The theoretical foundations for voluntarism have been constructed with a multi-dimensional systems approach and can be readily confirmed as volunteers humanize relationships. Whatever else the volunteer may do, the central task is to restore dignity. If a jail visitor cannot accomplish this in the jail setting, he or she is out of place and has some basic homework to do. Bringing down the barriers of prejudice is what it is all about. Of course, other work may be important yet not the distinctive source of volition in volunteer service relationships. It is what makes volunteer work different from every other form of work. Hopefully, other types of work can be enhanced by the model it provides.
During the ten years of reviewing published material, researchers were found who attempted to discredit the study of prejudice and the social dimension in collective life where it is generated. More than academic issues are at stake here. On this dimension are goodwill resources also created and stored. From such sources come the courage to resist injustice with or without power. Guidance for decision-making to raise levels of volition -- in a world where suicides are expected to reach the tenth most common cause of death by the year 2020 -- may be found by entering into volunteer work more aware of its special nature and potential. Of course, it attracts the scam artists as well as authentic people sharing their lives or caring for others, or attempting to halt pending disaster.
Ten years ago, with this insight, a leadoff statement was prepared for the SVSP publication (February, 1987):
There is a spectre in contemporary societies that takes a terrible toll in apathy and wasted potential. It is the spectre of prejudice -- demeaning and pervasive abuse. Here and there it openly mocks civilized collective life but more often it is concealed by little cover-ups that desensitize most people to its existence. Thus its consequences can be blamed upon other things, like economic systems or status dilemmas or personal failures. Prejudice is protected by the refusal to confront it on its own terms - terms of social volition and a sense of solidarity. As an offense it largely slips through the net of legally punishable acts.
"The United States of America is a nation built upon three great principles: free markets, free governments, and free associations. Free markets provide the means for comfortable life, free governments provide the stability for a secure life, and free association provides the quality for a full life . . . all three of these great principles are absolutely essential to the character and quality of life that has become expected by those who live in this country."
If you had a project financed by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation you might be marching to this. It was written by two Program Foundation Directors and presented in public lecture at the University of Houston on April 23, 1997.
What theory for the field of voluntarism (to guide practice) could be built upon a perspective that is so disconnected from what needs to be fixed in the society.
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