Do-Gooder Guilt

I’ve seen this State Farm commercial for a few weeks now and I think it’s very interesting –

The man in the clip goes about his day and is inundated by causes – they’re on transit ads, social media, on the news, everywhere he looks. There is even a polar bear in an alley for some reason. All these things begin to follow him around while he’s getting dinner with friends, commuting, or exercising. These issues follow him around like a black cloud until he decides to volunteer for one of them. “You can lift the weight of caring by doing.” Is it’s final message (well it’s real final message is buy State Farm Insurance).

Corporations have a long history of doing good in order to build their brand and look good as a company, not necessarily altruistic motivations. And because of this there are a lot of donations to charity and a lot of employee volunteer hours spent (often altruistically on a personal level).

The question is – does motivation matter? Does it matter if we’re volunteering because we feel guilty, because we truly care, because our employer encourages it and we want to get ahead in our job, because we care about how we are perceived, because we need to feel better about ourselves, because we want to better ourselves, because a celebrity we like supports a cause, because we get a perk or swag, or because some other because?

Personally I think some of those “because”s make bad volunteers. They move the priority and focus away from the act of helping. While I don’t think volunteering needs to be completely altruistic, I do think it should be the major reason. I volunteer for many reasons and sometimes the perks I receive are fantastic and I know I’ve grown and developed skills that benefit me personally. I also tell people that if they’re feeling down about an issue that volunteering with like minded people is great for their mental healthcare. But if you’re volunteering because you’ve been made to feel guilty by an ad on your commute I don’t think you’re going to be the best volunteer and I wonder if you’ll even really get any of the other benefits of volunteering.

This commercial makes me feel very uneasy. It’s so negative. The message is there are so many things wrong with the world instead of look what we all can do, and are doing, to make the world a better place. I’m an optimistic person by nature so maybe this ad wasn’t meant for me.


What do you think about the ad? Is it effective? Are guilty volunteers good volunteers?

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