CCSR Faculty Fellow Blog

by Heather Getha-Taylor | CCSR Faculty Fellow
Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs and Administration


Service learning sins and virtues

Successful service learning is a product of many factors, including intentional reflection. In fact, Barbara Jacoby defines service learning as: “a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs, together with structured opportunities for reflection designed to achieve desired learning outcomes” (emphasis added). As important as student reflection is in the service learning process, so too is faculty reflection.

A classic framework, the seven deadly sins and their contrasting virtues, can offer an easily understood set of reflection categories to get started with this process. While some may see this framework as trite, it does offer these enduring truths: our positive and negative attributes exist simultaneously and they can be changed. Intentional reflective practices can help us uncover our own service learning “sins” and “virtues” and adapt these as needed for the success of our service learning projects.

Below you will find the matched pairs of classic sins and virtues along with accompanying reflection opportunities. As you consider each set, it may help to think about this as a menu of potentially relevant attributes or attitudes that can apply to each individual in varying degrees. This framework may also offer a tool to consider and appreciate the strengths and struggles that others (students, community partners, peers) bring to the service learning experience.

Envy and Kindness: Envy stems from a sense of discontent, often manifesting itself in a desire to have what others have. Kindness, on the other hand, seeks the welfare of others. One of the ways that envy can manifest in service learning contexts is when we compare our own efforts to those of others, thereby minimizing our own strengths and contributions. For those who struggle with envy, consider how you might extend kindness to others and also to yourself. Focus on recognizing the unique traits, abilities, and experiences that you have to offer, not just those that you lack.

Gluttony and Temperance: Gluttony is typically described as overindulgence while temperance is about moderation. An appetite for ambitious service learning projects without specific goals and strategies can be dangerous. Those who struggle with gluttony in the context of service learning can do so in terms of excessive quantity or scope of efforts. If this applies to you, spend some time considering the forces that contribute to overcommitting. How might you begin to set the important boundaries that will allow you to more effectively manage your service learning time and energy?

Greed and Charity: These forces illustrate the tension between selfishness and altruism. In the context of service learning, one of the issues to consider is the way in which individuals and organizations will be recognized for their participation in the project. Sharing credit can build valuable social capital and emphasize transformational rather than just transactional relationships. Another way we can illustrate charity is through our communication. Before engaging in difficult conversations with students, peers, or community partners, practice using the THINK model: Is what you have to say True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?

Lust and Chastity: Lust can be characterized as unbridled desire while chastity reflects restraint. Lust can enter our service learning experiences when we get carried away with the excitement of potential experiences apart from the reality of concrete plans and actions. For those who struggle with the pull of new ideas and possibilities, consider the ways in which restless mind behaviors may influence your actions. For instance, do you find it difficult to concentrate on the details of any one project for an extended period of time? Do you pursue new opportunities to avoid other obligations or stressors? How does this pattern impact your success? How might you begin to adapt?

Pride and Humility: Pride emphasizes self-satisfaction while humility acknowledges the limits of our own importance. In the context of service learning, it may be easy to assume the “expert” role even in spheres of influence where our authority does not translate. We don’t always have all the answers and we aren’t necessarily the saviors for our community partners. Humility recognizes the need to work together to achieve shared service learning goals. Learning from our mistakes can be a powerful way to cultivate humility. To get started with this reflection, think about something that you regret about a service learning experience. Why do you regret it? How could you have acted differently? What will you do in the future?

Sloth and Diligence: Sloth is a failure to do what we should do while diligence gives attention to our responsibilities. In the context of service learning, there are many opportunities for slothfulness. Inattention to planning, monitoring, and evaluation may be intentional for the unwilling or inadvertent as a result of inexperience or inadequate mentoring. Diligence in service learning is marked by careful project design and dedicated management. Yet, for some, procrastination is a major hurdle that impacts diligence. If this applies to you, consider the following: what are you gaining by procrastinating? What short-term benefits are achieved at the expense of long-term success? What specific actions can you take now to overcome this hurdle?

Wrath and Patience: Wrath represents feelings of anger, impatience, or a desire for revenge while patience reveals an ability to manage these emotions. Since service learning projects involve a variety of partners, conflict, disappointment, and mismatched expectations can emerge. If this has been part of your experience, consider how to proactively and collaboratively address problematic issues so they do not dissolve into wrathful feelings. The “change the script” communication technique may offer a helpful tool to get started. First, clearly state the problem to an individual who is involved and can help resolve the issue. Second, explain why the problem is bothering you. Third, suggest a solution. Fourth, remember to thank the person for helping you.  

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