“Millions of volunteers freely donate their time to help others without pay—helping people in need, assisting at your child’s school, volunteering at a food bank or other charity, or encouraging newcomers to integrate. Volunteering is an excellent way to gain useful skills and develop friends and contacts.”
I know this because, although not born in Canada, I have been through the process of ‘naturalization’ (don’t worry, it wasn’t painful). A few years ago I was honoured to be accepted as one of your own - despite my preference for driving on the left - and in turn now have two of my own who think I speak funny and mock me for drinking excessive amounts of tea.
During the citizenship ceremony I was thus reminded that as a Canadian citizen I have a responsibility to be an active member of my community, although how those who do not go through this naturalization process know this I am not sure; perhaps it is assumed to be common sense? I remember it well because I was very proud that I was entering into a society that places so much emphasis on ‘paying it forward’. There were about sixty people in the ceremony that day, and each year about two hundred thousand more immigrants like me are granted the privilege of Canadian citizenship. And yet so often, when ferrying the entourage between scouting events, baseball games, school barbecues and charity fundraisers, it is the same people in charge, taking fees, cooking burgers and setting up tents. It is no secret that in today’s self indulgent society, full of personal gadgetry, we are becoming more secluded and less social. The community, in essence, is struggling to survive, and is being propped up by a minority who give their time freely and without any expectation.
Some spiritual leaders suggest that the keys to happiness include doing things for others and connecting with the people and world around us. None align with the principle that personal contentment resides within our ‘My-phones’ and ‘My-pads’. This is not a guilt trip; there is a time and a place for everything. But it is important for our own well-being that we try as hard as we can to do some small thing, anything, to help strengthen our community and build our own sense of self worth; spend a few hours picking up litter, help an elderly neighbour rake the leaves, volunteer for a local service. Even such a simple thing as looking up and saying ‘hi’ to a passer-by can make a difference.
Often though, and I myself know it all too well (for I am no saint), it is the first step that is so very hard. Moving out of your comfort zone requires a monumental effort, and preparing to do anything out of the ordinary is a burden better put off until tomorrow – we are, by nature, animals who prefer the path of least resistance (coined ‘The Principle of Least Effort’). Why waste valuable resources needed for survival on pursuits that instinctively gain us nothing? Personally, I prefer sitting on the couch watching golf (sorry, I mean conserving energy) rather than going for a run or preparing a soccer coaching plan. But once the ball starts rolling, it is much easier to keep it rolling; and once it begins to roll collectively, we will reap the benefits in so many ways, ironically not the least of which will be a selfish sense of fulfillment which will add to the ball’s momentum. Other benefits include meeting new people, having things to look forward to, and the feeling of being part of a bigger picture (otherwise, what is the point of all this?). In turn, our communities will become safer, happier places because more of us will be aware of our surroundings and the individuals, families and children within them.
If you already contribute to the community, my family and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the effort you put in. If you feel you could do more, why not take some time to sit down and think where you could contribute, be it at your child’s evening activity (perfect if you don’t have much time) or somewhere else - www.volunteerottawa.ca is a great place to start. Everyone needs to pay it forward in a small way; don’t do it because the government says you should do it. Do it for your own benefit. We owe it to ourselves to be better citizens.