Making a difference

By

17 Sep 2019

‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.’ – (Nelson Mandela)

The world is becoming increasingly more difficult for many people to live in. What was once considered to be luxuries are now necessities in today’s materialistic society. More and more people are finding it harder to provide for their families.

The idea that helping others is an important part of living a meaningful life has been around for centuries. ‘What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good’, so said Greek philosopher, Aristotle, more than 2300 years ago. This ancient quote about volunteering offers us proof that giving back to the community is hardly a new concept. Numerous philosophers throughout history have expressed similar views – that empathetic relationships with others are a central feature of a positive, well-lived life.

Volunteerism

So, three cheers for volunteers. In this day and age, volunteerism is very much alive and well. We become aware of it every time there is a need for people to unite in the face of adversity or a crisis, but it is also ever apparent in daily life. And with the increasing use of social media, volunteerism has elevated into a global initiative shared and supported by countless, caring people throughout the world who think of others who have so little in life or who are living on the outskirts of society. And this is why volunteers make such a big difference to those in any need.

What is a volunteer? What is the value of volunteering? Volunteering is all about giving, contributing, or sometimes just being there for someone. It is working with others to make a meaningful contribution to a better community. People volunteer their time and energy for a variety of reasons. Many want to gain experience, acquire new skills, meet new people. Others just want to give back to their community, to help someone or to promote a worthwhile cause.

Human relationships first

Volunteerism puts human relationships first and encourages personal interaction with those in need. It is also a powerful tool for increasing the seeds of empathy within each of us.

Empathy is the skill that helps us relate to others, work together, and form the healthy bonds which are the cornerstone of a healthy society. It involves seeing the world from the other’s perspective and understanding their emotional experiences. When we feel the pain, fear or anxiety of those who are most vulnerable – the homeless sleeping in the cold, a wide-eyed child overwhelmed by the world, no food on the table, and so much more, it is that feeling of empathy that motivates us to reach out to them. It also brings out the best in humanity. It helps to make our society a fairer, kinder, more compassionate place, and volunteering plays a significant role in making this possible.

Every day in Australia alone, tens of thousands of people of all ages and from all walks of life give their time and money to make life more comfortable for people less fortunate than themselves. And every day, many organisations and groups – from sports clubs and churches to welfare groups and international aid organisations rely on volunteers to help them make a difference in their local community or further afield.

Community bonds

To be a volunteer is enriching and diverse. Volunteering is about the hundreds of volunteers involved in minor events – league sports, shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens, visiting the sick, etc. These large and small acts, given freely, are what bind communities together. Volunteering is helping, not hiring; giving, not taking; contributing, not counting the cost.

Volunteers are the lifeforce of our communities. They are the bonding glue between the cracks of a society increasingly defined by separation between the needy and the blessed. The totality of the work they do every day goes unseen and under appreciated by most of us – until maybe one of these ‘angels’ has occasion to step directly into our own lives, at some critical moment.

We cannot and should not put a price on volunteering. The value of volunteering is much deeper, much more fulfilling and much more important in making a contribution to a healthy and vibrant community than money can ever measure.

How can we put a monetary value on ordinary people doing extraordinary things? The reason volunteers don’t get paid is not because they’re worthless but because they’re priceless.

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