Volunteering and Guilt
I have been mulling over this whole concept of volunteering to do something, especially for a social cause. Every person has a regular life, and beyond that, sometimes volunteers time, or money, or effort, or all three, to something which is of deep interest.
Most social organizations are strapped for funds and they benefit from voluntary work; it is a win-win situation both ways.
Having said that, I find some drawbacks to the situation.
Volunteering, by its very nature,cannot equal the deep commitment that one gives to the primary job, and so the core group of the social organization has to contend with a contribution that can be very erratic in both quality and quantity. Added to that is the difficulty that some people do voluntary work as nominally as possible and try to garner publicity that way! The regular people, who take care of the slog work, are forgotten, and the celebrity who comes to spend one day at the organization gets the limelight. Even the non-celebrity volunteers sometimes feel that their efforts are not appreciated equally.
And then there is this whole process of “guilt-tripping” everyone to be a contributor or a volunteer. Look at the ads of any social organization. Far more than positive messages are the negative ones that lay the guilt on with spades. “Turn this page and you are committing this child to a life of penury”, it says…and you have to turn the page, but you feel sad and guilty while doing so.
Then there is the guilt-tripping about participating in social initiatives. “We had a protest against xyz,” an email recently said. “Where were you? It is so easy for you to sit at home saying how good our cause is.” I found that SO negative. I may not be able to join in the protest for various, very valid reasons. During one protest that took place on two Saturdays…the first time I was out of town, the second time, my neighbour’s father died and I was in the hospital. Why must people assume that your reasons for not participating must be somehow ignoble? Why not give someone the benefit of the doubt?
I do agree that it is very difficult to get people to participate in such activities, but surely there should be a better way of getting them to do so rather than piling guilt and shame on their heads. And the irony is that the only ones who will feel the guilt is the ones who do want to volunteer; the others will quite blithely “turn the page”.
And I feel another thing which core workers for one social initiative forget, is that the average individual has many facets and gets approached for many different activities. And yes, a good-hearted person whose social conscience is active, would like to contribute to many things.
Just in the past few days, for example, I met someone who is working to integrate puppetry as a form of communication; someone who is helping tribals who are being expelled from their ancestral land; got an appeal for volunteers for blind students preparing for their exams and also from people who are trying to bring theatre into schools; talked to someone who runs a centre for autistic children, spoke to people who are worried about the environment in my city, tried to do something about documenting the threat to wildlife; chatted with someone about the hardships faced by women prisoners in our jails, and read about people who try and make slum children’s lives better.
All these causes are equally worthy; and I would like to contribute not just to one of these…but there is only so much time available to me. And I must live my own life too…and I have a right to NOT do volunteer work if I don’t want to. People tend to forget that voluntary work IS at the person’s time and convenience, and often pull a face when the volunteer says, sorry, I can’t make it tomorrow. When I cannot make it for a protest, I am made to feel extremely guilty about having a life apart from the protest. This sometimes has the unfortunate effect of alienating the volunteer from the cause altogether. Volunteering cannot be the same as a full-time job for the cause.
And what I also find irritating is that if I donate money, sometimes, instead of thanks, all I get is “it’s so easy to give money but there is nobody to do the actual work.” And if I donate my time and effort, I am also expected to donate money as well. Every time I spend time on a project, I am asked to buy things I will never use, and am ridden with guilt if I don’t.
It is also difficult if the volunteer’s strengths are not utilized; a disorganized voluntary effort is really a waste. I recently went to help with some rescued birds; I have handled birds, and wanted to help with dosing them and treating them. But what I was doing was… nailing mesh to cage frames, which I certainly cannot do well at all.
But having volunteered, I do realize just how tough some of these social initiatives are, and really can’t blame the people involved with them for using all the methods they can, to get people to come in and help! So I guess it is six of the one and half a dozen of the other…it is I who must choose how and what I will volunteer…and prevent myself from being loaded with guilt about the rest.