Consultant Corner | Michele D. Baker, CVA

Michele D. Baker, CVA 
Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits & Philanthropy

Volunteerism: Throwing Sparks, Sending Up Flares, and Helping Calm the Tumult

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul… The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others – both are acts of immense bravery.”

-Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

American poet, spoken word artist, Jungian psychoanalyst, trauma specialist and author of “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés was writing about her role as a healer of wounded soldiers coming back from war. For Estés, the soldiers’ recovery was not about a one-time “fixing” of those men and women; it was the result of a constant stream of small actions that built up over time. “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach,” she wrote. This brilliant but simple idea also applies to our daily healing work as volunteers and volunteer managers around the world.

Estés goes on to say that “any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts… will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts.”

In fact, this precise point is where great volunteer managers live – at the intersection between the storms of social problems and the constant, real work that is happening every day at nonprofits across the globe. Whether they are called nonprofits, social justice organizations, NGOs, or charities, volunteers are the spark that keeps the fires of those organizations alive. Volunteers and their managers literally provide the soul and the fire needed to fix social problems. Volunteers “display the lantern of soul” in acts of extreme bravery, allowing other struggling souls to see – and catch – the light.

These lighted volunteer souls work on every social issue you can imagine: from voting rights, to animal welfare, to mentoring children, to providing seniors with friendship, to cleaning up after storms, to feeding the hungry, to protecting rainforests, to reading to the blind, to helping soldiers find housing, and a thousand other worthy causes big and small. “We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale,” says Estés.

It is these constant, small acts of bravery – showing up every day to chip away at a problem that seems insurmountable – that are acts of true courage, and the people who undertake it are true heroes. Estés finishes: “Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.” So here is your charge: heed the call. Show up. Display the lantern of your soul. And spark the world, one tiny act at a time.

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