Every January, my wife and I find ourselves discussing the topic of volunteerism. We both view volunteering for others as a noble, selfless effort, and we typically end up feeling guilty by December for not having done enough of it throughout the year. So, as is the case with many people, it winds right back up at the top of our list of New Year’s resolutions, along with the very best of intentions of meeting or even surpassing a specified goal.
Yet — also like many others — we ultimately fall short of that goal.
But I have to tell you, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve begun to question the merits and rewards of volunteerism. I’ve been wondering if this whole “stepping up for others” thing may be a bit overrated, and whether or not helping someone out of a bad situation is really the soul-cleansing experience it’s cracked up to be.
I realize how terrible this sounds, but hear me out.
I was first given pause while watching Netflix’s Fyre Festival documentary. The film detailed the infamous, ill-fated event organized by entrepreneur (and now convicted fraudster) Billy McFarland. One of the interesting things about McFarland was how inclined people (even those that didn’t know him particularly well) were to help him achieve his highly ambitious enterprise of pulling off a high-end concert on a remote private island supposedly once owned by drug trafficker Pablo Escobar.
A lot was said about McFarland’s charisma and flashy wealth, which assuredly had a magnetic effect on those who met him (I’ve heard that kind of thing happens from time to time), but it was fascinating to listen to individuals talk about a celebration of elites as if it were a humanitarian cause.
For example, those who’ve seen the documentary will likely remember a man named Andy King who was invited onto the project merely as a mentor for McFarland. King was a real trooper — a man who, when asked in a rather graphic way to secure four impounded trucks of bottled water for attendees, wasn’t going to let his crew and the cause down. Where most of us would have responded with an easy “no” or a much more appropriate “hell no,” King was prepared to go far above and beyond the call of duty and his obligations as an adviser.
Hydration is important of course, but King set a standard for volunteerism and selflessness that very few could live up to, while reminding us that service to others isn’t necessarily personally rewarding or good for the soul.
But what really grabbed my attention the other day that was the revelation that Roger Stone, the former Trump adviser being federally prosecuted (on counts of making false statements, obstruction, and witness tampering), has about a half-dozen volunteers providing daily services inside his home.
I kid you not. Stone said this in court the other day, presumably while under oath.
Now, before I get too far into this topic, I should probably state, as a matter of full disclosure, that Stone wrote about me in one of his books:
Sure, he misidentified me as a “reporter,” but I promise that I don’t hold that against him. People make mistakes.
Anyway, Stone spoke of his volunteers on Thursday morning, as he explained a recent post on his Instagram account to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
The posted image (taken from a different website), which was up for about an hour on the social media app before being taken down, showed Judge Jackson (who is presiding over Stone’s case) with a crosshair symbol beside her head. Naturally, many took the display to be of a threatening nature, thus there was some consideration by the judge as to whether or not the stunt had violated Stone’s terms of release.
“I am hurtfully sorry for my own stupidity,” Stone told Jackson in court. “I am kicking myself, not as much as my wife is kicking me.” He later referred to the post as a “momentary lapse of judgement.”
Citing stress from his prosecution, Stone added, “I heard political commentators talking about the likelihood that I’ll be raped in prison. It’s been a stressful situation. I’m having a hard time putting food on the table and making rent.”
It appears that when others turn to food or alcohol to calm their nerves, Stone turns to Google Images.
Anyway, let’s get to the volunteerism part of this story.
The image in question was downloaded to Stone’s phone, where it was then uploaded to Instagram. Only it wasn’t technically Stone who had posted the item. It was done by one of his volunteers. And because Stone has so many of these volunteers coming in and out of his home at any given time (“five or six” by his estimation), he couldn’t remember which one of them had performed the operation. Furthermore, because of everything that’s going on in his life, he couldn’t remember any of their names.
Again, this is all according to Stone. And because the president of our great nation has repeatedly vouched for Stone’s character and “guts” (when he’s not reminding us that the Mueller investigation that led to Stone’s arrest is a “Russian hoax”), we should of course give Mr. Stone the full benefit of the doubt.
So here’s the question I have: Is volunteering inside Roger Stone’s house a personally fulfilling venture? Is it good for the soul?
I hate to say it, but I have my doubts.
Now, from Stone’s perspective, I can certainly appreciate the need. He strikes me as the kind of guy who requires a fair amount of personal assistance. And if he is indeed having a tough time making rent (as he told Judge Jackson), he could understandably use any amount of free help that he can get. Sure, some people might scoff at the notion that Stone needs a half dozen such volunteers, but I beg to differ, and here’s why:
As we saw with the Instagram post, Stone is very active on social media. This is increasingly important now because he uses his accounts to plead for donations to help offset his defense costs. Downloading and uploading images, as well as typing long captions and selecting the proper emojis, can take up a heck of a lot of time — time that Stone could much better spend dressing up like James Bond for professional photo shoots. Thus, why wouldn’t Stone use a volunteer to handle the tech stuff, while he shakes-not-stirs in front of the lens?
Speaking of dressing up, have any of us actually ever seen Stone tie one of his signature bow ties? Like a lot of us, he may not know how. I imagine his attorneys probably would (forgive me for perpetuating a stereotype), but they’re obviously busy with the legal stuff. This is why having a volunteer in the home to provide such a service is invaluable. I’ve also heard that an extra set of hands can be helpful when fastening on suspenders.
From a broader perspective, being as sensitive to fashion as Roger Stone is requires a fair amount of time in itself. I would imagine his various walk-in closets filled with tailored suits, unreasonably large hats, and impractical sunglasses are a real chore to keep up with. An unpaid clothing organizer must be a godsend.
The same would assuredly be true for managing Stone’s vast collection of Richard Nixon memorabilia. And we haven’t even touched on all the acupuncture and cosmetic work yet, which is known to consume a fair amount of Stone’s time.
So yeah, Stone is undeniably a worthy recipient of this level of volunteerism. But again, some questions are in order.
Can each of the volunteers who perform these services for Stone go home at night (assuming they’re not working the night shift), look into the mirror, and testify to the old saying that the more you give, the more you get?
Are these individuals able to sleep at night, knowing that Stone’s time outside of prison walls may be limited, and that their noble, unpaid efforts in assisting with the daily operations of a federally-charged, eccentric opposition researcher with nefarious foreign connections may ultimately be a lost cause?
I worry about these folks, because if they can’t fill their souls and warm their hearts through giving in the true spirit of volunteerism, how can the rest of us ever hope to?
I will have to ponder this further.