by Chris Black
20th Century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr often wrote about the divine paradox of self-fulfillment. Simply stated, in order to be truly happy and contented in any human endeavor, you must first find a way for your actions to serve others. For me the greatest satisfaction I find in working wood comes when it helps other people. Finding ways to use your woodworking talent to serve and bless others can paradoxically help you achieve the greatest amount of personal joy.
Here are some ways to make it happen:
Often when we get the notion to do something altruistic we become overwhelmed with the scope of the task. Where do we begin? How do I start? Rather than reinventing the wheel every time, it's often more fruitful to join an organization or group thatÕs already established. Getting plugged into an existing group provides you immediate involvement without the organizational growing pains.
As a young carpenter, I found groups like Habitat for Humanity a perfect fit for my skill set. The projects took place on my days off. All I had to do was show up with my tool belt and a willingness to help, and the staff took care of the rest. Even though I was never paid for my work, the benefits I received were immeasurable. I could tangibly see the value of my work in the community and its incredible impact on the lives of all those involved. As a matter of fact, I first met the woman I married at a Habitat meeting.
Local guilds are another way to get plugged in. Woodworking guilds usually have programs in place that offer many opportunities for service. One local guild encourages members to make wooden toys throughout the year that are distributed to kids at local hospitals during the holidays. Another group passes out small gifts to kids at woodworking shows to encourage membership and to promote woodworking with kids.
Guilds provide a great opportunity to share your knowledge about woodworking with beginners and novices. Demonstrations are a great way to meet and bless others and pass on your skills. One of my favorite demonstration venues is the "Back to Bethlehem" living history show that some churches put on during the holidays. There's always a woodworking shop of some kind with someone demonstrating traditional techniques.
Often opportunities to serve happen outside the group. You may become aware of a need from a friend or neighbor of someone who could use help from a person with your gifts. My kids are always bringing flyers home from school with some project or craft need. Sometimes it's building a set for a play, or a donating a craft item for a silent auction fundraiser. Lately I've been making small gift items ahead of time and storing them, as these auctions seem to be getting more and more popular.
Kids love spending time in the shop. Check out our article in the October 2007 Wood News. They could be your kids or your grandkids, but working wood with kids is always time well spent. Here at Highland we sometimes donate our time, talent and resources to local Scouts. Helping members of a troop earn a skill award or merit badge is community involvement that pays many wonderful dividends.
Service can take many forms. What does it look like? It may be as simple as sharpening a neighbor's kitchen knives or as elaborate as planning a Habitat project. Your time investment might be a weekend or a fulltime retirement position. For the most part it's a heart issue and may be an attitude that's not so much inborn as it is learned. The more you do, the more youÕll want to do. I've often said that woodworkers are among the most generous people I know. Think how many times a friend has shown you how to perform some task, or offered to plane something larger than your machine could handle? Go forth and do ye likewise.