Some Thoughts on Giving Back

By Katie, 5:15 am

Have you ever been in the middle of a tough situation and had someone say to you, “Well, at least you’re not starving to death/living in a war-torn country/hit by a natural disaster/facing a terminal illness”?

I absolutely hate when people say that.

Essentially, it’s the flip side of the comparison game I usually talk about; instead of comparing ourselves to people we deem more fortunate, we compare ourselves to people we deem less.

I find this problematic for two reasons. First, it seems to de-legitimate (I think I made up that word) whatever struggle the person is facing. When we should be showing compassion and empathy, we instead say, “because your life isn’t totally in ruins, you have no right to feel sad/upset/frustrated/stressed/etc.” Second, it attempts to use the struggles of other people to force us to feel better about ourselves. So instead of showing compassion to those in need, we capitalize on their struggles to downplay our own. Not cool.

Having said all that, I do think that one of the best strategies for managing the challenges and difficulties of our own lives is to get out there and help other people with theirs – not in order to minimize or devalue our own struggles, but rather to experience the joy that comes from connecting with others and lending a helping hand. Not to mention that giving our time and efforts to help others is just the right thing to do.

I’ve been reminded of all this through a program I’m participating in called GIVE (which stands for Getting Involved in Volunteer Experiences). It’s run by an organization in Baltimore called Business Volunteers Unlimited, whose mission is to connect the business and nonprofit communities through volunteer efforts.

Through the program, I’ve been able to give back to the community in a way I simply wasn’t doing before. One time I helped put together furniture for an under-funded high school in the city. Another time I helped with the upkeep of one of the few green spaces in the urban jungle. And just this past weekend, I worked with refugees from Ethiopia who are currently job-hunting; we practiced interview questions, looked at online applications, and discussed options for schooling.

I wish I could say that my motivation for participating in the program stems entirely from a selfless desire to help others. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of the draw is the warm and fuzzy feeling I always have afterward. It’s hard to focus on my day-to-day stresses when I’m actively giving back.

Participating in the GIVE program has shown me that while trying to Compare Quality Care “down” is a healthy way of boosting myself up, getting out there and getting my hands dirty in volunteering is.

Do you do any volunteer work? Do you find it helps you as much as it helps those you’re volunteering with/for?

10 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Giving Back”

  1. Kim says:

    Hi there. Lovely post. I, too, hate it when people say, “yeah but just think about the people in ______ or people who are ______” It’s a wipe out of all of your feelings and it deadens me.

    I used to volunteer more than I do these days, I must admit. I think the lastest volunteer work that I did was to lead activities in a nursing home but that was a few years ago. Your post serves to remind me that I need to do a bit more giving back these days.

  2. Nicole., RD says:

    What a great way to think of it – getting to the same place mentally but one is bringing you down, while the other is lifting others. Volunteering is something I love to do and I want to do more of it. In the past when I have volunteered, it’s made me such a happier person. Life is much more beautiful when you can improve the lives of others.

  3. Marcy says:

    Actually…I think a shift in perspective helps me greatly. Considering that “whatever it is” could be so much worse does keep my present set of circumstances in their proper place, giving me a renewed sense of gratitude. With the right attitude, there is joy in serving others–most of us benefit from turning our focus outward, moving away from the temptation to feel sorry for ourselves. (now I’ll get off my soapbox… :) )

  4. I think the word you are looking for is delegitimatize :-)

    I do volunteer but one very important lesson I learned is that the best way for me to do so is in a way that comes easily to me. And so I offer pro bono writing services to organizations that that I support. :-)

  5. Stephanie says:

    I check myself before I actually complain with a “well it could be worse” in my head. Sometimes, all I need is a bit of self-directed perspective.

    I volunteer a bit for an animal shelter near my hometown, and I work on one of the local Relay for Life events too. Now that I have some free time, I should check out the more local animal shelters too. (And I totally volunteer there to pet the kitties and puppies…self-serving in the BEST most FUZZY way!)

  6. Sometimes I volunteer for Feed My Starving Children. However, I selfishly feel that my occupation/profession is my ministry, & I already give so much passion for that, I have little energy for volunteer work. I don’t know if that is bad or good.

  7. I always hate when people say that too! Especially for the de-legitimatizing (we’re really making up words now huh!) factor. Although I couldn’t agree more that helping and serving will bring cheer and joy to those painful times. Thats a really cool organization!

  8. PlumPetals says:

    I know what you mean. I think it’s important to keep things in perspective, but just because somebody else is having a worse day than you are doesn’t mean you can’t have a bad day either … I don’t volunteer, but I am involved in an orphanage and clean water project in Bangladesh (where I’m from). I’m so thankful for the opportunity to help out.

  9. Teddi says:

    Interestingly enough, my most recent blog post is a quote from Eve Ensler about happiness. She says that happiness is achieved through giving back to others. I believe that this is very true. I know that often times, the more caught up I am in my own thoughts, worries and concerns, the less happy I am. It is when I get out and make a difference in someone else’s life that I receive a much more authentic fulfillment and happiness.

  10. Teddi says:

    P.S. And I absolutely LOVVVEEEDDD your post on marriage equality. The pictures were indeed quite clever!

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