Why giving of yourself is so darn hard

Yesterday my newspaper column focused on volunteering. 

You can read it here.

In essence, I applauded our education system for requiring high school students to complete 40 volunteer hours in order to graduate.  That's 10 volunteer hours PER YEAR of high school. TEN HOURS.

While some commenters agreed, and some disagreed, I was a little shocked to get a few not-so-nice emails referring to "forced labour" and "slavery". People actually took the time after reading my opinion to sit down and write out an email, for my eyes only, advising me that I am in favour of SLAVERY if I think high school kids should be required to volunteer their time and talents.

So I want to reiterate what I wrote in my column:

"Sometimes, we need to require students to do something they might not willingly engage in on their own."

I think the same can be said for adults.

Why is giving of yourself so darn hard for people to wrap their head around?

When I was in high school we were not required to commit to any form of volunteering but it was strongly suggested if we planned to go to university. So I did volunteer, even though I had a paying job and school work to worry about.

Sometimes I volunteered willingly, sometimes begrudgingly, and sometimes because my parents volunteered me (which, of course, I hated). But I can tell you unequivocally that, looking back through adult eyes, those volunteer experiences helped me to realize the vastness of need in the world; to see beyond my own personal circumstances and gain empathy for others. 

Volunteering as a youth led me into teaching and it has led to me to volunteering as an adult. 

There are so many (really good and valid, believe me) excuses not to volunteer- kids, family commitments, work, lack of 'me time' as it is-  but there are so many more good reasons to give a few hours- for free- to people/places/things that ask for only your TIME

It is truly shocking to me that people are more willing to give their hard-earned money away to charity than their time. 

Are we really so callous that we believe that if there is no money attached to something that it is valueless? That without payment any type of effort is not worth our time?

As a parent, what kind of message does it send to our kids when we are hoarding our time and holding it so tightly that we refuse to give any of it away without dollar signs attached?

I don't spend hours each week volunteering. I spend about 6 hours each month (I teach sunday school and sit on a board of directors for a preschool). I'm not a martyr, I'm not a super-parent, I'm not special or awesome for doing it, and I certainly don't think you're awful if you're not volunteering. I'm just a little shocked at the STRONG beliefs that ADULTS display against volunteering, against giving their own time away.

What about you? Do you put any stock in volunteering or do you think that time is just too precious (or too limited maybe?) to give away?


  1. I found your article and this blog post to speak exactly my thoughts! I don't have a lot of spare time....ok I don't have any. But I MAKE time to volunteer on a board of directors for a low income housing building. Its a few hours a month that I fit in to my schedule. With that said, I have recently seen more young people volunteering. The board I sit on used to be mostly 50-somethings and today that average age has easily dropped 20 years.

  2. I think I read, between the lines, a thank you to your parents for 'making' you volunteer sometimes!
    I really believe that we need to take some time and look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. Well said!

  3. I think volunteering is fantastic, and I think high school students should have to volunteer. It gives us so much to give of ourselves. I think making it mandatory for high school students to perform volunteer work is absolutely necessary in our society given how few other opportunities there are to learn how to give of yourself. It's not just the organization that benefits from volunteer hours. The benefits are countless to the individual who is volunteering. If we were all raised the same way with values that highlighted kindness and helpfulness to others, we wouldn't have to insist on high school students performing required volunteer hours. Unfortunately, that's not the world in which we live.


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