Now I’m no longer at the coal face, I spend some of my time volunteering. I’m hardly unique in that. I like to split my time between helping at a local Youth charity – the Streatham Youth And Community Trust – and a homeless charity – the 999 Club – where we provide a weekday breakfast to any rough sleepers who turn up and a venue to meet up with others who are trying to help those who are either homeless, sofa surfing or in need of help finding a stable and permanent place to live.
I was working at one project a while ago when a client complained about something. It was nothing really – I’d misheard and not put sugar in their tea, or some such – and all soon sorted and forgotten but another volunteer was aggrieved. ‘They should be more grateful.’
It took me back, to a dilemma I’d had in the past. As a student, sharing flats for the first time, I came to realise that, for reasons that I can’t really explain, I don’t like dirty kitchens and especially dirty kitchen floors. So I’d wash the floor. Mostly no one said anything, but one time, a lovely thoughtful flatmate told me off. ‘I’ll do it’ and then ‘You make me feel guilty,’ she said.
I passed it off, but I had an awkward time, because, in all truth, I didn’t want to wait for the point where my flatmate felt they should do the floor and neither did I feel I had the authority to suggest that, wasn’t it about time they did it.
And then, recently I read a criticism of a celebrity who promoted their new TV show when, ostensibly, they were giving their time for nothing to a charity to raise money for such and such a good cause. They questioned the motivation. At the same time, an acquaintance, hearing about some volunteering I’d done was effusive with their praise of my paltry actions. They attributed to me the best of intentions.
I have a friend, a very close friend who I’ve known for years, worked with too. Now we’re both retired we do things together from time to time. And he’s assiduous – fastidious you’d say – in paying his round, in picking up the tab. He fights tooth and nail to pay for the ticket to a game I might take him too where I’ve bought the tickets, even if the previous two times he’s bought them and refused payment. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be beholden, I realise; it’s because he finds it far easier to give than to receive – in his case it’s not just better to give, it’s in his DNA. So I don’t fight. I sneak things past him, sure, and for bigger things then yes I and others manage to split the costs but bar bills, the price of coffee? It’s not worth it. I’m probably plenty of squids owing but I’d strain our friendship if I tried to do something about it.
Now, I’m the first to admit that years in a large law firm led to me having an overdeveloped ego – some people go to a gym and pump iron; I did the legal heavy lifting and grew an enlarged hubris. Also I’ve always been a carrot man, at heart. I take criticism – indeed I welcome it if it’s more critique than critic – but essentially offer me the carrot of praise rather than the stick of criticism and you’ll get more from me. But don’t try and look for something altruistic in my motivations. It’s not there.
I volunteer, I give of my time, because I want to. I probably need to, though I’m not about to go into some psycho-prunner’s chair, looking for why’s and wherefore’s. I have a need to please. It fuels me. I need clean floors, even if part of me likes to think that I’m making someone else’s situation a little better as I’m doing so. But, and here’s the thing, I don’t expect praise, but neither do I expect to trigger guilt in other’s It’s my own Stockholm syndrome, this.
And the recipient’s of charity? Should they be ‘grateful’? No, actually I don’t think they should. Not from me at least. There’s something rather warped if you set out to give, to help and expect thanks. If you’ve asked for help, then yes, say thank you, sure. But if someone puts it out there, then why expect the humbling of the recipient, why a quid pro quo? It’s not a bargain, a contract between you.
My dad had an expression, which he’d use if someone was praising him in such circumstances. ‘Don’t clap, throw money.’ Yes, in a way he was right. But when I think of this aphorism it’s more that, if you want to praise then, instead, you should offer a quid pro quo of your own – give to that charity, give some of that spare time. Don’t give it to me – I neither need it nor does it help much. It’s a sort of lost currency. I’m like my friend. I want to be the giver. So let me.
The images, today come from a walk around the centre with Dog; he’s been having some foot/elbow issues but I think he’s much better and he does love a meander. So we pottered from London Bridge to Victoria via a few famous central London sights. It was such a fab day, too. Mother Nature was in giving mood. Bless her.