Men's Health (UK) - - Are You Really A Good Person? -

I soon re­alise that pick­ing up other peo­ple’s rub­bish and be­ing a pushover on the road isn’t for me. Never-end­ing, low-level guilt might make me do good, but I cer­tainly don’t feel good. So, I de­cide to try some­thing a lit­tle more sub­stan­tial and to the point: proper vol­un­teer­ing work.

First, I of­fer my ser­vices at a lo­cal depart­ment store, where I’m given the task of wrap­ping gifts. The cashier hands me the pur­chase, I wrap it for “free”, then the cus­tomer do­nates to char­ity. Sim­ple. Ex­cept my re­sults are sub-par, and nei­ther cus­tomer nor cashier are best pleased.

Vol­un­teer­ing is sur­pris­ingly hard. There’s no short­age of or­gan­i­sa­tions cry­ing out for help – go on­line and you’re guar­an­teed to find count­less wor­thy causes only a few key­strokes away. It’s that they want com­mit­ment, not just poverty tourism. A CEO wheel­ing his or her fam­ily to a soup kitchen to show their bratty, en­ti­tled kids how good they have it does not even be­gin to pass muster.

Hop­ing that in­tro­duc­ing re­li­gion into my mis­sion might give me some moral re­solve, I reach out to the Je­suits, the evan­gel­i­cal shock troops of the Catholic Church. If any re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tion knows ser­vice, it’s them.

Mike Reddy is the in­terim pres­i­dent of the Je­suit Vol­un­teer Corps. He was a Je­suit Vol­un­teer in Los An­ge­les, liv­ing (mod­estly) in a house with four other do-good­ers and serv­ing as a case man­ager for Home­boy In­dus­tries, an em­ploy­ment and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre for pre­vi­ously in­car­cer­ated or gang-af­fil­i­ated men and women. “Peo­ple be­lieve that ser­vice and vol­un­teerism should be zero-sum, that you should give ev­ery­thing and get noth­ing,” Reddy says. “But ser­vice should be a joy­ful, mu­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.”

He tells me it shouldn’t feel like a bur­den. “If it does, you’re not do­ing it right,” he ex­plains. Reddy re­minds me that the abil­ity to vol­un­teer is a priv­i­lege: not ev­ery­one is able to take time off work or school to do it, or is given a jour­nal­is­tic brief like mine. The cru­cial thing is what we do with that priv­i­lege.

To Reddy, “The most im­por­tant ques­tion is, ‘What have I done for peo­ple who aren’t me?’” There are many ways to make the world a bet­ter place, he says. Some in­volve ser­vice or char­i­ta­ble giv­ing, but some don’t. If you spend time with your fam­ily and truly in­vest in your home life, that’s a no­ble cause. You don’t have to give all day, ev­ery day. Reddy’s wise words in­spire me to em­bark on a dif­fer­ent kind of vol­un­teer­ing – some­thing that I can com­mit to but doesn’t feel so much like a bur­den. I go back to school.

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