Praise vs. Thanks

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I’ve been wondering lately how clearly we hold the distinction between Praise and Thanks. Do we really know the difference? Does one of them, or the anticipation of receiving one, drive us more than another?

I’ve just returned from a 10-day exhausting and overwhelmingly fulfilling volunteer gig working with burn-injured children (Champ Camp of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation—it’s the largest and longest-running burn camp in the nation—reach out and I’ll tell you every little thing about it—you want to be a part of this, I promise)…and on the long drive home from the hot dusty foothills of Fresno, I reflected back on the week-and-a-half.

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I received a LOT of thanks for my work. I was often embarrassed, because it felt like praise and I, like so many of us, duck and deflect compliments…but I never want to avoid a thank you. A thank you deserves to be heard, received, and responded to (but NOT with that horrific reply “No problem”—Ooof how I want to thwack the head of every damn waiter and barista and service person who replies to “Thank you” with “No problem”…but that’s a rant for another day) with some grace. I also gave a lot of thanks to my fellow volunteers, not to slap them on the back as if to say, “Good on ya” but because I was (am) genuinely thankful for their hard and important work. It gets blurry in my own head which is which, but I know that praise is not important, gratitude expressed IS important.

If we functioned in a vacuum, with no one to witness our good deeds and service as volunteers, how much of this hard work would we still perform? I don’t mean to suggest that we do it selfishly to polish our halos and gain recognition for our selflessness—most of us are legit pretty darned selfless—there are MUCH easier ways to garner praise. If, however, we did a good deed in the forest and no one was there to hear it, might we just walk on by? Probably, at least some of the time. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around for my own self-image, but I think it is authentic.

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I wipe down the public restroom sink because I believe I should, not because someone is watching. I pick up the litter because it offends my sensibility to see it there, not because someone will clap for me. Those are tiny expressions. Will I, however, commit a week and a half to 24-hour-a-day service if I don’t get to humble brag about it on social media? Wow—I sure hope so. I have no sense of an audience for my service when I am in the midst of it all, but if I’m being honest, I sure do want you to notice afterward.

It’s not a peg on which everyone hangs their reputation, but the “being of service” thing is very much a part of who I am and who I say I will always be. How much of that is to feed my ego? I’m not sure. I’m probably being hard on myself with sleep deprivation and laundry and re-entry making my brain swirl. In the long run, what matters is that the good work is done and done well. If you volunteer because a spouse or parent or someone pressures you into it, or so you can include it on a resume or college app, or to get extra credit, does that matter? I say no. Do the work anyway. Sweat the sweat. Cry the tears. Laugh the belly laughs. Hug until it hurts. You might get some praise—big deal—but you WILL get thanks, and that IS a big deal.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the most important thanks is coming from you.

That seems like a trite statement but it is everything.

How Will You Spend Your MLK Day of Service?

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Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr has offered more quotable quotes to the zeitgeist than a boatload of news channel pundits, politicians, or presidents–perhaps because his public time in the spotlight was focused on realizing a greater future for all–a sentiment in shorter supply, today,than is healthy for us, I think. One of my favorites of his messages is…

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Today, many of us have a holiday from work, but it is not the Martin Luther King holiday we celebrate, rather the Martin Luther King Day of Service, a time to take a day ON instead of a day off. You should serve yourself as well–sleep in a bit, take some downtime to relax. Absolutely bask in rare extra hours with your family…won’t it be even more memorable if you, as a family, volunteer in your community? Kids are learning about MLK in their classes, but the lesson truly takes hold when they learn the spirit of the day by putting together care packages for the homeless, or cleaning up a public park, or shoveling the walk for a neighbor, or ladling stew at a soup kitchen, or, or, or…

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How can you creatively express your huge commitment to service? Without advance planning, perhaps you don’t have a volunteer project lined up for today–how about using the day to commit to action soon? Surf around to find a non-profit organization doing projects near you–there are so many resources for discovery, and SOOOO many organizations that need your assistance. When the new tax laws have most charities and non-profits quaking in their boots in anticipation of Americans donating RECORD LOW AMOUNTS to charitable causes, giving hours (in addition to) dollars becomes even more important.

There are web tools for you to use in your neighborhoods and towns, to find projects and programs that need your contribution. The MLKDay website has resources that are already serving the hundreds of thousands of people who will volunteer around the nation today, but the opportunity lasts long past midnight tonight. Use the website as a jumping off place. I promise there are other day of service events and tasks in your immediate region, school, place of worship, block, etc. What’s that? You already made plans for today you can’t break? You’ve got a little time coming up…Next weekend. On your birthday. On your anniversary. On the day a loved one passed to honor them. Or on an ongoing basis. What if today is the day you find a brand new, exciting passion project that completely fires you up? It is out there–I can promise you that, and they truly need you and what you bring. You don’t have to be a certain age, have expertise, have physical abilities, have endless free time–none of that is required for you to contribute.

Contribution can be a scary word–our brains go toward yet another request to open our wallets. What if you re-framed it and held the meaning of the word more closely to its intended use in language: the part played by a person or thing in bringing about a result or helping something to advance. What matters at the very root of it all is the contribution of your art, your passion, your enthusiasm, your voice, your ability to encourage and inspire others, your willingness to take a stand on an issue that matters to and moves you. Move things forward. Move our country forward, for you truly have the ability (without spending a cent).

“The time is always right to do what is right.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Largest Protected Area on Earth Created – Now What? Volunteer!

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Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal

Last week, President Obama signed legislation creating the largest protected area anywhere. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (which was set aside as a protected Pacific ocean space in 2006) was quadrupled in size. The newly expanded marine preserve is now double the size of the state of Texas. Its area, called by some a “Blue Park,” encompasses a large spread of the waters to the NorthWest of the Hawaiian Islands.

Now a hefty 582,578 square miles, the National Monument is larger than all the US National Parks combined. It is now a protected sanctuary for thousands of species, many of them endangered, and many found exclusively in these waters. Its protection will stop any future deep-sea mining and other depleting practices. Commercial fishing is also restricted in these remote seas, though licensed recreational fishing is still permitted.

So here’s the cool part–to celebrate the newest baby park (a huge baby, at that) why not consider getting involved as a volunteer? Some of the Marine National Monument volunteer activities include: Communications and office-based help, habitat restoration on some of the atolls and small islands, wildlife sanctuary work, and wildlife biology volunteers. Some of the volunteer stints are smaller in commitment, some last up to 6 or 7 months living in remote places–a dream for a drop-off-the-grid service-oriented soul.

It sounds pretty dreamy to an island lover like me!


Photo credit: USFWS Headquarters via VisualHunt / CC BY

#BarbieSavior is Funny, But Maybe Damaging Too

Barbie doll behind rose stemsLook, I get it. I think the whole #BarbieSavior meme that has taken Instagram by storm is pretty hilarious–pretty dolls posed in the worst possible ways mocking “savior” voluntourism situations, clearly motivated by the plastic needs of the plastic character to assuage her own guilt and show the world how fabulous she is. (The photo in this blog, BTW, is NOT from BarbieSavior…it’s just Barbie)

I get that it’s all cool to be jaded and superior and above it all. Hell, I know lots of folks who make a living at it with professional snarkiness being their trade.

I also wonder if that route isn’t too easy. I wonder if pissing all over the best intentions of others moves us forward in even the slightest way, or if it, as I suspect, demeans and degrades us all, the critics as much as those they criticize. I think it’s brilliant that Savior Barbie has a tribal tattoo of the African continent, and gives her high heel pumps to tiny dolls of color, and puts dreadlocks in her perfect blonde hair. She is the Queen of cultural appropriation and, by herself (and her very astute creator), serves as a terrific cautionary tale…HOWEVER…what happens when you shame the folks that truly ARE making a difference?

Especially with the political process going on right now, I have a fair bit of cynicism exhaustion.

What happens when the NGOs and charitable organizations around the world doing truly meaningful, progressive, transformative work that is generated from WITHIN the communities (not delivered…or dispensed… from without) cannot survive without volunteer efforts?

What happens when the foundations shutter due to lack of interest and it guts the jobs of the locals who were running the programs? All so we can feel holier than thou pointing out how others feel holier than thou?

It’s pretty messed up that our default setting seems to be resignation and negativity and suspicion when we are faced with stories of people trying to do something positive in the world.

Do I sound defensive? I am quite sure I am. AND I firmly believe we can help educate and uncover the multitude of amazing, effective, non-harming ways that people can volunteer that leaves ALL in a better place than they would be without these programs and initiatives.

We can teach people about how to look for shady companies and avoid them. We can help them know the questions to ask of voluntourism organizers. We can illuminate the way to diagnose if a program is generated by the people served, and if it is their genuine wish to have help and how to discern and avoid like the plague those that are band-aids or put locals out of work or exist mainly as feel-good photo opps that do more harm than good.

One sassy college student’s experience with a crappy couple of volunteer ventures she didn’t vet very well can not be extended to the entire world’s volunteer situation, no matter how many people share her blog. She is WRONG, not about her experience, but about making that mean that her very specific and unfortunate circumstances are somehow universal.

My main question: Is that really where you want to put your energy? Does doubting and damning somehow give you something?

I ask because I want to know.

I ask myself.

*and by the way…in addition to being truly funny, the folks at BarbieSavior.com have this great statement on their site:

Together we have over a decade of studying, traveling, and working abroad. While this left us cynical and jaded enough to create Barbie Savior, we know full well that this issue – and these conversations – are so much bigger than us.

We don’t have the answers. This site we hope will become a place where we can pose questions, promote conversation, and try to learn together how to best do better.


Photo: horantheworld | CC License

Happy Birthday Dalai Lama — Volunteer to Celebrate

Dalai Lama quoteToday, July 6, is the 81st birthday of His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

To celebrate, practice what HE preaches and find new ways to express compassion and connection in your world. One of his more famous quotes: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

If you’re particularly inspired by him, here are a couple of Dalai Lama-specific volunteer opportunities to check out.

The Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, in Vancouver, seeks volunteers for all of its expanding programs, including their renowned “Educating the Heart” program. Find out more here.

Redwood City, California’s Dalai Lama Foundation seeks worldwide volunteers for actions for ethics and peace. Let them know you’re interested in lending a hand by filling out Dalai Lama Foundation volunteer interest form.

Traveling to India? (Lucky you!) The Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education in Bangalore welcomes volunteers who, in return for their service, are able to learn Tibetan language, Buddhist philosophy, and receive room and board while volunteering. Check out their needs and opportunities at this link.

Volunteers in Dharamsala, India work with refugee Tibetan communities in need of assistance and support in the areas surrounding the palace ad home of His Holiness. Volunteer projects are organized by Volunteer in India.

Dalai Lama Fellows is a global program authorized by him, working with social innovators and those working toward worldwide peace, justice, and ecology. Several fellows of the program have developed and launched programs around the world that need dedicated volunteers. Find your perfect match here.

Volunteer for Homeless Young People: Safe Place for Youth

homeless teen girl one street with backpackIn 2011, in Venice, California, group of dedicated volunteers began driving around a Southern California city and opening their car trunks to offer hot food, clothing, and dry socks to kids on the streets of Venice. Now, SPY (Safe Place for Youth) has grown to a professional team with a headquarters, expanded programs, and much greater impact in creating services (health and wellness, street outreach, employment, education, drop-in services, and more) and safe space for homeless young people.

The goal is to provide an empowering resource bank of services so young people can take control of their lives and not be defined by circumstances — all in a positive, non-judgmental environment. In 2015, nearly 1,000 youth received life saving support from SPY, including nearly 10,000 hot meals served, hundreds of medical consultations, 5,000 drop-in center visits, and 57 young people that exited homelessness and entered stable living situations.

As in the beginning, SPY still relies on the great hearts and work of volunteers. Check out opportunities to get involved in creating an end to youth homelessness, and also to support the deeply important work of Safe Place for Youth.


Photo: “Homeless Teen” from U.S. Department of Agriculture

Good Done Great Manages Your Giving and Volunteering

iPhone in man's hand about to click on app iconGood Done Great is an online platform, and now a mobile app as well, that helps you track and maximize your philanthropic giving and your volunteering efforts.

They are the first mobile giving app to connect users to charities, corporations, and causes, and it streamlines your giving opportunities to a network of over two million non-profit organizations all around the world. You can also set up monthly giving arrangements in the app or GIVING savings accounts that will be tracked for you. You can do all this management yourself, of course, but the app leverages technology that brings lots of features into one place. Additionally, you can follow charities to see their latest programs and projects, search by name or location to find charities, and the app learns your preferences and recommends new non-profits that may interest you based on your history. You can also follow your employer’s impact with their giving and support of charitable causes.

Good Done Great also works directly with Fortune 500 and other corporations to help them maximize their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) efforts so they are able to increase their impact. They are a B Corporation and have, thus far, processed over $500,000,000 for over 28,000 charities globally.

Check out the website, and load the free app on your phone (Apple app store or Google Play) so you can simplify your giving and turbocharge the difference you can make.