Letters To the Editor: Student Defends Volunteer Work Ethic

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to the October 1 article, “Is Volunteering Really Worth our Time?” I am sure that I am one of many people who saw this headline and immediately answered “YES,” volunteering is worth our time. I will admit, when I first read the article, Mr. Mason seemed to have some valid points.

As a psychology major, I am well aware of the century-long debate over social exchange theory. This theory states that, “social behavior is the result of an exchange process.”  According to Emerson’s landmark 1976 Social Exchange Theory, social interaction is a cost-benefit relationship, an exchange process where people only enter into relationships where the apparent benefits outweigh the risks; in this way, people attempt to maximize benefits and minimize costs.

Mr. Mason’s basic question looks into the motives of human behavior. Do we help others to benefit others or to benefit ourselves? His opinion is that by helping other people, we ultimately help ourselves, by improving our image, networking, or for that “fuzzy-glow” feeling. Do people really do things for truly altruistic reasons or is it the expectation of some extrinsic value or intrinsic (moral) value of any given action?

As a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, I can tell you that standing in 6-inch high Georgia clay, covered head-to-toe in orange mud, did not give me the “fuzzy-glow” feeling. Yet I give up every spring break to go to Georgia and build a house for someone in need. Do I expect to give everyone in the world a house and end homelessness? No! If I had that kind of mentality, thinking that my actions alone could completely end one of the world’s worst problems, then I would be naïve.

But I DO make a difference in someone’s life. Habitat volunteers meet and work alongside the family who is receiving the home. The practice is called “sweat equity,” meaning the family receiving the house has to put in a certain amount of hours working on other families’ homes in order to earn their own. And you simply cannot comprehend the impact that you are making until you see this family, their tears of joy, and their appreciation for the work you are doing for them for FREE. Without you, they would not have a place to live. Yes, it does make me feel better in a way, but if we are looking at exchange theory, the time, money and stress commitment does not outweigh the difference it makes in my life, but the expenditure is worth it because of the difference I can make in someone else’s life.

I come from very modest means. To reach where I am right now, I have been helped by a number of people at many crucial moments in my life. After all the help I have been given, I’d be damned if I didn’t give something back. In fact, I am basing my career on it, by becoming a psychologist, so I can help those who have substance abuse and psychological problems to not become homeless. Church groups do the same by providing counseling and other programs to help these folks out.

Where would we be without volunteers? The present article argues that volunteering makes no impact, but that opinion stems from a closed mind and great apathy. If Mr. Mason had dedicated the time he spent writing his hate-fueled diatribe to others, he could have greatly improved someone’s life.

I challenge everyone to give up some of their time playing video games or talking on the phone or surfing on Facebook to actually do something! You don’t have to volunteer because it makes you feel good. You should volunteer because it is the right thing to do, and for all the times that a helpful stranger has dedicated their time to helping you through a difficult situation. It is time to give back, to get off your ass, and to join the millions of volunteers who are dedicating their time to making life a little bit better for everyone else.


Kris Kelley ‘11

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