Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Can't Everyone Be More Like Me?

On Doing Service

I am much more selfish than I appear to be. If you asked the moms I worked with in PTA at my kid's school they would tell you what a tireless volunteer I am. My friends and family would tell you I'm there every time someone has to move or needs a ride or a few extra bucks. I rescue animals. I'm a city volunteer. I'm giving. I will do the dirty work and the heavy lifting.

And I love every minute of it. That's where the selfishness comes in.

At the end of every school year I would say to my son, "I don't know about you, but I had a great time this year." I'm pretty sure on any given school year, I did have more fun than my son. I didn't understand why more parents weren't involved. Doesn't everyone want to be part of something, be around for their kids, meet new people, people who might become real friends? Apparently not.

As it turns out, in many PTA's and the like, the people in control are not very welcoming. It's a power thing, which I never understood. I come from a theater background where the show is the central thing, not egos. I thought schools would work the same way. But no. How is it that four or five women are allowed ot run everything? And then bitch about all the work? People who are willing to take on some of it are turned away or snubbed. So they feel left out and turn themselves away, bad feelings for PTA forever lingering in their minds. I didn't realize how fortunate I was to join a school whose old PTA regime had just moved on and the one coming in was warm and welcoming.

I became the Volunteer Coordinator. My rule for all event chairpersons was that they had to call everyone who had signed up for their committees. Everyone had to be welcome. By the second year there, we had a group of great volunteers and a PTA any newcomer would feel comfortable in. One mom, who had come from a different school, told us how she volunteered for everything and was at the school all the time. When she broke her foot and was on crutches, not one single person asked about it or how she was. When she came to our school and on the second day was greeted by several people she didn't know, she didn't quite know how to react. It's amazing to me that most schools are not like that. Schools and Parent Teacher Associations are made up of people. What is wroing with these exclusive bitchy PTA's? Ladies, lighten up, step aside. Give someone else a chance. Do what we teach our children to do...share.

But, once again, I digress.

I believe we were talking about doing service and not just at schools. Yes, it's a leap to sign up for something and join an existing group of people, It's a leap to commit your time. Time is valuable. Which makes volunteering often an iffy business. A friend used to say volunteers could just flake off, he preferred paying his helpers so , at least, they would show up. And volunteers don't necessarily know what the heck they're doing. Although, in answer to the observation that volunteers are often seen as amateurs, just remember what my wise Grammy used to say, "Noah's Ark was built by volunteers, the Titantic was built by professionals." I did, however, find this thinking rather flawed and asked Grammy if that iceberg had been a professional, too.

I know it's hard to get your butt out of that chair, turn off American Idol and go do something for someone else, for no pay. In spite of being a smiler and good natured, I'm really a very crabby person. I like my laying around time. I'm lazy. The only way I do anything is because I make a plan and commit myself. Then I know people are depending on me. I'm always glad I did it, whether it's putting labels on envelopes for the city or taking someone hot food when they're ill or child and pet sitting so a relative can take a little trip. The way I get around the grumpiness and feeling of being put out is to think of this as doing service, which to me, makes it almost spiritual. I mean, really, if you're going to help someone and you're complaining about it, don't do it. I am absolutely against self sacrifice. It should be fun. As my ornery Grammy always says, "A man does not have to be an angel in order to be a saint." I selfishly pat myself on the back when I am done doing a good deed. It's really all about me after all.

Volunteering is a good thing. It helps the world, it helps our communities, it helps people. It helps the helper. It is not a thankless occupation, either. People love volunteers. You'll get a lot of acknowledgment. Although I think the best volunteering is when I do it completely, selfishly for myself. I don't want gratitude, I just want to serve.

I swear, if everyone were more like me, the world would be a better place.