Young Australians are determined that they are generous, giving and civic minded. They recognise that the rest of society views them as selfish and self-absorbed and are resentful of such perceptions. It is an inherently unfair label and very far from the truth as they see it.
They love sharing examples of their good deed and those they cite revolve mostly around volunteering for causes. The overwhelming favourite is overseas charity work, like spending time in an orphanage or helping build houses or a school in a third world community. Or they will volunteer for the SAS or rural fire brigade. Some will do work related to their field, like working in a legal aid centre or an optometry clinic with indigenous communities.
A clear pattern emerges as they talk about their altruistic experiences. They are not purely one sided. This is, after all, a transactional generation, having grown up in a society they view as extremely competitive and more cut throat than previous generations observe. They expect something back, even when giving.
While there are plenty, of course, who do the right thing for the right reason, as a generation this is simply not the case.
In their volunteerism they expect a return in two ways, both of which relate to building their CVS. They seek experiences which offer adventures and personal growth opportunities thereby enhancing their life skills, or ones that directly contribute to improving their CVs thereby making them more appealing to employers. Volunteering in a third world country is ultimately an adventure. They get to stay in interesting places and share their time with interesting people. Volunteering for SAS, for example, provides kudos, respect and the opportunity to learn and show off masculine skills.
The other way young people most often engage in charities is through events for which they fund raise – fun runs, a long distance cycle or breakfast for a good cause. Here too they enjoy the participation with others, the group atmosphere and experience.
Asked a hypothetical question their motivations become apparent. Would they be willing to contribute by doing something seemingly very menial and about which no one would know? The answer is invariably negative.
When it comes to the actual giving of money to a charity they are far more reticent. They will give a gold or coin or two if asked on the street or at their door. But few will go out of their way to do so. They rationalise this by blaming charities and the fact they are not to be trusted. They waste money and spend it on administration and marketing rather than a good cause is what they say.
I do not mean to diminish the good work of volunteer projects. Just to call a spade a spade when it comes to the reasons behind such good participation.
And it does raise some questions for the future. Firstly, what will happen to those charities who by nature cannot offer exciting adventures to their volunteers? And secondly, what will happen to donations if young people are indeed setting a trend for the future?
The attitudes held by young Australians contrast widely to those held by older Australians. Retirees are a generation of volunteers en masse. And while they too speak of the benefits the gain by doing so, fundamentally they believe in giving back to a society which has given them so much and rendered them the lucky generation.