Understanding the role of values when working with volunteers

Volunteering often brings together culturally diverse groups of people, which can mean differences in what people value and how values are formed. It’s critical that volunteers are open to communication in order to support respectful relationships.

Many individuals choose to volunteer because they feel it reflects their values. The word “values” refers to general principles that are important to people. These principles are very significant to us and can cause strong emotion, even when it is difficult to put our values into words. Values impact our opinions, beliefs, and attitudes. Examples of values include religion, family, hard work and loyalty.

Volunteering often brings together culturally diverse groups of people, which can mean differences in what people value and how values are formed. Our values are influenced by personal experiences, family, friends, the community we live in, religion and the larger society. When we make decisions about education, work, friendships, romantic relationships, parenting and politics, we rely on our values to guide us. It is important that we recognize that values are not right or wrong. We may not always understand or feel comfortable when someone has different values, and that is normal. Similarly, our values may confuse others or leave them feeling unsettled.

The more a volunteer experience includes diverse cultures, ages, geographic areas and backgrounds, the greater the variance in the values. Sometimes our values conflict with another’s. An easy example might be when an employer asks an employee to work late on the same day that the employee has a family obligation. The choice that a person makes will depend on how they prioritize their values. It isn’t only a case of family versus work. It might also involve financial stability or security. One may choose to work to ensure that their family is secure and has food and shelter, which is made possible by their hard work and sacrifice. The other may choose the family event because they value the time with family over all else. Each of us has a very personal way of defining our values that helps guide our decisions and actions.

It’s important to remember that no two people share exactly the same values. It is highly likely that volunteers will have some values conflicts with clients and their families as well as with one another. Volunteers should keep in mind that values are formed by family, community and experiences. To attack or condemn another’s values is hurtful, just as it would be to have your values attacked. Conversation is critical to remaining open and working together to reach a mutual understanding of each other’s perspective.

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