Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Volunteers as Friends

Most of our relationships are relatively easy to define.

Student/teacher, teacher/student, neighbor/neighbor, professional/client, clerk/customer, activist/activist, congregant/congregant, mother/father/daughter/son, sibling/sibling etc.

Usually institutions define relationships for us, whether those institutions are neighborhoods, families, schools. congregations or businesses.

(By the way, something I like about Quakers is that our formal name is “The Religious Society of Friends,” which may help friendships form faster than otherwise would be the case.)

Recently I’ve been thinking about all the people I know through formal relationships and about just how much I have shared with them. I’ve also thought of the fun and satisfaction associated with these relationships.

But just when and how do, or should, these relationships evolve into friendships?

Sometimes relationships require that we consciously NOT be friends. A conflict of interest might arise. As a journalist I have met many people who, under other circumstances, might well become friends. But the nature of my work wouldn’t allow that to happen.

As a teacher, I couldn’t become a friend to my students although I was friendly and, in fact, tried to help them in ways that no friend ever could.

To be sure, with the passage of time, and changes in roles, several former students and even news sources have become friends (or potential friends), although frequently it is hard to pinpoint exactly when the transformation becomes possible. Graduation, career change or retirement aren’t always natural watersheds in relationships.

But, with the above constraints in mind, I can think of a few signs that mark the change to friendship. One is a willingness to mutually share confidences in trust. Another is a willingness to offer or ask a favor with no expectation or thought of reciprocation. Yet another is inviting someone to share an experience that has nothing to do previous roles. When is a lunch no longer a business lunch but simply a lunch with a friend?

Many of these musing about friendships result from my working as a volunteer with many other volunteers.

Our involvement begins with our being co-workers. “We volunteer together,” we might explain.

But after years of “volunteering together” I am inclined simply to say, “We are friends. We volunteer together.”

Perhaps volunteerism is a variant of friends’ willingness, even eagerness, to give and help each other.

We may not confide in each other or even see each other socially, but somehow our giving, if not to each other, but together to others, forges a friendship.

I think that those of us who volunteer together would do well, with time, to acknowledge ourselves first and foremost as friends — joyful and grateful to give together to others.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post!

I have often reflected on the wonder of time when you realise an acquaintance has become a friend. I have never been able to identify the precise moment - only the awarness of a new joy. LeeLa

11:45 AM  

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