Volunteer Stereotypes

Bleeding hearts…do-gooders…dove-eyed idealists–not terms especially positive. In fact, my dictionary gives the definition of a do-gooder as ‘a well-meaning, but unrealistic or interfering philanthropist or reformer’. Wow.

But volunteers range anywhere from moms in the local PTA to doctors doing surgeries in war zones. When you think of a volunteer, what image first comes to your mind?

Why is that?

Soft But Potent Power

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

I am loving this book. Author, Susan Cain, discusses how much we lose in undervaluing introverts…how well known figures like Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffet and Gandhi, achieved what they did, not in spite of but because of their introversion. This book: Quiet, is so worth a read, even if you’re not an introvert. It’ll help you understand ‘the other side’ better and develop stronger relationships, both personal and in the business realm. Some studies say one out of every two or three people is an introvert. So I’m sure you know a few.

Cain chronicles the rise of the extrovert ideal in the 20th century and its extreme impact on our current society; how it has shifted from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality. “Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait…”

Talkers are often perceived as smarter. Yet, “…there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas.”

Stay with me. I’m going somewhere with this…and it’s not to bash the extreme extrovert over the head. I believe we need both extroverts and introverts. Two halves to a whole. But one shouldn’t be made to feel ‘less’ than the other.

Cain’s stories of successful, introvert leaders were especially interesting to me. She makes a very good point about needing to delineate between good presentation skills and true leadership ability. Common traits used to describe some highly successful leaders were: quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated. Not the traits that first come to mind when you think of CEOs, are they? So, how do they manage? Cain and those she interviewed argue these introverted leaders build not their own egos, but the institutions they run. They are interested in listening and gathering information more than asserting opinion or dominating a conversation. They truly build their team.

Where Soft Power Comes In

My favorite part (at least so far, since I haven’t finished the book yet) refers to how introverts might not like the spotlight or speaking in public, but they will push themselves to endure it because a cause matters that much to them. Their strength lies in their ideas and heart. They…”rally people to their cause through conviction rather than dynamism.” They change lives by their caring. Their strength comes from substance. They focus. They carry on without getting sidetracked. They have quiet persistence. In particular, it makes me  wonder how many non-profits are run by introverts.

What have you felt so strongly about that it forced you out of your comfort zone? Or have you felt because you’re more a quiet type, you didn’t have anything to offer? Let’s just dispel that right now, shall we?

Check out Susan Cain speaking on TED.

Volunteer Stereotypes II

A while back, I convinced my husband to watch Letters to Juliet with me. I have to say, it is a major chick-flick that used up a lot of my points for picking which movies we watch together. But, there is a dinner scene, which I found interesting, where Amanda Seyfried calls the guy, who is her love interest, ‘a self-satisfied do-gooder.’ I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant as a compliment.

It’s sad that pro bono, volunteer work is often seen in this light, but is it untrue? Unfair? In some cases, I’m sure it is. But, it has been my experience that pride can find its way into just about anything. It can be argued that there is an element of self-interest even in wanting to see someone’s happy reaction when they receive a gift.  I’m not really sure ‘self’ can be completely separated out. The best I think we can hope for is to become…or remain cognizant of the reasons we do what we do and use them to keep things in perspective—to not get caught up in patting ourselves on the back. Some people will have reasons closer to true altruism than others, but in a world that is far from perfect, how picky should we be? What is the alternative?

There Is Always Next Year

Rotary International - photo by Diesel Demon

Happy New Year! A new decade. Let’s hope it’s a good one. 

Every year when I watch the Rose parade, I think… ‘One of these years, I’d like to go out to Pasadena and volunteer to help decorate a float. I have no idea for which organization, so I can’t say I’d be doing it to selflessly promote awareness of a worthy cause. I just think it would be fun, for some reason, to spend several hours monotonously gluing corn silk and palm fiber onto a small section of earlobe or paw.

BUT, if I ever do get the chance, I would probably try to volunteer for one with a humanitarian mission—like this year’s float to encourage awareness of the fight against Alzheimer’s or last year’s Rotary International float* to promote the eradication of polio. Why not have some fun AND support a cause? Does one preclude the other?

To me, volunteering doesn’t have to be drudgery. In fact, I think it’s good that we get a little fun out of it; it keeps us honest and leaves less room to build up pride over what we might consider ‘sacrificial deeds’. I don’t know anyone who ever intended to become a self-righteous hypocrite.

So, with that said, I also must admit…I’d volunteer to work on Trader Joe’s next float in a heartbeat…if they’d only agree to open a store in Charleston!!

*Note: I think you have to be a member of Rotary, Rotaract or Interact clubs to have the opportunity to glue a flower on their float, which at least at the moment, nixes me out of the running.

Photo by Diesel Demon

Volunteer Stereotypes

Bleeding hearts…do-gooders…dove-eyed idealists–not terms especially positive. In fact, my dictionary gives the definition of a do-gooder as ‘a well-meaning, but unrealistic or interfering philanthropist or reformer’. Wow.

But volunteers range anywhere from moms in the local PTA to doctors doing surgeries in war zones. When you think of a volunteer, what image first comes to your mind?

Why is that?

Welcome to the Volunteer Fringe.