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HomeEducation / CultureTony caught napp-ing

Tony caught napp-ing

By Tony Deyal

In the 1970s I did a nightly programme on national television and was very pleased when many of the members of the National Association of Administrative Professionals (NAAP) remembered those days. They had asked me to talk about “Volunteerism” so I started with a quick back-in-time for them. “Thanks for remembering me. The programme was called ‘Face Of The Nation’ and everywhere I went people knew me as ‘Face’. In the streets, even at home, people called me ‘Face’ and would say, “Hey, look Face” and add, “What you have for we tonight, Face?”

In those days, Grenada was able to tune into the Trinidad TV signal and when I went to the first anniversary of the “Grenada Revolution” to say hello to an old comrade, Maurice Bishop, people recognised me and I had to face the constant shouts of “Look Face” and “All you see Face? He here in Grenada.” A youngster recognised me on a street in St Georges and shouted loudly to draw my attention, “Face! Face!” His mother was very angry and chided him, “Boy, where your manners? That is a big man you talking to. Tell him you sorry for not calling him Mister Face!”

I then added an incident that epitomised what visual artist, Andy Warhol, called our “fifteen minutes of fame” and learnt the hard way that it was never entirely nor always the name of the game. When it leaves you, it is forever. I call my story or experience “A Day On Frederick Street”, the crowed main drag of Port-of-Spain where push always come to shove. I was weaving my way through the crowd, hustling to get to a book store, when a lady grabbed me by my shirt and yelled, “Stop! Stop!” above the noise.

“Stop! I know you,” she bellowed. She clung on to me, examined me from every angle- back, front and even side – repeating “Wait! Wait! I know you.” Then she had her magic recollection memory moment. She laughed triumphantly and shouted loud enough for the passing parade and even my friends in Grenada to hear, “Yes! Yes! I know you. You used to be Tony Deyal!” I had to grin and face it.

One thing that I never left behind me with Tony Deyal was my commitment to helping others to help themselves and one another. Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless but because they’re priceless. In fact, way back in time, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, insisted that the essence of life is to serve others and to do good. Long after him, Winston Churchill stressed, “We make a living by what we get. W make a life by what we give.” Kofi Annan, the Ghanian former-secretary general of the United Nations gave us a global perspective, “If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.”

Of course, even those who believed what he said, even US comedian Ron White, still found the humour in it. Ron quipped, “I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade…And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.” If that does not work, it is not the fault of the concept so much as too much of its execution.

I was quite surprised to learn that among its many and surprising benefits, volunteering can help you make friends, learn new skills, advance your career, and even feel happier and healthier. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who don’t. Older volunteers (like me) tend to walk more, find it easier to cope with everyday tasks, are less likely to develop high blood pressure, and have better-thinking skills. Even more interesting for me is that volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce heart disease. If this makes you want to become a volunteer, go ahead but don’t be like the volunteer at the Catholic church who prayed that he would get the missionary position.

The key to all this is the “WIIFM”. It is not a special radio station selling voluntarism to the world but an acronym for “What’s In It For Me”. Even though volunteers are people who offer their services without being asked, there must be something in it for them. If there is nothing for the volunteers but hard work, they would never volunteer unless they are narcissists and love punishment. It is like when I talked about one of my teachers in the old days, Mrs Ford, who beat us with a thick, leather strap. One of my friends saw it differently and replied, “Boy, these days some men will pay good money for that.”

Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” taught us that you can get people to volunteer to do something that initially seemed to them to be very menial work. In fact, Tom was able to get his friend Ben Rogers who initially ridiculed him, not just to beg to help but paid good money for the privilege. This proves that you don’t necessarily need the song and dance that Tom used.

All you have to do is make those interested realise that what you’re offering them is worth their time and commitment, if not immediately, in the long term. It is vital that there is something in it for them that they value, want, need or require. You have to give them something they feel will be worth their while. It is like the woman participating in a survey who was asked how she felt about condoms. She replied, “Depends on what’s in it for me.”

We are all of us into WIIFM because we come first. One of my Irish Catholic teachers once told me flatly, “Tony, I try to help people and this is why I joined the Church but you must understand that my primary duty is to save my own soul first and then I can try to save other people.” That’s really the way the cookie crumbles. It is like the pilot in the plane when all the engines conked out. He came out of with a parachute on his back and said, “I’m going for help. I’m coming back just now.”

This is where we humourists and comedians come in. We lighten the load as I tried to when I ended my session with the group. First, I told them about the man who claimed, “My wife volunteers every week as a school crossing guard.” Then he added, “I tell everyone she’s into human trafficking.” Then I added, “I joined a volunteer group to help stab victims. I didn’t have a sharp knife, so I had my work cut out for me.”

For all of you interested in being volunteers, you will have your work cut out for you. It could be really hard work and sometimes you feel like giving up. When that happens, just remember that a diamond is merely a lump of coal that did very well under pressure.

*Tony Deyal was last quoting the Dalia Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

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