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.”
“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.