester, he has his students sign an agreement which outlines their rights and responsibilities. They have to agree to work constructively in groups, to attend certain meetings, and to give honest feedback in order to help their peers grow and learn. In exchange for these responsibilities, they earn the right to remain in the class and have their work displayed and critiqued.

Some students are reluctant to sign the agreement, perhaps because adults have not been particularly good role models in communitarian endeavors. One good example is the right to a jury trial, something nearly everyone wants if it becomes necessary; at the same time, these same citizens work diligently to avoid having to serve on a jury. Pausch wants to teach them that rights and responsibilities are connected and everyone must contribute to the common good. Not doing that is nothing but selfish.

When Pausch was young, his father taught him by example but also looked for interesting ways to teach this lesson to others. When he was Little League baseball commissioner, he had some trouble recruiting volunteers to serve as umpires. It was a thankless job, of course, because parents who were unhappy with calls and were often vocal and unkind. Some of it had to do with fear, since little kids often flail wildly at the ball and an umpire is relatively unprotected.

To solve the problem, Pausch’s dad assigned older league players to umpire for the younger kids. It became an honor to serve in that position, and several things happened because of it. First, the student umpires gained an appreciation for how difficult a job it was and rarely ever argued with their own umpires. They also felt a sense of satisfaction that they were serving as role models and helping younger players play a sport they loved. The younger kids saw positive volunteerism in action.

Pausch’s father created a new generation of communitarians. He understood that when people are connected to each other, they all become better people.