We believe we know and understand the notion of reciprocity: “the state of mutual dependence or influence.” However, it’s a notion that is often harder to practice. The Hebrew word Natan, which means gift, is a palindrome, spelt the same backwards and forwards. This is because giving is not just something that can positively affect the recipient – it is also about the giver, who likewise benefits. Having an opportunity to give can be a life changing experience. I hope that’s why so many of us volunteer.
The volunteers for the Olympics have exemplified this: they have had fun, felt engaged and their exuberance is carried through to us. Their volunteering is thus reciprocal. They have been changed and so have we.
I was privileged to see this in action over the last two days. Being present to welcome the Israeli Paralympic Delegation in the Olympic Village and meeting these Paralympians at a special reception in their honour was both a moving and powerful experience. Seeing them with the volunteer Gamesmakers and additional assistants was truly uplifting. Terrific respect and genuine interest in one another was so evident – genuine reciprocity. Many have overcome tremendous hurdles to compete and, speaking to the volunteers, so much has been learned from them.
Much of the volunteering has been assigned by the British Friends of the Israeli War Disabled. These volunteers, several pictured here with the Ambassador, are more than Gamesmakers. They are all proud to wear the Paralympics shirt but, because they are sensitive to the needs of others, they felt they had been given an opportunity for personal growth as well as to make a difference to others.
But it is important to remember that reciprocal volunteering is not confined to these special events. The vast majority volunteering opportunities offer benefits for the volunteer too, even if they are not as evident as the benefits for the organisation or people who are receiving help from the volunteer. Many people who volunteer gain skills, relationships and experience without even realising it. And let us not forget the “Helper’s High” – scientific proof that volunteering increases the volunteer’s self-esteem, improves their sense of wellbeing, lowers stress levels and can even create feelings of euphoria, benefits which continue way after the period of volunteering has finished.
If you know an Olympic or Paralympic volunteer, speak to them. Ask them what they have gained from volunteering. And whether it’s on the world stage or not, why not give volunteering a go yourself – you may be surprised how you can profit from not-for-profit work.