11 December 2014

The Dark Side of Volunteering

Image: Michael Baumann (2014)

I am disappointed in young people today, not in their sense of entitlement, which is a problem across generations, but in their utter lack of rebellion. And it is a mystery, really, for much of what they will inherit is badly damaged -- economy, environment, financial system, and so on.

It is therefore ironic when you, the young person, are asked to volunteer your time to contribute to your regional and global community.

My recommendation: Volunteer if you must, but know the caveats.

1: What is your motivation for volunteering? The spirit of volunteering is that the reward be internal, never external. If volunteering carries a utility (e.g. that your are more likely to get a job), the spirit of volunteering is lost.

2: Is volunteering an activity that carries social justice? Not everybody can afford to volunteer; most people must earn a living and take responsibility for their families. Are you thinking critically? Or have you been indoctrinated by the belief that volunteering is good? And if it is good, cui bono?

3: Is volunteering good for the labour market? Volunteering may take away somebody else's legitimate livelihood. Maybe even your own. Maybe not now, but maybe in the future.

4: Is volunteering shifting societal responsibilities? Volunteering may remove pressure from organizations (e.g. the government, insurance companies) to provide the services for which they are ostensibly collecting money (e.g. taxes, premiums).

5: Is the word "volunteering" newspeak? If volunteering has become a requirement, we can speak of volunteering no longer. We should at least be honest.

As always, think of the costs and benefits, the distribution of the costs and benefits, and the consequences of your actions before you act. Nothing is simple.