Among middle class retirees, volunteering helps fill the void post-career. At a dinner party recently, I thought the guests had met through a book group, but I learned that at least one member of each of the other four couples volunteers for Meals on Wheels. One of the men volunteers a day a week for the emergency squad. I suppressed the urge to mention my little gig driving Mexican farm workers to health care appointments, but it wasn’t easy. As little skill or responsibility as it takes, we’re attached to these roles.

An Afghan friend shared her experience with American volunteerism. It was during her year as an exchange student at a mid-western high school that she first encountered volunteering. In the midst of our ethno-centric society with each succeeding generation more self-absorbed than the last, she’d found something in it she wants in hers and in her country’s life. She volunteered at the public library that year and has made volunteers from the West a critical piece of a non-governmental institute she heads up now in Kabul.

But isn’t it just part of the evolution of our society from small, tight-knit communities to the mobile, impersonal ones that take their places along the road to modernization? Or have we consciously cultivated this volunteering? Is this because we care so much about our community or is it to develop some caring? All of this I suspect and now we can search the Web by locale to find opportunities to volunteer.

Whether plan, offshoot, or unintended consequence, volunteerism is something for Americans to hang on to, teach the next generation, and export when the opportunity arises.