Like peanut butter and jelly, or cats and balls of yarn, utilitarianism and volunteerism complement together. If they were both YouTube channels, I’d be a subscriber to both.
Following valedictorian speech openings, utilitarianism is defined by Merriam-Webster Online as “the belief that a morally good action is one that helps the greatest number of people”, and volunteerism “the act or practice of doing volunteer work in community service”. A close cousin of the two is altruism, which is defined as “feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness”
The reason utilitarianism and volunteerism blend so well together is because of one thing: time. As a human being, time is the most valuable thing you can give (second to love). And as a volunteer, when you’re giving your time (and not to mention, expertise and effort), for free no less, you want to ensure that your time is being well-managed and going towards the most important things. In other words, you will want to ensure that your time is benefiting the greatest number of people, and this is where utilitarianism comes in. A nice transition sentence.
As on many occasions, a random thought came into my head while I was showering (aka, a shower thought) early this morning: “How do I get to decide what is a ‘morally good action’ and decide who the people benefiting from my actions are, and tying the two together, how can I be sure they will perceive my action to be ‘good’? In other words, what is ‘good’ to them?” (keeping in mind that the definition of utilitarianism is “the belief that a morally good action is one that helps the greatest number of people”).
I spent quite a bit of time during and after my shower thinking of the answer, peppering on some Pareto and marinating some Maslow, and my answer is: “I don’t know.”
It’s pretty hard to predict what action would benefit the greatest number of people, let alone it being almost impossible to predict what a person would perceive as being “good”.
In the end, I’ve decided that the most important thing is to speak of goodness, to do good, and to simply be good. Without any conditions. And that the greatest currency one can receive in life is genuine gratitude that is priceless: a smile and hug.