OPINION

A growing sense of volunteerism

It is the most common social reflex: State inefficiency and corruption gradually lead the citizen to alienation, indifference and apathy. The more that arbitrariness reigns in public life, the less cooperation we see from citizens. This is the case until some kind of threat is perceived on a collective level. Once an atmosphere of danger and the need for immediate action prevails, then the image of an arrogant, thick-skinned and sluggish administration rouses the people rather than immobilizing them. And spontaneous protest is followed by the desire for voluntary contribution. Since a five-day blaze reduced Mount Parnitha to ashes, the sense of volunteerism in Greece has become clearer. It is not that we Greeks had no faith in voluntary organizations prior to the Parnitha fire – a poll shows that 67 percent of the public have faith in these groups. This figure contrasts with the just 53 percent who trust Parliament and 41 percent who trust the government, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey. But volunteers have never enjoyed high regard from the Greek public, who often sees them as «attention seekers,» «suckers» or «dreamers.» This is hardly the profile of the volunteers used by many forward-looking Western governments to improve citizens’ daily lives. Many Greeks have often regarded such initiatives as exploitative and fraudulent. But this stance is beginning to change: Widespread misunderstanding is starting to dissipate. We Greeks are starting to realize something we have always known deep down – we can achieve more by helping each other. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Volunteerism is not a substitute for charity; it is not motivated by pity, neither is it aimed at realizing emotional gains. It is not a case of exchanging free time for tax breaks, time off work and other such benefits. It involves self-motivating people who spontaneously gravitate toward each other to achieve a common goal, without the need for any organizational framework or higher body imposing orders. Volunteerism is something that is fed by daily experience and can gradually pervade the types of behavior that constitute our social machine. Of course it is still early for Greece. The good will and interest of many is still disorganized; the movement is only now beginning to take form. It might not be visible yet but it is under way. It is in the process of gathering information, debating various issues and trying to highlight some positive prospects, to escape from the oppressive sense of the dead end. It is quite likely that volunteers will soon become the force that arrives at the solutions for many of the social problems in our country. Of course, volunteers cannot, and should not, replace existing institutions. But they can submit these bodies to relentless tests until they are finally purged of their ills.