Beth Kanter alluded to ‘reciprocity’ in her comment on yesterday’s post about micro-donors. The concept of reciprocity in the general area of social good, is one that has been on my mind for quite some time. A few weeks ago, I participated in a discussion on The Huffington Post, in response to Craig Newmark‘s post on “A Craigslist for Service”. In my comments, I drive home some key points about the old volunteering model, and what I see as the future of ‘doing good’:
Marguerite – While it is true that service does increase individual happiness up a notch, it is, as you point out early in your post, not an option for the increasingly large, disenfranchised segment of the population. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is an apt framework. As times grow more and more dire, I would like to suggest another twist on the service idea, that relies on the trading of services, rather than traditional volunteering. I see a huge opportunity in the service enabling infrastructure space, to facilitate such bartering of goods and services. This is why Craigslist is such a great model. I also like the mutuality involved in bartering of services, a model that it is inherently more respectful of each individual’s need to be valued. One psychological aspect of the volunteering model that has not been looked at enough, is the subtle negative effect of being on the receiver’s end. We all need to feel that we have something to give. I may be homeless, but give me a job to do, like working at the city recycling center, and I will gladly accept a hot meal and shelter in return. I may be a single mom with four kids, barely making it in the poor part of town, but ask me to participate in a babysitting co-op so that I can have time to go to school and get the skills I need to get a job. You get the picture.
DragonMama – great minds think alike – i suggested to my local democrats club at the first meeting after the election that what we need are “childcare co-opts for change” or at least playdates for change. i have so many friends with small children who just can’t afford to pay a babysitter so they can participate in the civic/volunteer engagement things (tho my personal preference is to bring my kids – ages 4 and 1 – with me whenever possible… how else are they going to learn to be good citizen participants?). people who were school-aged during the Regan administration seem to have been very strongly indoctrinated with the “asking for help is a sign of weakness or failure” mentality, to the point that we almost need to hit rock bottom before we ask for the smallest bit of help, and we have a hard time accepting it even when it’s freely offered WITHOUT our having to ask for it. I’ve grown up physically challenged so I got over it, but even I tend to wait too long to ask for help or even delegate a task. I know very few people under the age of 45 who are any good at delegating tasks or other forms of cooperative effort. It’s a skill we desperately need to learn, not just for the good of the country but also for our own mental health.
Loria – DragonMama, That is a great idea. I am fortunate. My kids are in school and old enough to take care of themselves. I work, but not fulltime. But, I have friends who want to volunteer, yet they have young children. A coop for volunteers is a good option for them. You are right. It will also teach their children from a very young age of the importance of giving back.
LaurieR – Some wonderful points, Marguerite. A “handout” often diminishes the person it’s meant to help. People in “reduced circumstances” need to feel like they’re a part of the world around them, not invisible… or even worse, a liability. (Geez, I think I’ve been possessed by the spirit of RFK today. Which is hardly a bad thing!)
Marguerite – It is time to reexamine the values handed down to us, from well-meaning, patriarchal organizations, that are relying on hierarchical, top down, them vs. us, type of model. Language is important, as is the – often implied – transactional framework that’s being used.
Thanks DragonMama, Lorie R, and Loria, for chiming in. From now on, let’s give everyone equal opportunity to do good.