Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Average No

There are times when I get discouraged as a volunteer. I see the infinite need all around me and I can't help but feel that I could be doing so much more. But I get burnt-out or unmotivated or just plain selfish and don't have it in me to give 100% every day. I know expecting that from myself would be completely unrealistic, but that doesn't stop my conscience from nagging at me occasionally.
However I've learned to keep this particular struggle to myself.
It only prompts a phrase I've heard a thousand times in the last 4 months from people back home:

"You're doing so much more than the average person."

I appreciate the sentiment- which is undoubtably supposed to soothe my conscience- but there's just one little problem...
What in the world does that actually mean?
Not to be harsh, but it's a nonsense statement.

Who is the average person and what are they doing? What makes someone average anyway? Can you add together Superman and the lowest criminal, divide by two and somehow come up with a calculable Average Joe?

I don't believe in the average person.

We all have our part to play, and I vehemently disagree with the mindset that my role as a volunteer is somehow elevated above someone else's.

Is your 9 to 5 businessman the average person?

Or is it the middle-class stay at home mom?

Maybe it's kindergarten teachers.

Or a kid who grows up without a fuss, goes to a good college, gets a good job, marries with two kids and a dog and eventually retires.

Yet I know people who fit all of those descriptions and not one of them is someone I could label "average."
Besides, I wouldn't be the person I am - doing what I'm doing and living where I'm living- if it weren't for all those people and the effect of their various roles on my life. And someday, I might be one of them myself. You can't be a volunteer forever after all (...Or can you? Hmm...)
The minute I sit down and convince myself that "Why yes, I have been doing so much more than the average person. I've finally stored up enough credit that I can take it easy", I've begun undermining what I came here to do. I've planted the seed of apathy into my work.
And I'll admit it- I'm biased when it comes to this issue:
I hate apathy more than almost anything else in the world.

But even if you're still sitting there rolling your eyes, there's not much doubt that an apathetic volunteer has no use except as an oxymoron.


  1. Don't feel guilty about taking care of yourself, which sometimes means taking a break from giving.

    Taking care of YOU can be an act of service in itself. Personally, when I devote time to my spiritual and personal needs, I am a more productive personal overall. Dig?

    Thanks for your blog!
    -Erika (Miss O)

  2. You can't be a volunteer forever? Well, I've been one my entire life. I've been on more non-profit boards than I can remember, and led many of them. It's all about making a difference, using your life. I recently read this quote, which I like:

    "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, 'I used everything You gave me.'"
    ---- Erma Bombeck

  3. "Apathy is the glove into which evil slips it's hand" - Bodie Thorn

    And surely though average is extraordinary in it's own way, it's easy for people to be average on a superficial, statistical level, right? Like on paper, if a kid was kind of into classic cinema, ran some track in high school, is going to the second best state school in his state, eats a bit too much junk food, etc. surely that can be described as average. But in reality there's probably so much more than that to them. When people say "you're doing more than the average person" it's merely a commentary on the fact that you're in freakin' GHANA helping children to have a chance at a future not riddle with poverty, disease and famine! What your doing is so far beyond that double standard we call "average". But you should also take credit when it's due :) Rock on, homeskillet.