We don’t do it for the thanks

[First on LinkedIn]

The greatest gift we give is the gift of time… and over and over again I hear from many volunteers about the privilege it is to serve. But does that mean that a ‘thanks’ is still important.

A colleague recently shared a pamphlet with me regarding carers working with people with disabilities. For many years she’s been witness to a disabled relative who rarely expresses a thank-you for the support and help provided by both paid and family carers.

“It’s not that you offer care and support for a thank-you,” she explained. “But I am often baffled why the recipient of that care never acknowledges it.”

What she learnt was that her relative probably never expresses thanks because doing so would be a daily reminder of the reliance on others. Or simply culturally was not in the habit of saying thank you. I remember a leader I knew saying “If I say thank you every day to my ‘staff’ then it will mean nothing.” (I don’t of course agree that scarcity makes a ‘thank-you’ more precious.)

Which completely reframes the picture. That gratitude in this instance is not about the recipient. That thankfulness comes from the opportunity to offer care and support. To give rather than receive. Often referred to as ‘the helper’s high’, it is the sense of satisfaction and comfort that is created from knowing you have done something to assist another human being. No one wants to be taken for granted – but volunteering is about what you give – NOT the thanks you may or may not recieve.

  • In 2006, 5.2 million people (34%) of the Australian population aged 18 years and over, participated in voluntary work.
  • They contributed 713 million hours to the community, an average of 136 hours each per year or 2.6 hours per week.
  • The comparison of 1995, 2000 and 2006 data reveal that volunteer rates increased from 24% to 32% and to 35% between these three time points.

That’s not to say we should neglect being thankful to others, but it does offer an insight into the challenges of thankfulness. Sometimes you have to make a choice – in the instance of my colleague, gratitude is in the eye of the beholder.

What challenges have you faced with your gratitude practices? Remembering to be thankful in the tough times is one challenge that springs to mind.  Can you share any others?

[1] http://www.volunteering.com.au/tools_and_research/volunteering_statistics.asp

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