I often find writing hard. Sometimes the words flow freely and easily, sometimes there is a topic I want to address but I just can’t find the right way into it, and other times I just sit and stare at a blinking cursor wondering what I can say that will be helpful to others.

This is commonly called writer’s block. American author Anne Lamott has some helpful words of advice when we encounter it:

“Writer’s block isn’t a block. When your wife locks you out of the house you don’t have a problem with the door! The problem is acceptance. Accept you are empty.”

When I feel empty like that – empty of inspiration, empty of energy, empty of words – I read, often books and articles that have nothing to do with volunteering, like the Originals book I reviewed in my last posting.

Two of the places I go for inspiration are For The Interested by Josh Spector and the weekly newsletter from Charles Chu. In his recent article, “Feeling Lost? Maybe You Need An Enemy”, Charles explores how having an adversary to focus on can be a uniting force. That got me thinking. Who is our enemy, the nemesis of leaders and managers of volunteers?

  • Is it governments, who consistently fail to understand volunteering and what is needed to make it happen?
  • Is it fundraisers, who are so focused on getting in the cash they fail to see the potential of people?
  • Is it CEOs and senior managers, who consistently ignore us, cut our posts first when times get tough and take advantage of volunteers?

Whoever we may consider our enemy to be – and perhaps this is the first time you’ve even considered that person or institution to be an enemy – Charles Chu has a challenge for us in this quote from the late Umberto Eco:

“Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth. So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one.”

Charles continues:

“This enemy I am fighting  – the enemies we all fight  –  could they…simply be fake enemies that we’ve “invented” to satisfy our own needs? However scary it is, we should also pause and ask ourselves, “Does this enemy that I fight truly exist? And, if not, then what is it that I’ve been doing this all for?”

Are CEOs, fundraisers and governments really the enemy of leaders of volunteers? Have we invented them as adversaries so we have a common cause to unite behind? Are we rallying against a group, body or individual in order to demonstrate our own worth (as Umberto Eco put it)? Is this all just a convenient way for us to blame others for our frustrations rather than do something about them ourselves? What if we stopped viewing them as enemies? What if we stopped blaming others for our lack of progress, whether personally or as a profession, and started viewing them as potential allies?

Back to Charles Chu again:

“Those we make enemies out of are, in the end, still people. Deep down, they suffer from many of the same fears and worries. If we take the time to see the world as they do, it becomes a whole lot harder to hate them.”

Just spend a few moments reflecting on the following questions, either in regard to your personally and what you are trying to achieve as a manager of volunteers, or as our wider profession:

  • Who do we see as our enemy?
  • Why are they our enemy?
  • Have we invented that enemy or are they real?
  • How can I see the world as my enemy does and how might that help me achieve my goal?
  • What might I be avoiding doing because I’m blaming someone else for my challenges?
  • What action would help me take control of the situation and move forward instead of blaming someone else?

I hope that through tackling my writers block I’ve produced something that’s got you thinking. I also hope it inspires you write too, in the form of a response by leaving a comment below.

I’d love to know what you think.


3 thoughts on “Who is our enemy?

  1. Rob, this is a wonderful post. I do not think we have enemies – merely stakeholders in need of education. As leaders of volunteers, we need to do a better job of understanding the needs, goals, and priorities of our “enemies” so as to communicate our needs in a way they will understand.

    I’ve been reading a great book on negotiation called “Getting More” by Stuart Diamond. In it, he recommends aligning around common enemies when we wish to negotiate with someone. In this instance, the enemy could be something as simple as the weather. Perhaps, we are best served by commiserating about the “enemy” with our CEOs, fundraisers and government contacts. We could blame everything on the economy- there’s an easy target!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is really great thinking here, Rob. Is it easier to identify an “enemy” when we are frustrated and feel helpless? Does that hinder our efforts to understand and find common ground? And if we go further, could we, the volunteer services department be the enemy for frustrated others? Do we look like we always have fun? Do we look like we have it easier because we “get to hang out with awesome people” while others have to scrape for funds or resources? Do we look like we “don’t have to report anything meaningful except warm and fuzzy stories?”
    We may dismiss comments such as these as ramblings from people who don’t understand us. But as we move towards a more polished and professional position within our organizations, we do have to recognize our propensity for demonizing those who do not understand us. The bigger and more productive road for us is to bridge the misunderstanding gap for the good of our missions, volunteers, clients and ultimately our profession.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Rob, this article is insightful and really hits a nerve for me. Personally I’ve been grappling with “who” or “what” that enemy is. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a single person, company, government agency, nor is it a group of those entities. Rather, the enemy is something that’s more elusive and intangible. The enemy is the “thought” that overwhelmingly exists in our society undermining the gift of time and investment in humans. Our allies are those corporations and government agencies whether they know it, or whether we (currently) accept it.

    We need to crush the thought creating the culture that doesn’t value human capital or the investment into it. In order to do that we need to create and rally allies and influence the lens they’re looking through. For without doing that, we’ll never win again that enemy. We can always work to influence “our own,” but to me, the greatest challenge is influencing those unlike us. For me, it’s a crusade of figuring out how to create that bridge between us and those allies.

    Thanks for the article and continued inspiration.

    Liked by 4 people

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