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The Illness of Volunteerism

When I opened up my copy of USA Toady this morning (April 22, 1997) I saw a chart as the illustration for the lead story. The chart stated, “Volunteerism: How Strong is the Drive?” and then asked the question, “If your place of work gave its employees the chance to take paid time off of work to do community volunteer work, how likely are you to take the time off?”

The results showed that 51 percent of people surveyed would in fact take the time off to volunteer.

But what they asked for was not volunteerism - what the question asked is would you volunteer if you were still being paid by someone. By definition, that’s not volunteering.

Ask the same group of people if they’d be willing to put in the same amount of time when it was their own time, and they were not being paid for it.

I’m sure the results would be much, much lower.

People work for a living. They go to work in the morning, come home at night, and live off of what they earned - that’s Capitalism, and for the most part, that’s America (at least that’s what this country was founded on). People, for the most part, don’t want to give away their labor - or their money - to people who haven’t earned it.

A summit to encourage people to come together to volunteer is one thing. Asking individuals to volunteer to help out the “less fortunate” is one thing. People have the right to choose what to do with their own time. Making it sound like volunteerism is the responsibility of individual companies is another.

Businesses, by producing better goods and services, have increased the standard of living - for everyone in this country (consider that poor people can purchase televisions, have entertainment and other “luxuries” that no one could afford fifty years ago). Businesses are doing a service to the world as well as to themselves when they produce. They earn a product; competition brings better products; everyone wins. It is not the responsibility of businesses to lose their workers to regular volunteer times, because they don’t owe anything to “the community.”

“The community” consists of a group of individuals. Individual rights is how this country was founded. Expecting business owners to shell out money to employees for not working - for volunteering - is just another way of extracting money from the producers. Won’t that hurt the economy in the end, which affects the standard of living for all?

The article went on, stating that there were philosophical questions with wide-scale, imposed volunteerism:

“How should the role of the government be balanced with the roles of companies, individuals and non-profit groups?” It shouldn’t be balanced; the government shouldn’t be involved. Government intervention would mean more taxes and less freedom for individuals. Companies should not feel the need to volunteer, as imposed by a government; if they want to help, they can, but should not be expected to. They do enough by producing better goods and services for the individuals that purchase them.

“Is volunteerism a politically popular but lightweight response to the intractable social problems government leaders can’t, or won’t manage?” Now we’re getting somewhere. Volunteerism won’t solve a problem if the individual you are helping doesn’t want to help themself, or expects to be helped instead of working on finding their own solution. The government, when involved with other aspects of our lives, has made a very expensive tangled mess of red tape - consider education, for example. Pressure groups have pulled funding back and forth for education, providing not the best education, but what the right people wanted. The result? a poor educational system that the government thinks more money will solve. When more money doesn’t help, add more money, and tax the people some more.

“Volunteerism is one of the great glories in America,” states Will Marshall of the Progressive Party Institute. No it isn’t. It’s a great glory to communism, where people are supposed to make sure everyone is equal and not be able to advance with their achievements, therefore giving them no incentive to achieve. It’s a great glory to Christianity, because you’re not supposed to rise above everybody else, you’re supposed to not like the things to earn. “The meek shall inherit the earth.” No, it’s individual rights, and the right to own your accomplishments and achievements that is one of the great glories of America, and that directly opposes volunteerism. The right to produce and create and succeed is the American way - and it developed this country into the greatest country in the world. But for years now, we’ve been told that we need to help others.

Since we’ve heard that cry, our country has been slipping.

General Colin Powell is working on the volunteerism summit, and he added that it is in individual’s best interests to look beyond their neighborhoods when volunteering. Why? How is it in any individual’s best interest to do work for free that doesn’t affect their lives? No answer.

Companies may be interested in participating in volunteering programs because it bolsters their image in their community, providing business. Or it may give the employees a feeling that their company cares about others, which may reduce the turnover rate. Or it may be a tax write-off. Either way, the only reasons a business should - in order to be an efficient business - explore volunteerism, is in order to help their own business out somehow. The CEO of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus, said, “We don’t do it (volunteerism) because it increases our business.” Well, then, your business isn’t running as efficiently as it should be. Where are the costs of volunteerism going? Probably the prices of the goods and services the company sells. When you don’t see a return on an investment, the loss has to be eaten up somewhere.

In 1993 Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend “pushed through a controversial requirement that all her state’s public high school students must do 75 hours of community service before they graduate,” the article goes on to say. What does that teach students? That the government has the right to tell people how to spend their time, that the government can tell people what to do, that the government can force people to do things, whether or not they want to do it? Does it teach students that volunteerism isn’t actually volunteer work, but a required activity? Does it teach them their achievements don’t matter, that other people matter more then they do? A “requirement” to do “community service” is not volunteering.

At the end of the article, there was another chart with the results of a survey. It asked people, “Who should take the lead role in meeting the following goals (providing medical care for the poor, caring for the elderly, reducing homelessness, reducing hunger, helping illiterate adults learn to read, providing job training for youth): the government, through programs and funding, or individuals and businesses, through donations and volunteer work?”

Answers varied, but people thought the government should help out in all of these areas. But how are they going to do it? With your tax money, deciding how to spend it without conferring with you. If it were the responsibility of individuals and businesses, on a volunteer-basis, at least you would know where your money was going.

But then it occurred to me: it’s not the government’s responsibility, and it’s not a business person’s or producing individual’s responsibility - it’s the responsibility for those in need to do something with their lives, to satisfy that need and accomplish their own goals. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” means that people have a right to their lives, and the right to do what they want with their lives. They can’t infringe on other’s rights to help them.

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