The Importance of Virtual Volunteering in Times When We Can’t Be Physically Present

In the wake of the all-consuming
Coronavirus, there is plenty of advice floating around for how to keep yourself
calm and occupied at home.

I personally liked Margaret’s list of things to do if you’re stuck at home. In addition to the usual ideas of crafting and exercising at home, Margaret also had some great suggestions like virtual travel, watching Ted Talks, and doing a “life review.”

But there’s another way to occupy
your time right now that will also help make you calmer and happier: virtual
volunteering. At a time when we’re getting daily reminders to be mindful of the
most vulnerable, volunteering online is not only good for the community, it’s
also good for you.

The Value of Volunteering as You Age

There’s plenty of evidence out
there to suggest that volunteering is good for your physical and mental
health, particularly as you age. As one author wrote long before the
Coronavirus set in, volunteering – by allowing her a place to deposit her
abundant, mid-life energy – became
her personal “chill pill

Volunteering also taps into a larger sense of purpose. In his book, The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, Jonathan Rauch explores the science behind the so-called “Happiness U-curve.” The U-curve, a statistically robust finding which cuts across countries, shows that life satisfaction falls in our 20s and 30s, hits a nadir in our late 40s, and then increases steadily until our 80s.

But that upwards curve, Rauch
suggests, is not only the product of greater personal acceptance and adjusting
of expectations as we age. It also derives from a greater ability to re-direct
our focus away from ourselves and towards our community.

The numbers back this up. As Marc Freedman notes in his book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, fully a third of older adults in the United States already exhibit “purpose beyond the self,” i.e., they identify, prioritise, and actively pursue goals that are both personally meaningful and contribute to the greater good.

That’s 34 million people over the
age of 50 who are willing and able to tutor children, clean neighbourhood
parks, or work for world peace.

Virtual Mentoring

Obviously, in an age of social
distancing, we need to move all of that good spirit and energy online. One of
the easiest ways to do that is by becoming a mentor. The beauty of being a
mentor is that you don’t need to work inside a large company – or even a
formal hierarchy – to make a difference.

All you need is a transferable
skill set, a bit of empathy, and the ability to help someone break down their
work, life, or education challenges into tractable, bite-sized chunks. Writers,
scholars, artists, social workers – not to mention you corporates out there –
can and should mentor.

Nor, in this globally connected
world, do we need to work or live down the hall or street from our mentees.
When I worked at the BBC, I mentored a young journalist via Skype who lived and
worked 5,000 miles away from me.

I gave this young woman tips for
how she might communicate better with her introverted boss. I advised her on
stress-management when she got stopped and questioned by her government for having
taken photos of a taboo region in the country.

We even discussed how she might
navigate societal expectations that – as a single, unmarried woman in her early
30s – she was long overdue to have a baby, even though she didn’t feel ready.

Online Campaigning

You can also get involved with
online campaigning for a cause you’re passionate about. An American artist
friend of mine who lives in London recently launched a Kick-starter campaign to
support a beautiful Haggadah collage she was making for the upcoming Passover

Unfortunately, she launched this
fundraising drive about a week before Coronavirus awareness hit “red”
on the dial in the UK and the US. So, she abruptly cancelled her own campaign
to support a friend in Texas who was raising money to build a safety net for
the restaurant workers she was going to need to lay off.

This is also a good time to get
involved in political campaigning. It’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s
a major set of elections in the US approaching us in November.

Going door to door in swing states
is ill-advised in the current moment. But there is plenty to be done online to
support your political party/candidate.

I personally plan to re-direct the
volunteering time I normally spend teaching creative writing to children into
depolying online tools to mobilise the
large and occasionally pivotal swath of American voters living abroad

Ageing and Wisdom

One of the concepts Rauch talks
about in his book about aging and happiness is “wisdom.” His argument
is that wisdom is not only, or even primarily, about knowledge and expertise.
It’s also about cultivating self-interest in order to promote the common good.

I, for one, feel wiser for knowing
this. And I can’t wait to spread my wisdom online.

Where do you usually volunteer?
Can you continue those activities in the current situation? Is it possible to
volunteer online? In what ways? Please share with our community!