Unanticipated rewards of compassion, volunteerism

“We often are pursuing our own interests most effectively by laying them aside and serving others.”

~Stefan Klein

Each one of us has the power to have great influence in this world and it is up to each of us to “make our mark” in hopes of making this world a better place for future generations.

This is the message I heard several years ago when I had the fortunate opportunity to listen to the amazing and inspiring Maya Angelou speak in-person. She delivered her lecture with an unforgettable passion and a mesmerizing vision of grace. The challenge she threw down to each of us in the audience that night was, “to invest our spirit in elevating the human condition.” Her message has stuck with me over the years and I attempt to allow that challenge to guide me every day.

In looking forward to the New Year and the upcoming “Resolution Season”, I offer up the same challenge to you. Let’s each do our part. Making a difference starts with your own relationships, in your own neighborhood, in your own community.

Look for ways to make an immediate difference in your own world. A great place to start is by investing time and energy in volunteering.

Through the years, working in the nonprofit sector and within organizations that are driven by volunteers, I have witnessed the power that one person possesses to have a huge impact. If you truly want to make your mark and harness the power you have within you, engage in generosity of your time, energy and compassion.

Various research studies have shown that volunteering increases happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem and sense of control over life. According to literature on volunteerism and civic engagement from the Michigan Nonprofit Association, there are many reasons why people take time to volunteer.

Volunteering can be engaging, thoughtful and important work which connects you to a larger world.

It has the potential to raise profound moral questions about how we live and work on a local scale, as well as a global scale.

It challenges you to consider the issues that are facing your community, your state and even your world.

According to one of our volunteer big brothers with the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program, the research and supporting literature hold truth in reality.

“I tell people the best thing you can do is volunteer,” he said. “It helps you put your life in perspective, and I feel it changes your priorities for the better. It was more rewarding than I could have imagined.”

In fact, I have found that volunteering on a one-to-one basis with Big Brothers Big Sisters has proven to be one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made.

Before I worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters, I volunteered as a big sister and spent several years matched to my “little.”

My little sister has changed my life perhaps even more than I hope to have changed hers. As I invested my time in developing a friendship with my “little” I found that the impact in my own life was far greater than I ever anticipated.

My life has changed for the better, forever because of my time with my little sister and my perspectives are forever influenced. I am a better person for the experience.

When you give the generous and compassionate gift of time you are truly the largest beneficiary. The Dalai Lama once said that compassion, one of the most generous actions, is actually a selfish act.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion,” he said. “If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

So, let’s all be a little selfish. Leave an impression, make an impact. We each have the power to change the world.

Through the thoughtful and impactful gift of your time we can improve communities for the greater good of all. Your generosity comes back to you time and time again and offers a lasting impact that extends beyond a lifetime.

Maggie M. Munch is program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Western Upper Peninsula.