Mini Book Review: Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul

I know the Chicken Soup books are meant to be uplifting, but this one was so unrelentingly upbeat that it was depressing. The volunteer always finds the deeper meaning, always gives more than he has to give and receives more.

As someone who volunteers and tries to make a difference in the world, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, you hold meetings and no one comes. Sometimes, no one wants to follow through on the meeting topic. Sometimes, you create something amazing you didn’t know you could, but those times are far fewer than the times you fall short and wonder what the heck you are doing. This Chicken Soup book has too little of the latter and too much of the former.

I was also struck by the stories about working with the mentally ill. First, there were very few, far less than most other types of volunteer work. Second, these were treated just like any other volunteer work. It is not, in both good and not so good ways. Let me leave it at that, to avoid generalizations and privacy violations.

But speaking of privacy violations, I was disturbed by the stories about crisis line work and writing about the people calling the crisis lines. Do they want to be written about? Have they given their permission? And I think the same applies to a lot of other people who feature in the stories. Do they want their stories, their interactions with volunteers published for the world to see? Do they implicitly give permission to be written about by becoming volunteers or needing services or calling crisis lines? I don’t think so, and it bothers me that even small fragments of their lives are out there without their knowledge or permission. I suspect that in a few cases, permission was given, but I don’t know that and there is no sign of it.

Call me a curmudgeon, but all I got out of this book was a vague feeling of frustration and disappointment.

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