A virtual show of hands from those who have experienced the following
scenario: You're subscribed to a low-volume announce list on a
subject that interests you. One day, you check your mail, and discover
you've suddenly been subscribed to the dev list, an extremely busy
list that's filled your mailbox with scores of messages. You make some
discrete queries, and discover an error was made when the list was moved to
another list manager. Furthermore, you discover that the list manager has
taken the position that it is your responsibility to take whatever
steps are necessary to remove your e-mail from the new list.
All well and good, except you believe that it isn't your responsibility to
correct the mistake, and the list manager should own up to his/her mistake
and make it right. So you suggest, publicly, that the list manager correct
their mistake by either (1) comparing new and old list subscriptions, and
removing those that appeared in the new list after the move, or (2) remove
all subscriptions with a request that those who are interested can
resubscribe at their convenience.
Seems reasonable to me: Make a mistake, fix it. But then you receive a
scathing response from the list manager: "I'm a volunteer, I
maintain this list on my own time, there are thousands of
subscribers, and you dare suggest to me that I spend my valuable time
fixing the problem?"
It's then you realize the ugly specter of "volunteer affliction" has raised
its head. It's a malady which manifests itself in the thinking processes
of those who volunteer to do something for others. In the course of
spending one's valuable time in this volunteer work, the afflicted
individual begins to delude himself into believe that, as a volunteer, they
are no longer responsible for their own mistakes. The afflicted reason
this out by figuring that since they are spending their own valuable time
helping others, the others they are helping should be willing to spend
their own valuable time fixing the volunteer's mistakes.
I've seen this affliction over and over, yet nobody seems to recognize it
as a problem. Most of the time, those directly associated with the afflicted
volunteer will bob their heads in blind agreement, even going so far as
taking up the position themselves ("volunteer affliction by proxy"). So in
the end, you, who asks only that individuals be responsible for their own
actions, are mercilessly flamed as an ungrateful bastard undeserving of the
charity being offered.
One of the favorite defenses thrown up by the those with volunteer
affliction is the "until you've walked in my shoes" defense. Of course,
it's almost always the case that those volunteers who bring up this
defense know absolutely nothing about you, yet feel confident enough to throw
this in your face, as if your own personal time spent following an issue
isn't worth nearly as much as one who publicly brands themselves a
Is it really too much to ask that volunteers not only own up to mistakes
they might make, but to also take responsibility in fixing whatever
was broken? Since when did the title of "volunteer" automatically strip
oneself of culpability? Or am I (a volunteer myself, although I've never
brought it up as a defense for mistakes I've made) completely out of line?
To paraphrase from George R.R. Martin's excellent A Storm of Swords,
a young and petulant King Joffrey is apoplectic with fury at the way one of
his subjects has spoken to him. "He can't talk to me that way!" he
blusters. "I am a king!" To which his faithful right-hand Lord Tywin
replies, "If you have to call yourself a king, you're no king."