Monday, June 16, 2008

Volunteering is bad.

After speaking with a friend and hearing her definition of volunteering, I thought about writing this post: to know your opinions. Chatting we realized that our associations with the word "volunteering", were quite different.

In the past I volunteered in Italy and in Ireland, to help and assist children. What really surprised me, in both cases, was the atmosphere. People living with other people, and sharing everything. Children were helping us (me and other volunteers) to think differently about life, adopting a different perspective. We were there to give them back their hopes.

Sharing (as well as helping) aspect of this attitude is completely eclipsed behind what seems to be just an economic issue. "Volunteers are people who are not paid for working", said my friend - expressing a common thought. If that is the normal assumption (in Italy I'm quite sure it is), social volunteering has a high obstacle to overcome, starting from its name.

What about your countries? Is there a name to indicate who helps other people just for the sake of it? Can you translate it in english? If not, may we find one?

They are "activists", but activism is probably a too aggressive concept... and not the most important one.
"Helpers" would sound better... but we loose the sharing side...
I'm thinking about firefighters ... for their generosity... social volunteering is probably fighting the bad fate...

Any help?


Michael said...

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Cycling in Europe
Safari in Africa
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sarah hay said...


good question.

I 'volunteered' in Panama on a sea turtle conservation effort for 3 weeks and I actually paid to be there!! Is there a name for that? That said, it was an incredible experience.

Marco said...

Tour operators might have some sort of inspiration reading your comment...

I like "enablers"

nickzeven said...

Interesting question. I immediately thought of firefighters as well. In Germany we say "Freiwilliger", which is a combination of "free" and "willing to do sth." I don't think there is a translation into English, but I like the combination because it expresses two important ingredients: The free will and reason beyond your actions and the passion to fulfill your aims. Interestingly in Germany we see more and more social "clubs" popping up, where young, ambitious, career orientated wealthy people spend their free time and support others. It seems there is a growing inner need to give something back. Also i believe that the increase of yoga, Buddhism and Meditation influences this development.

The Campus Cynic said...

Volunteering is in no way a bad thing. Sometimes, altruism really helps the big picture, and it absolutely helps individuals' and communities' lives for the better. However, the big picture is always moved by the economy. The economy is the system that arranges and organizes need and availability. Its what decides who has the most food and who has the most oil. Volunteering helps out, no mistake about it. But a trend I see with some people is that they volunteer for everything, and it becomes an obsession. Three or so volunteering gigs and so, it's reasonable. But when you've got your resume lined with ten volunteering gigs and counting, then someone's got a bit of an ego and a Jesus complex. And those are not the reasons for volunteering.