Roadpost #1: Getting Directions

Sometimes, when on a journey, it’s a good idea to ask for directions. And who better to ask than someone who has been on the road for a while and understands where it might lead?

Margaret is such a person. She is very well-traveled on the ‘volunteer road,’ and her desire to help came early. Even as a small child of 4 or 5, she remembers an old man across the street who was limping along in obvious pain. She can still feel the strong impulse to run across the street, hug him, and make him feel better. That natural empathy led her to become a nurse and a volunteer in public health and prison ministry.

It’s the sparkle in her eyes that lets you know what she’s gained from the journey. After all those years of serving others, Margaret can sum up the power of volunteering in a concise yet profound way—“To be really happy, you have to give.” Margaret feels that any satisfaction found from acquiring things, especially possessions, is only temporary, and she attributes her excellent health and energy to her good fortune in learning how to give.

For Margaret it’s a matter of focus: “I’ve met men in prison who completely turned their lives around because it dawned on them that their whole emphasis had not been on what would give them real fulfillment.” She told me the story of one man who did not understand what she meant. He had a son, though, whom he adored. She finally asked him, “What gives you the greatest happiness—when your son gives you something, or when you’re able to give him something?” According to Margaret, “He got it, just like that.”

Margaret’s insight is invaluable. With it, she cuts to the core of the volunteer experience. Serving others expands our capacity for generosity, and when we are in the mode of being generous, we feel good while we do good. As Margaret says, giving truly makes us happy.

So, taking some direction from Margaret, I drove to work today, thinking of how a simple shift in focus can make a difference. I can drive down the freeway absorbed by my destination. I can see others as obstacles to getting where I want to go. I can weave in and out of traffic and tailgate. Or I can drive with a more generous spirit—making space for cars to merge, changing lanes if I’m driving slowly. The traffic flows better when drivers drive the second way, and I have a better chance of arriving safely. I can drive either way. It’s simply a choice.

Volunteering is a choice as well, one that allows us to travel through life with that second, broader outlook as our emphasis. Whatever route you travel, include service in your itinerary. It will make for a happier trip—for you and everyone.

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