Sunday, February 14, 2016

Slap Me Before I Volunteer Again

I'm one of The Seven.

That sounds appealing, doesn't it? You don't even know what it is, but since there's a select number it must be special or elite or chosen. You want to be one of the seven too, don't you?

No you don't. Trust me. I desperately want out of The Seven. The Seven is not a super cool secret organization with jackets and a butlered clubhouse with a full bar and secret wall of gadgets. The Seven is the same group of fools in any organization who volunteer to organize or participate in things.

The impetus to join the seven seems pure enough, like most initial impetuses. It springs from two fonts: curiosity and empathy.

Curiosity, that ever-vigilant cat-killer, grabs hold when that charismatic authority figure lays out the plan for that cool-new-partially-conceived-project which needs a few good folks to kick in just a little bit of extra time to help it along its way. Your hand is up before you know it and suddenly you find yourself on the most dreaded ill conceived and inefficient of social constructs, the committee. Next thing you know you are in charge of bringing breakfast pastries, both glutenous and non, to 7:30 am meetings so committee members can hear themselves talk and don the cape of Devil's Advocate in order to delay any fruitful action, which would, inevitably put a halt to the self-perpetuating, self-validating meetings and rob all of the glory of the procrastinator's panic of having to do everything at the last minute.

Empathy is a most admirable troublemaker. A genuine desire to help is a beautiful thing, in moderation. It can build bridges, move mountains and turn tides. And it can, if unchecked, cause unbridled burn out and rampant bringing to the brink. Once your kind nature is revealed well-intentioned Do-gooders, like ravenous philanthropic eagles, will swoop down on you, clutch you in their talons and carry you away to their time-sucking aerie. And you will fall under their spell as they speak of your natural leadership skills and how they just need you to send a few emails, pick up a few hoagie trays, and organize the bi-monthly bake-sale complete with separate nut-free, wheat-free, dairy free and taste-free tables. Then the unthinkable happens; time passes, seniority is achieved and you have become what you have beheld as you find yourself swooping down on unsuspecting empathetic prairie dogs below.

And let's be honest, the reason behind the impetus to "help" is not without its ulterior motives. For when we volunteer there is always a selfish purpose lingering in the shadows. We want to be noticed by that boss, elevated in the eyes of those parents, stay involved so it improves our children's chances, or simply improve our odds of getting into heaven. So, we members of The Seven volunteer again and again until our addiction spirals into resentment and righteousness and we find ourselves volunteering for the corrupt pleasure of holding it over everyone else's heads. And then one day we look in the mirror only to discover we have become withered Gollums clutching to the precious ring of our perceived altruism.

And no, the answer is not to stop volunteering altogether. The world is a better place because of the collective generosity of people willing to lend a hand. I propose you simply adopt the Airline Oxygen Mask rule of thumb: put your own oxygen mask on first then assist your child. Take care of yourself first so that you are capable of caring for those around you. It is not a selfish approach, it is practical. My theory is, if you take care of yourself you might actually get to know yourself; and if you know yourself you might actually realize what you care about which will channel your volunteering. Occasionally saying "no" creates space for you to say yes and have time to make that yes count on a more comprehensive level. Allow your cupcakes to have impact

This has "physician heal thyself" written all over it by the way as I am low on this particular evolutionary scale. With a little backbone, however,  I will soon be turning in my membership card to The Seven and graduate to the Panel of Naggy Know-it-Alls. A girl's gotta dream.