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Emails to my Therapist

I Don’t Volunteer. What’s Wrong with Me?

Dear Nicholas, I’m feeling a little uncomfortable about the fact that I’m not a do-gooder. This was starting to bug me even before Covid and the killing of yet another black man. I don’t volunteer except for a little political campaigning; in the meantime, most of my family and friends are doing all kinds of good works. They are admirable.

My discomfort hasn’t yet risen to the level that I take action. And I don’t know which way I’m pulling for it to go.

Even though I’m co-author of a book on volunteering, I don’t want to take the time to do it myself.

I’m sure I’d find it satisfying to improve lives in even the smallest way, if I ever got myself moving. But I don’t…

My embarrassing excuses

*I feel that writing my particular stories is the most important thing I’ll ever do, no matter how many or few ever read them. (This is grandiose and narcissistic, I know. Knowing that doesn’t talk me out of believing it. And it makes no sense as a justification for inactivism.)

*I believe that system-wide changes–for which I do my bits of campaigning–are what will create justice. (This is a feeble excuse, when I know that people also need immediate help.)

*I need to feel impassioned. I’m not going to force myself.

*I’m frightfully self-absorbed

*I enjoy having a blindingly white calendar. I love stretches of unstructured time.

*I don’t want to. I’d rather stay home and read and weed.

And Yet I’m Surrounded…

My friends and family are doing worlds of good: feeding the homeless, cleaning up after hurricanes, helping refugees, and so much more  And you, sir, created with a buddy a free mental health clinic where you worked with patients for almost twenty years.

Why Not Me?

It surprises me that I’m so unmoved to action. I make a great (pathological) effort to avoid doing harm. Seems reasonable that I might stir myself to do a little good.

I wish I’d known as a kid how much good my parents were doing. But they seemed to follow the biblical injunction of not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Anyway, that’s no excuse for my inaction.


A Couple of Faltering Efforts

I recently attended a seminar on how to fight global warming. So far that has resulted in my writing one email to one congressman.

I signed up for a Zoom meeting to learn actions an individual can take to change racist systems.

I hope it stirs me enough that I’ll follow through with action. I can’t understand why I wouldn’t. I’m clear that this work needs to be done.

Your well-meaning but slouchy friend,


#volunteertogether #takeaction #helpinghands



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  • kenju
    June 4, 2020 at 9:10 pm Reply

    I don’t do nearly enough volunteering. It used to be that I was too busy with my business to do much else, and now, I”m so busy being a caregiver that I don’t have time now either. I’d like to think that it could get better in my future (I”d have more time), but it doesn’t look like that will happen.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 4, 2020 at 11:54 pm Reply

      Caregiving counts big time, kenju. I’d say you’re doing a great deal of good.

      • Robbie Lane Jackson
        June 5, 2020 at 5:37 am Reply

        Peggy, figure you probably wrote the original post pre-Covid. Thank God you’re not volunteering, because that would mean you’re not mingling. This Covid kills you. It’s the real deal. I don’t want to die. I don’t you to croak either. I volunteer a lot, used todo a lot more, more politically as well. I amexhausted all the time. I have to take care, and this mess is my chance to finally rest. You be safe, ok?

        • Peggy Payne
          June 5, 2020 at 3:40 pm Reply

          Good that you’re resting, Robbie Lane. And thanks for all you’ve done!

  • Robin
    June 4, 2020 at 11:44 pm Reply

    I bet you do more good than you give yourself credit for. Your writing, for one thing, helps me and I’m pretty sure quite a few others.
    My husband keeps telling me that if you’re not part of the problem, you ARE a part of the solution . I relate to what you are saying, but I believe we all have different strengths and contribute in different ways and it might be as simple as how you live your life and doing good might not always be the obvious do-gooder stuff.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 4, 2020 at 11:57 pm Reply

      Thank you, Robin. I’m glad to know you’re getting good stuff from my stuff. And I love your husband’s innovative attitude. (I hope I didn’t write this post seeking justification for my inactivism.)

  • Alice Sawa
    June 5, 2020 at 12:19 am Reply

    I love to read your writing and sometimes I see myself in you !I am not a joiner but am a good person to all…..does that count ?!?!

    • Peggy Payne
      June 5, 2020 at 1:08 am Reply

      I appreciate your saying this, Alice. You’re right now being good to me. And for both of us, I have to believe that going around being decent does count.

  • Robin
    June 5, 2020 at 12:34 am Reply

    It’s part of being an introspective person I think — to examine your life and wonder if you are making good choices. Probably means you’re on the right track.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 5, 2020 at 1:04 am Reply

      Robin, you sent two versions of your comment and I like them both, so I’m posting them both. Thank you!

      • Robin
        June 5, 2020 at 1:22 am Reply

        Ha! and Oops! Thanks 🙂

        • Peggy Payne
          June 5, 2020 at 1:24 am Reply

          Would send emoji response if I knew how.

  • June 5, 2020 at 12:54 am Reply

    Introspective people tend to examine their life and their choices. It probably means you’re on the right track. The time — and the activity — has to be right.

  • June 5, 2020 at 1:17 am Reply

    I don’t experience you as frightfully self-absorbed. On the contrary you seem to me sometimes frightfully concerned about the bad things going on. Not volunteering doesn’t make you narcissistic, it makes you normal, and perhaps scrupulously searching for something wrong with you. And I like “if you’re not part of the problem, you’re part of the …”

    • Peggy Payne
      June 5, 2020 at 1:27 am Reply

      I’m glad it’s not frightful, Bob, and you certainly have a close-up view. It’s hard to drop the scrupulous search, which does no good at all in itself.

    • June 5, 2020 at 2:09 pm Reply

      Well said!

  • Lee Grohse
    June 5, 2020 at 4:01 am Reply

    I’ve done some volunteering in the past, but rather than feeling fulfilled and useful, it felt like was trying to be someone I wasn’t. During the 2016 elections I did some low level stuff for the Deborah Ross campaign and felt like a jerk because I hated it and thought my time was being wasted. My specific skills were not needed, and if I know anything about myself it is that I do not make an able or happy worker-bee. It seems clear to me that what I can best offer to causes that I care about is money. And truth be told, most causes can do a lot more with my money than they can with my time. I do believe doing good is the world is required. There is nothing remotely grandiose in thinking you can do the most good by your writing. If someone has found the right work, then absolutely the most good they can do in the world is to do that well.. So in my humble opinion, if one is doing their life work as best they can and if they act justly, mercifully, and generously as they go about the world , then it’s perfectly fine to forego the volunteering and let the people who are good at doing their work do that with some of your money. And be at peace doing what is in harmony with your true inner spirit. Go ahead and write, read, and weed.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 5, 2020 at 3:47 pm Reply

      Thanks, Lee. It’s the philosophy I’ve long been living by, but somehow in the last six months have gotten uneasy with. Your “true inner spirit” thought brings up the yogic spirit, which I’d do well to keep in mind. Although my true inner spirit seems overly devoted to berating myself. Well,I’m working on that….

    • June 5, 2020 at 9:06 pm Reply

      Well Said Lee, bob

  • Betsy
    June 9, 2020 at 1:57 am Reply

    How to you happen to coauthor a book on volunteering if you really don’t volunteer? Just curious

    • Peggy Payne
      June 9, 2020 at 4:37 am Reply

      Excellent question, Betsy. The other author and I had the same agent and she got us together. My first novel, Revelation, had a minister for a main character and a theme of interconnectedness, which seemed, I think, to make me a candidate for the job. Indeed, both of us on the cover of that volunteering book wish the world well, but approach it somewhat differently. I did volunteer for a while, at a mental hospital, when I was working on the book.

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