Be Selfish, Volunteer

The Ayn Rand Institute is now accepting volunteers.

From the institute’s website:

If you are unable to make monetary contributions or just want to do a little extra to help ARI, we invite you to become a volunteer!

ARI relies on volunteers to assist us with various departmental projects and with the running of special events. While we have a wonderful and very capable staff, we can always use additional help at peak times.

If the irony of this doesn’t slap you upside the head, you must not know who Ayn Rand is.

Ayn Rand is most well known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She is a champion of rational egoism: an action is rational only if it maximizes self-interest. And she spoke out against ethical truism: our actions should serve and benefit others even at the cost of our self-interest.

Basically, her philosophy is that if we all look out for “numer uno” then society will take care of itself. Her philosophy is a precursor to Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” mantra.

If that’s the case, then why would anyone volunteer, ever? How could the Ayn Rand Institute ask for volunteers without shouldering an Atlas-like load of hypocrisy?

The act of volunteering, and any act of civic engagement, can serve your self-interest.

I moved to Muncie in 2007 after a decade of homelessness. Nope, I wasn’t living out of a grocery cart. But any day over the previous decade could have found me in one of four states or fifty different countries. I was a citizen of everywhere and nowhere.

Muncie is the first place I ever began to settle into as an adult. Ayn Rand might cringe a bit, but as I settled into my new home, I wanted to give back. I became a big brother, I began working with a group that helps lift people out of poverty in Muncie, I raised $30,000 for a charity that works in the slums of Africa, and I raised $3,000 for people living with cancer.

I like to think my motives weren’t selfish, but let’s say they were. What did I get out of giving back?

  • I dined with the CEO of Ford, a host of West Point leaders, and member of President Obama’s cabinet at an exclusive Park Avenue event.
  • I’ve met city council members, county commissioners, and state senators.
  • I’ve learned how to ask for money.
  • I ran a marathon and got in the best shape of my life.
  • I got a free trip to Africa and back on which I collected stories that I eventually got paid for, and that I’m now compiling into my second book, which I’ll get paid for again.
  • I was featured in ads in Relevant Magazine – free publicity that led to sales of my book and paid speaking engagements.
  • My little brother has helped me learn more about Muncie, what there is to do, and what raising a teenager might look like when my kids become teens.
  • And just since joining the Leadership Board, BJ has helped guide me to amazing resources that are helping to shape a possible new business venture and Brandon has taught me how to use social media better.

I’ve gained financial and social capital, and enhanced and learned skills. Not even considering all of that warm and fuzzy moral obligation to help others stuff, giving back has paid off big time.

Ayn Rand would be proud! But my grandma is too!

How will giving back pay off for you? Become a member of the Leadership Board and find out how membership can benefit you. If you’re not in the Muncie area, here’s a resource I compiled to help you find volunteer opportunities in your area and around the world.

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