By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
A friend of mine recently returned from working as a volunteer in Biloxi, Mississippi. He was delivering furniture that was donated from Colorado where he lived. In Bob’s opinion, “If it weren’t for volunteers working along the Gulf Coast, nothing would be happening…nothing would get done.” That statement got me thinking about the psychological reasons people volunteer their time, effort and money to help others.
In the introduction to the little book, “The Heart of a Volunteer,” Dan Zadra writes, “There isn’t a problem in this world that can’t be solved. The hard part is convincing people that we are all part of the solution—that each of us has something to give which cannot otherwise be given.” So why do we need to be convinced? Do we feel we have nothing of value to contribute to solutions? Do we ignore the needs of others? Are we simply selfish? Do we have any desire to be a part of solving human problems? Volunteers don’t seem to have to be “convinced” that what they give is a part of the solution.
Zadra goes on to write: “When it comes to helping others, there are no little things…the accumulation of a lot of little things isn’t little…it takes each of us to make a difference for all of us…none of us can do everything at once, but all of us can do something at once…one person can make a difference, and every person must try…just concentrate on helping one person, giving hope to one person, and that person in turn may give hope to somebody else and it will spread out.
“It’s the greatest mistake to do nothing because you can only do a little. Give what you can, and do it together. That’s the power of one. Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Volunteers believe that if they are not contributing to the solutions of human problems, they become a part of those problems. Is it only out of a sense of duty that they give? Sometimes, yes. Is it a part of their job description or what they are credentialed to do?
Max Lucado writes, “The people who make a difference are not the ones with the credentials, but the ones with the concern.” Are you concerned?
Do volunteers see themselves as heroes (sheroes)? Do they view what they do as heroic? Not at all! Champion tennis player, Arthur Ashe once said, “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever the cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” Volunteers are willing to do whatever it takes to be a part of the solution…not a part of the problem.
Ralph Waldo Emerson described volunteer servants as “They who scatter joy.” So what benefits do volunteers get out of their service? They gain satisfaction and joy. They satisfy the spiritual need to give. They are more joyful when they address the natural human drive to nurture others. If that need were not present, the human race would have become extinct centuries ago. Sometimes that need is overshadowed by fear or anger or guilt, but it nonetheless exists in us all.
Someone once wrote: “All of you reading these words have loved someone, have done someone a kindness, have healed a wound, have taken on a challenge, have created something beautiful, and have enjoyed breathing the air of existence. Every moment you make a difference.”
Volunteers are fulfilling their true nature. They are being true to themselves. They are receiving more joy, delight and love. What better way to live? Are you volunteering? Are you serving the needs of others? Is there a better way for you to live?