Monday, August 31, 2009

Why I Don't Volunteer

Lately, it seems that everyone -- from our President and First Lady to bloggers on the Huffington Post to public service announcements on the radio – has their feet on my behind, prodding me to go out and volunteer already. It’s good for our country! It’s good for the community! It’s good for your health! It’s fun!

While I have no argument with those points (well, maybe with the last one), none of them are going to move me to volunteer, even though if you look at my life superficially I have more free time than most. Does that make me mean and selfish? Some of you may think so.

I don’t care. I need my QT.

QT is Quiet Time, and that is the time which I don’t spend working, cooking, cleaning, exercising, driving, doing errands, sleeping, etc. QT is time for thinking, for reading, for gazing upon others’ art, for creativity in words and shape. QT is time to converse with Two Dogs and our friends. QT is more valuable than gold; it is the stuff of life. I guard it vigorously. Money may come and money may go, but lost QT is lost forever.

I am not one of those “people…who need [a lot of] people.” I prefer to keep my social circle small and select. When I approach a gathering of strangers, I’d rather that gathering be with peers with whom I can exchange thoughts, ideas, creativity, and laughter. I would not be comfortable spending much time with people who are worse off than me economically, culturally, and emotionally. I am an emotional sponge – I absorb negativity around me way too easily. Reading a sad news story online, or watching a tragic movie (such as Changeling) can affect my mood for days.

I know it’s important that someone stand for hours ladling food onto the plates of a long line of homeless people, or read stories to developmentally disabled children. I just don’t want that someone to be me.

Some people think volunteering is so good, especially for young people, that it ought to be mandatory. Those people are as annoying as a toothache. (Isn’t it reeeeeeally int-ter-est-ing, as Arte Johnson would say, that most of those same people would be too old to be conscripted under such a law?)

It is perfectly OK to write a check, or drop off boxes of food and clothing. Charities cannot run on volunteers alone – they need the material goods, too. Can you imagine any charity saying, “Oh, no, we can’t use your money – just your time”? Me, neither. Help in the way you feel most comfortable with. Personally, I would even do some pro bono graphics or writing for a cause I believed in. Just don’t pull me too far from home.

One of my favorite quotes (attributed both to Oscar Wilde and Ruth Rendell) is, “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” Your first duty is to cause as little trouble for others as possible. Anything beyond that is gravy -- and strictly voluntary.

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