The Spirit of Volunteerism

By Brooke Edwards

December 5, 2012

Editor's note: Today is International Volunteer Day 2012. This year's theme is "Celebrate Volunteering!" Heifer International is supported by many volunteers, in both developed and developing countries. Today we share accounts from some of those volunteers. The following post is by Richard Ims, residential volunteer at Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas.

Heifer Ranch volunteer Richard milking goat

A pessimist, they say, sees a glass of water as being half empty; an optimist sees the same glass as half full.
But a giving person sees a glass of water and starts looking for someone who might be thirsty.

– G. Donald Gale

Research has documented the benefits of volunteering. Health seems to improve both physically and mentally for those who give of themselves for others. But this is not our motivation. It is only a glancing consequence to truly getting behind something we believe in. We’d do it regardless of any quid pro quo perk.

It is a calling.

The very definition of volunteering is a service-act of one’s own freewill…..without compensation. This lack of compensation, at the heart of it, should include any “warm-fuzzy” we might be addicted to as amelioration for our “good” actions. This is the yardstick we use to help critique our own motivation in aiding others. How does this make me feel?  A legitimate question, yes…..but not the compelling factor. We can and should certainly feel fulfilled as a human being when we are able to help relieve another’s plight. This is why we exist. This is why we were created. But the yearning of compassion relentlessly tugs.

Love cannot remain by itself -- it has no meaning.
Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.

– Mother Teresa

Therefore, always take the stance of humility and be ready to have your own plight relieved by another….and accept it graciously. To be fully human is in part, to know how to pass on AND receive the gift when freely given. The whole and mature volunteer knows and lives this principle comfortably.

Now allow me to also ponder the agricultural definition of a volunteer [read: a plant which springs up from its own seed]:  “Growing, without being intentionally seeded by hand.”

We volunteers, miraculously grow more deeply without the expectation of constantly being re-seeded by any profit motivation. We just give, as we have been given already from the start, better off for not fully knowing our impact:

It is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;he goes to bed at night and gets up by day,and the seed sprouts up and grows-- how, he himself does not know.

– Mark 4:27

We need focus outside our own selves. The lack of this outward focus has been one of the deadliest downfalls of our recent societal trend: Individualism and the stubborn, immature and selfish stance of “me.”

In many ways, WHAT volunteering effort we get behind almost doesn’t matter. It is THAT we get behind something other than ourselves and our own agendas, which makes the difference:

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work,
but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

– Antoine de Saint Exupery

My wife and I have been full-time volunteers for the past 12 years. We’ve had to sacrifice a lot to do this, but no thing greater than our own agendas and ideas of success. Much of our inspiration has come from other volunteers, especially the young voices and activists who have more of a global perspective than we ever did at their ages. It gives us great hope and great pride in the human endeavor.

Only when we give joyfully, without hesitation or thought of gain, can we truly know what love means.

– Leo Buscaglia

Richard's wife, Jina, volunteering in Kitchen at Heifer Ranch

Of course, most are not called to full-time volunteering. There are so many important family responsibilities that trump this lifestyle. But the care we give our own family members is also a call in the spirit of volunteerism and “going beyond the call of duty,” which nurtures and manifests that same spirit in our future generations through leading by example.

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

– Aesop

So serve in the situation and opportunity your creator has given you already. Then be open and vigilant to the opportunities that pervade your own community. In this way we may gracefully expand into the void that begs to be filled by love and care and then without fail, the act exponentially multiplies and causes a ripple effect.

How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment: we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make a contribution toward introducing justice straight away.

– Anne Frank

It is pure pleasure to know that we work with fellow volunteers and in our own way, foster greater Love, Peace and Joy in the human spirit; to encourage and be encouraged. Remain steadfast and please don’t let the task-oriented, hard-wiring of our society make you forget why you do what you do. Volunteering is way beyond a job, so don’t make it one. Take the time to smell the roses you are planting through your positive energy and desire to serve. In this way, we journey together to one day become more fully human.

I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.
Those among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.

– Dr. Albert Schweitzer

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