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Posted July 1, 2003

Book: The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism
Author: Robert Coles
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, pp. 306

Excerpt from Jacket:

In this passionate book, Robert Coles explores the compelling nature of idealism what inspires and sustains it, how it is expressed, and why it is so necessary to both the individual and society. Coles has devoted much of his life to community service, and here he recalls his encounters with volunteers young and old who have given something of themselves to others. From civil rights activists and charity workers, members of the Peace Corps and the military, volunteers in shelters and inner-city schools, we hear testimony to the satisfaction that comes with "something done, someone reached."

Long recognized as the preeminent authority on the inner lives of children, Robert Coles illuminates with equal wisdom our desire to help others. No other writer can speak with such eloquence, wisdom and authority on the richness of human nature at its most generous. The Call of Service provides inspiring witness to the power of idealism to transform our lives.

Excerpt from Book:

. . .I was standing with my mother's worn, marked copy of Anna Karenina, and in it I encountered her familiar handwriting addressed to me, her twenty-year-old college son. There were a couple of paragraphs of pleasantries and of politics, and then an abrupt shift, a response to a course she knew I was taking titled "Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy."

What she wrote was a plea, really a cry of the heart out of her midwestern girlhood:

Treasure your time with Tolstoy's characters, Bobby. He has much to tell us through them. He himself had much to learn from them! They drove him hard, I think, from all I've read of his painful life. Let them have a life in you, too, and let them teach you how to live your life. Let them teach you to avoid some of their mistakes, Tolstoy's mistakes. We all make them, blunder our way along. But we can step out of ourselves, now and then; we can take the hands of others and walk with them. That is what Tolstoy gives us in his characters: through them he approaches us and tries to be of help to us. We can return the favor with others.

Table of Contents:

1. Method

2. Kinds of service
Social and political struggle
Community service
Personal gestures and encounters
Charity
Religiously sanctioned action
Government-sanctioned action
Service to country

3. Satisfaction
Something done, someone reached
Moral purpose
Personal affirmation
Stoic endurance
A boost to success
Interlude: Mentoring

4. Hazards
Weariness and resignation
Cynicism
Arrogance, anger, and bitterness
Despair
Depression

5. Doing and learning

6. Young idealism

7. Older idealism

Interlude: What they mean to us

8. Consequences
The longer run
The larger realm

Epilogue