None the wiser

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When I was in high school, I remember wondering if the reason that the Province requires 40 hours of community involvement to be completed before graduation was because otherwise, no volunteer positions would ever get filled. I thought: “Why would I ever work for free, when I could work to be paid?” I believed that volunteers were naive, lonely, and perhaps even eccentric. Around the same time, I remember watching a TV commercial for a college course in “Non Profit Leadership”, and I smugly thought that it was hilarious that anyone would be stupid enough to pay money to be educated in the art of NOT making a profit. 

It’s true what older folks say to high school kids – “you have a lot to learn”. It’s a pity that most young people aren’t able to grasp the limitations of their knowledge until they cease to be young. I know that I was wrong at that age, of course. Volunteering is the lifeblood of any healthy community. It’s strange how so many people are willing to donate money to good causes, but they won’t donate their time. Last I checked, that money was earned in exchange for time (and effort). 

April is widely regarded as National Volunteer Month, with National Volunteer Week officially celebrated from April 14 to 20. It’s a time when we celebrate volunteers, and acknowledge how truly critical they are in any strong community. One of the ways I earned my 40 community involvement hours was by collecting donations door to door for the Canadian Cancer Society. I would estimate that about 75% of people would make a donation, with an average of $20 but sometimes much more. I like people, so I enjoyed the task of walking around town and chatting with others in the community. I used to like telling my friends that between my canvassing for the Cancer Society, and weekly collections from my newspaper deliveries, I had been inside a majority of the houses in my hometown. 

Nonetheless, when I would be walking door to door, I had it in the back of mind that I wasn’t doing the task totally of my own accord. I was doing it because I had to if I wanted to graduate from high school. “I’ll never do this again after my 40 hours are up,” I thought. Well my first time realizing I was wrong came sooner than it does for most teenagers, because I continued canvassing for several years after graduating. It would have felt wrong to have the Cancer Society go without donations, and I realized that the hundreds of dollars of donations I would submit yearly after my canvassing might not have reached the Society without me collecting them. For once, I saw the monetary conversion of my time donation. 

“Older and wiser” as they say. There are many aspects of life in which I feel enlightened by the compounding of lessons and experiences over time. I have had staff in my work in the education system come through with no qualifications or experience, and boldly attempt to “run the show”, questioning the value of my education and nearly eight years of lived experiences. And yet I know that when I was a psychology student, freshly starting a master’s degree largely with a focus on child counselling, I acted the same way when I entered the education field. To me, my ideas were often the only ones that were valid. I still remember many of the things that my very first supervisor in the education field and I disagreed with, and how right I came to realize she truly was, but only after spending years dealing with similarly arrogant young staff. 

Older doesn’t automatically mean wiser. I know a lot of unintelligent older people. And of course, we all know exceptionally bright young people. But knowledge is not wisdom. Book smarts do not translate into wisdom. Street smarts are not the same as wisdom. Wisdom has its own meaning. And oddly, I never knew what wisdom was until I started getting older. Wisdom must be felt, not explained. I turn 30 this year, so I accept that I still have much wisdom to gain. 

I feel sorry for those who go through life being happily “none the wiser”, so to speak, especially when it comes to such issues as the importance of volunteering. Such people can work hard all week, laughing at those “stupid” enough to “work for free”, only to then take their kids to a public outdoor skating rink on the weekend, or enjoy a talk given at the local library. It’s interesting how those who often think volunteers are “suckers” – as I once did – still have no problem reaping the benefits of others generously donating their time. 

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