There’s a war on self-empowered world change.
And it’s armed with money.
From Giving Tuesday (which, yes, we still love) telling us to “spend money on nonprofits, they’ll do the rest” to NGOs giving volunteer projects that just help the NGO raise money (make these cute cork keychains – we’ll sell them at our next fundraiser!) instead of help the people in need, nonprofits have forgotten one critical point:
They serve at the pleasure of society.
You see, nonprofits stand in the gap between the people in society and the societal problems those people want solved. Nonprofits get that 20% tax break because they solve the problems that humanity cares about – we’ve “hired” them to help us make society better. That is why they exist. And yet, they seem to forget that we’re they’re number one customer.
Well, no more.
We are taking back our rights to change the world ourselves. Yes. Rights. Because service is what empowers us as individuals and communities to change the world. And to help you fight this war with us, we’re giving you a 4-part series on why volunteering and service are crucial for humanity (if you missed them, here are Part 1 and Part 2). Now we’re bringing you Part 3 – why service empowers humanity to make a better world – and why we must stop the current rhetoric that “just giving money” is better.
4. Service Empowers Strong Communities
We are constantly being told to give a hand up, not a hand out (see why sometimes that hand up must be more than money and economics). We are told to empower local communities. I understand both of these catchphrases, and each has merit – but they forget one thing.
We are a global community.
The world has changed. It has. Ever since the first World War, people have given and been connected to others all over the world. This has only accelerated with the advent of the internet – now we can see and talk to those people in real time. It is not ok to keep dividing and separating, and saying “you can’t give goods to them” because “you’re from another community.” That is bo.hunky.
I am in the community of women. I am in the community of mothers, of daughters, of people that are trying to live life in the best way we know how. And that means my community is worldwide.
We cannot limit ourselves to our immediate neighbors, our socio-economic class, our race or our gender. We must serve and live with people all over the world, because that is what builds those strong communities and empowers us all to do better. Service does this. Service gives strength, because it is people working together. Service gives power, because it paves a path for people to be courageous in their dreams, without the fear of falling. Service and volunteering are the lifeblood of communities – and from radicalized shooters to lone wolf gunmen, it is clear that our communities need to be stronger so they can reach out and grab those “others” on the fringes. Serve. Volunteer. Create strong communities that stretch across the globe. This does not mean you have to fly across the globe – it just means you need to connect with and help people everywhere, not just next door.
3. Service Allows you to Stop Feeling Guilty and Start Feeling Empowered.
How many of us have stopped listening to the news because it just makes us feel so awful? Don’t feel alone, because I’m raising my hand, too.
We must stop sticking our heads in the sand.
Here’s the deal – it’s become painfully obvious that our governments are not going to solve all of these issues on their own. And the nonprofits, as valiantly as they are trying, cannot solve all of these issues on their own. They serve at the pleasure of society – and society must be an involved, educated, communicating with each other group in order for us to even know what problems we want solved. That means the duty to change the world falls on us – on you. On me. On each one of us.
I want to tell you a story. My husband, soldier extraordinaire, has been deployed 4 times. You would think that the hardest deployment for him to get over was the most intense, most dangerous, most heartbeat-stopping ones. You would be wrong. Of all of his deployments, by far his worst one was the deployment where his unit was told to “sit and hold” – which means they had to just hunker down and wait while the rockets pummelled them. This is an almost universal phenomenon among soldiers – the feeling of inadequacy and helplessness is the worst to get over. And it’s not just soldiers. Science has shown that just sitting in a problem creates depression and despair – whereas moving towards a solution, no matter how imperfect, will cause hope and optimism.
We must start moving towards a solution, no matter how imperfect.
We are being told by nonprofits and NGOs to “sit and wait.” We are told to watch the news, to care, to be wrung out – but then we are given no options for what to do to change it. We are being pummelled with rockets of terrible news stories, with homeless people on all sides – and are being told to pull out our checkbooks because other people will solve it.
Service and volunteering fixes this. Do you know why? Because the next time someone tells you to feel guilty about throwing away the food on your plate because there are starving kids in Africa, you can look them in the eye and say you work to help those kids and so you don’t need to feel guilty. Service empowers you to live a life of meaning, instead of throwing up your hands and wondering what can be done. Stop feeling guilty – it will get you nowhere. Use your guilt as a stepping stone, not a stumbling block. Start serving and be empowered, and see with your own eyes the change you are making.
2. Service Gives you Hope and Empowers You to Fight.
Ok, it’s challenge time. Go volunteer somewhere (or do one of our volunteer projects with a friend). Immediately after you’re done, I want you to try to feel depressed. Try it. Try really, really hard. Try to feel hopeless about humanity. Try to feel like the world is full of terrible people.
Anyone? Anyone able to do it? Seriously, if you are, comment on this blog. So far I’ve found exactly zero people that were able to. So here is a deep truth about service – we as people take great strength from serving others. It’s partly because it puts us in the role of hero (you can read more about that in Part 1) – but it’s also because we see and learn about amazing people that are working hard to make their lives better. Yes, they are. Go to a food pantry and talk to some of the people that you are serving. Do one of our volunteer projects and read the stories and testimonials from the organization about the people you are helping. These people are amazing. They are fighters. They are people that, despite life being stacked against them, are not giving up.
About 2 years ago our car got dinged by a bus. We drove around for a while with a banged-up bumper (because that’s what bumpers are for) until my husband stopped to get gas one day, and a man came up and offered to fix it for him. They agreed on a price and the man got to work – accompanied by his wife and kiddos. This being a Tuesday during the school year, my husband got to chatting with them and asked them where the kiddos went to school. He learned that the dad had not been able to find a job for the past year (he’d been laid off due to an economic downturn), they had finally had to move out of their house two months prior and were living out of the car while the dad went around and got as much work as he could find.
These people are way tougher than I will ever be.
Honestly, I cannot even imagine. And yet the man was still working his heart out, still going out to do his best, was still trying to provide for his family and get life back to normal (you can bet my husband gave him every cent he had in his wallet). Yes, this time that family needed money – but they also needed hope and human companionship. They needed to talk to my husband and know that society hadn’t turned it’s back on them. And I can tell you this much – we needed them too. Because we were going through a tough time of our own, and MAN – just hearing their story, talking to them, made us feel like if they could do it, so could we. It gave us hope, and made us realize that the world is full of amazing people – and that no matter how down we are, we can climb back out. That’s what service does – it shows you the bottom, and makes you realize that even at the bottom, humanity shines through. People strive to be better – and we can too.
I’m off on a jet plane to India, my friends – I’ll be giving you number 1, the big kahuna on why service must be an intentional part of your everyday life, from Delhi. Stay tuned to Our Instagram Feed to see our travels – and to get more inspiration on projects to serve the world.
Carmen Westbrook is the CEO and co-founder of Aina Giving, a socially responsible company that makes charity easy. Carmen spends most of her days drinking coffee (she lives in Rome, it’s mandatory) and developing Aina’s at-home volunteer projects and parties for highly screened, trusted nonprofit charities. Read More about Aina here.