A peaceful view of the Saranac River. (Provided photo — Diane Chase)

I’ve been guilty of ensuring my young children raise their hands when volunteers are needed. Did they always feel like helping? Absolutely not. That is when I let them know their involvement wasn’t optional.

They weren’t volunteering. I was voluntelling. In my childrens’ defense, they usually willingly volunteered their time, which transitioned into personal volunteer projects and voluntelling me for assistance. (If I can dish it out, I can take it.)

The origin of “voluntell” is unclear — the military might’ve first used the word to describe unpleasant mandatory jobs. Wherever it originated, the term is now used in businesses and homes to encompass all the assigned duties when someone doesn’t willingly step forward. Simply a portmanteau of the words volunteer and tell, voluntelling is the pretense of a person willing to raise their hand for a task, but if they don’t, they may suffer consequences.

It is not to be confused with just “telling.” Our family has mandatory chores. Those jobs aren’t optional. When my kids were young, they may not have noticed the subtle difference between volunteering, voluntelling and being told.

I thought it was just everyday parenting 101 to voluntell. I not only watched my parents volunteer for charities and communities, but they involved me in the process. I didn’t always go along willingly. They voluntold me until I learned to raise my hand, find my passions, and see where I could be helpful. I have sparingly used the tactic on my children. I wanted them to learn to see opportunities to make positive changes.

There is a difference when parents, office managers, or guardians continue to tell others what to do under the guise of volunteering. It can be passive-aggressive. The pretense puts others in a powerless position. When my children grew older, we asked for their involvement and let them make volunteer choices. We wanted them to truly volunteer. Of course, we can’t shield them from future employers using the voluntell tactic, but my kids are familiar with the process. Perhaps they will continue to raise their hand without being told.


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