I volunteer occasionally. Now, before you start thinking better of me for my altruistic ways, perhaps I should be honest about how I actually spend my time volunteering. I am not feeding the homeless, counseling pregnant teens, or consoling abuse victims. My hours are not spent washing the feet of lepers or playing canasta with bedridden octogenarians. No, I help organize events for a group devoted to expanding the equine riding community. In plain English, I donate my time so that other suburbanites, like myself, along with their offspring have easy access to carefully crafted activities to partake in with their horses. Far worse things to be involved with but, saving the world I am not.
Which brings me to a meeting I attended last night regarding one such upcoming event. Having been the point person for this activity in the past, I had been cajoled into becoming the chair person’s consigliore of sorts. Quick to make it clear early on that I would deflect most if not all calls to take on significant responsibilities, I agreed to at least take part in any meetings and be available for consultations as the expert in residence. Beyond that, my presence was tokenism at best.
Meetings within volunteer organizations are not entirely different than those in which the participants are getting paid. Despite the best of intentions, focus gets lost quickly; otherwise useful discussions follow tangents down proverbial rabbit holes with no end in sight. Time becomes fluid. A meeting that should really only take an hour spills into two as the agenda easily falls prey to being sliced, diced, and teased apart instead of obeyed. Combine that with the fact that in this case all of the players are women and you have a round table in which everyone is coyly attempting not to step on anyone else’s toes.
So, in this meeting of ten women, of which none of us were getting paid, trying to keep everyone on course was much like herding cats in a rainstorm. The woman heading up this little soiree (extremely intelligent with a high powered career in the world of big time corporations) was doing her best to keep her patience all the while moving things along. Surprisingly, much got accomplished but it would not have been a typical meeting without some form of complaining involved about something that cannot be changed.
“It’s impossible to get volunteers to help out over fourth of July weekend. We really need to change the date of this show,” quipped one of the women near the end of our two-and-a-half-hour marathon session.
“We can’t change the date now. We just have to do our best,” replied our faithful leader.
Sensing tension, I emerged from my catatonic state and perked up to see if any cat fight would ensue.
“Well, it’s just not a good weekend,” the irritated one added just to reiterate her point.
“No, it’s not a good weekend. But, it’s the one we’ve got and it’s worked every other year. It will be fine,” our task master said looking to shutdown the direction of this conversation so as to keep it from devolving into an outright bitch session.
I was thankful that our leader nipped the discussion in the bud and brought an end to the meeting quickly thereafter. But, the undercurrent of annoyance remained in the room like the stench from bad curry left in the fridge well past its sell by date. Too much estrogen in one confined space is not always a good thing. In fact, sometimes it just plain stinks. No one has the balls, or more likely, the interest to cut through the murky haze of euphemisms and niceties we all employ in the hopes of keeping our little worlds rotating on their axes. Easy for me to say, as I did nothing to move the meeting along at a faster pace or call out those constantly complaining or incessantly questioning. But I have run these meetings before and understand that those going unpaid, giving their time after having spent all day at a job they may or may not like, do not appreciate being treated like “employees.” Managing people requires patience especially when all of those people are female and volunteers. Feelings must be coddled and egos stroked.
That is until the meeting dissolves, and then the claws come out. Men can be just as mercurial given the chance but their tolerance threshold for pretense routinely seems lower. Perhaps this is why I never seem to find men in these types of meetings. Someone’s head would be ripped off before the first hour was up. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing once in a while. The meeting might last just as long but at least it would be more entertaining.