Thursday, November 29, 2012

When a Volunteer is Cruel to Staff: My Encounter with Mr. Cruel & Critical

When it comes to people, some are kind and wonderful; others are not so delightful. Therefore, it is no surprise that from time-to-time you may encounter a volunteer who is overly critical, derisive or even outright mean. For that reason, I would like share a story about my experience with such a person.

My Encounter with Mr. Cruel & Critical

As I have noted before, I was once a Community Organizer and was responsible for starting a community group in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Detroit. That's where I met Mr. Cruel & Critical.

I had just finished the arduous, two-month task of recruiting leaders and members for the group and had just organized the first big neighborhood meeting. It went went well, but, as you might imagine, there were a few glitches...and Mr. Cruel & Critical was waiting.

I ran into him a few days after the meeting while walking the neighborhood. He proceeded to list every small detail that wasn't right. Then he escalated into a more vicious attack on my competency. By the time he was done, I was badly shaken and demoralized. 

Later that day, I spoke with my head organizer, Madeleine. She shook her head knowingly. "Ah, Mr. Cruel & Critical! There's often one in every neighborhood. They do nothing to help organize the group..." 

I nodded and said, "You're right. This guy did nothing to help -"

"That's right," Madeleine said. "All he did was show up at the big meeting and sit in the back row. Right? And he didn't volunteer to do anything?" At this point, I was nodding vigorously in agreement.

"That's Mr. Cruel & Critical for you! All he knows is how to criticize. He is just a loudmouth do-nothing. Now think about the people in the neighborhood group who actually did something. Think about Floyd who hosted the organizing meetings at his house, Delores who went door-to-door recruiting people to the first neighborhood meeting and George who just agreed to be the spokesperson at next week's meeting with the Police Department.

"Who are you going to believe? Mr. Cruel & Critical? Or will you believe Floyd, Delores and George?" On reflection, I understood.  Furthermore, I realize that allowing Mr. Cruel & Critical to influence my emotions would undermine my ability to help the good people such as Floyd, Delores and George. They had confidence in me and together we were making a difference in the neighborhood.

Who Loves Ya Baby?

I hope this story will help if you ever encounter a Cruel & Critical volunteer. There are many good volunteers in your organization who appreciate you. The work you do does matter! For those you who remember the old Kojak TV series, just imagine the good volunteers are saying to you, "Who loves ya baby?"

This how good volunteers feel about staff!

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