Josephus, First Century Jew, Corroborates the Gospels

The Jewish historian Josephus was a first-century spin doctor, but he’s also a slam dunk of a historical resource
Jimmy Akin

The Jewish historian Josephus was a first-century spin doctor who can be counted upon to put himself and his people in a favorable light, even if it means fudging the facts at times.

But how accurate is Josephus when neither his nor the Jewish people’s reputation is on the line?

After all, the majority of the historical statements he makes in his writings don’t have a direct bearing on making someone look good.

What should we make of it, for example, when he tells us the date on which an event occurred, such as his statement that Roman forces under the leadership of Titus burned the Jewish temple in Jerusalem on the tenth day of the Macedonian month of Loos (War 6:5:4[250])?

In this case, we’re fortunate to have other information we can use to evaluate Josephus’s statement.

In the first place, he’s undeniably right that the temple was destroyed by Romans, as we have references to this in other sources (e.g., Cassius Dio, Roman Histories 69:12:1).

The Macedonian month of Loos fell in the July/August timeframe, and it was equivalent to the Jewish month of Ab. Here again, we find Josephus confirmed by other sources, for the Rabbis commemorated the destruction of the temple in Ab.

But what about the day? On this subject, there is a discrepancy between Josephus and other sources, but only a slight one. According to Josephus, the temple was burned on the tenth day of Ab, while according to the rabbis, it was the ninth day.

What could account for this discrepancy?

One proposal is that Josephus adjusted the date by one day, because Jeremiah indicates that the original temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians on the tenth of Ab (Jer. 52:12-13). Perhaps Josephus wanted to underscore the divine drama of the situation by having the second temple destroyed on the same day as the first.

This is a possibility, but it is not the only one. It may not have been Josephus who harmonized the dates of the temple’s destructions, but the Rabbis, for the Babylonian Talmud lists both as occurring on the ninth of Ab (b. Ta‘anit 4:5[C]).

It is possible that Josephus, the rabbis, or both are harmonizing the dates of the temple’s first and second destructions by adjusting by one day—or it is possible that the temple was destroyed on the same day both times. If so, it remains ambiguous whether one or both destructions occurred on the ninth or the tenth.

But notice what we’re contemplating here—the difference of a single day!

In the grand scheme of things, that is not a lot. What we can say is that we have confirmation that Josephus was right that the temple was destroyed by Romans, he was right about the month in which it occurred, and—with a possible variance of a single day—he was right about when in the month it took place.

That’s quite substantial accuracy for an ancient historian!

Josephus mentions numerous other things that can be confirmed from other sources, including several that will be familiar to readers of the New Testament.

For example, he mentions a taxation that took place under the Roman governor Quirinius “in the thirty-seventh year of Caesar’s victory over Anthony at Actium”—i.e., A.D. 6 (Antiquities 18:2:1[26]).

This taxation is also mentioned in the Gospels (Luke 2:2), though there are questions about precisely what Luke is saying about it.

Josephus also mentions John the Baptist, who he says “was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away of some sins, but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness” (18:5:2[117]).

Josephus also records that John was killed by Herod Antipas, for he “feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), [so he] thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause. . . . Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure against him” (18:5:2[118-119]; cf. Luke 3:1-14, Mark 6:14-29).

In addition, Josephus reports an event mentioned in the book of Acts (12:20-23), which is the unusual death of King Herod Agrippa I in A.D. 43.

Josephus’s account is significantly longer than Luke’s, and he adds details not mentioned in Acts. Both state that Herod was stricken ill at a meeting with dignitaries, which Josephus indicates was a festival in Caesarea.

Luke mentions that Herod was wearing royal clothing, and Josephus states: “On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him” (19:8:2[344]).

Both accounts indicate that the crowd then acclaimed Herod a god, with Josephus saying, “And presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another (though not for his good), that he was a god; and they added, ‘Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature’” (19:8:2[345]).

Both accounts state that Herod did not reject this divine acclamation, and that his refusal led to his death as a divine punishment. Josephus states: “A severe pain also arose in his belly and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, ‘I whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death.’ . . . And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life” (19:8:2[346-347, 350]).

As one would expect from different historical sources, Josephus mentions different details than are provided in other sources—including the Gospels and Acts—and offers his own interpretations of events.

However, the fact that many of Josephus’s statements can be verified from other sources provides historians with a significant level of confidence in what he records.

As with any source, it is necessary to know both the way in which ancient history was written and the idiosyncrasies of Josephus as an author—allowing him to be read in a critical manner—but he remains an extremely valuable historic

Biblical view of thankfulness / gratitude?

The Bible has much to say about thankfulness. Giving thanks to God is of such fundamental importance that the Bible mentions the failure to do so as part of the basis for God’s judgment against mankind (Romans 1:21). First Thessalonians 5:16–18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Thankfulness should be characteristic of Christians.

Temporal blessings are grounds for gratitude to both God and others. We should thank God for the earthly things He provides to us. He is responsible for the fact that we are even alive and blesses us with much more beyond that (Matthew 6:25–34). We can also thank other people for their acts of kindness, gifts, and love toward us. It is good to acknowledge the efforts of others and to demonstrate our gratitude.

Far beyond any temporal blessings, we are thankful to God for His spiritual blessings. Foremost, we are grateful for His gift of salvation. Apart from Jesus Christ we only deserve eternity in hell (Romans 6:23; John 3:16–18). But while we were still God’s enemies, dead in the filth of our sins, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to make atonement for us (Romans 5:10). It is good and right that we continually give thanks to God for this.

Salvation involves more than rescue from hell; God has given us eternal spiritual blessings by uniting us to Jesus Christ through faith (Ephesians 1:3). If we are in Christ, we have received forgiveness of sins, adoption into God’s family, and eternal life (Ephesians 1:3–14). We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). God has equipped us with all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3–4). He has given us His Holy Spirit to indwell us (John 14:16–17). The list of spiritual blessings we receive from God could go on, and each thing on that list is a cause for gratitude. All that we have been freely given by God through our union with Christ ought to cause us to cry out, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

However, it is not only what we perceive to be positive that should cause us to thank God. Thankfulness is so crucial to the Christian life that it is one of the things we are commanded to do always and in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We should thank God in trials, temptations, and tribulations as well (James 1:1–4). This is one of the most important lessons for a Christian to learn if he or she would be truly joyful, content, and peaceful.

Why would anyone be thankful for such terrible things as trials? The answer is that even bad things work together for the ultimate good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). How? Because the ultimate goal of the Christian is to be conformed to the image of Christ; and God uses trials, temptations, and tribulations to grow us and mold us into the likeness of Christ. God uses trials to make us stronger. God uses temptations and tribulations to test and purify our faith. God is also faithful to be with us in the midst of trials. The suffering of this world caused by sin grieves the heart of God. Yet He equips us to endure under it and He redeems it for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. Therefore, we can and ought to thank God for what He is doing through even the most painful circumstances. Even in death, a Christian can give thanks, for death brings the believer the gain of being brought immediately into the presence of Jesus (Philippians 1:21–23). A proper understanding of God’s sovereignty and His providence in working all things together for the good of those who love Him is a bedrock of thanksgiving; such a perspective is also the antidote for ingratitude and complaining (Philippians 2:12–16).

We have so many reasons to thank God, and yet it is a far too rare practice for many. Complaining and grumbling come all too easy for us. Rather than look at what is lacking in our lives, may we learn to thank God in everything realizing that God owes us nothing and yet has graciously given us all things in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31–32; Ephesians 1:3–14; 2 Peter 1:3). Jesus pointed out both the importance and the rarity of thanksgiving when only one of the ten lepers that He healed returned to thank Him. We would do well to imitate that one former leper (Luke 17:11–19). For in a spiritual sense, we are all born lepers with the disfiguring and alienating disease called sin. Yet, Christ voluntarily took on the punishment due to our ingratitude, the bruises due to our iniquities, and the stripes due to our sins.

Thankfulness is the only proper response to such lavish grace. Our lives and every good thing in them are gifts from God (James 1:17). We have done and can do nothing to deserve these gifts (Job 41:11). We are forever debtors to God and to His grace which reached its zenith in His sacrificing His only Son for our salvation (John 3:16–17). The eternal life that we have received through faith in Jesus deserves an eternity of gratitude (John 3:15).

Women scholars discuss danger of redefining women

Notre Dame Panel Libresco, Favle and Bachiochi during the “The Dignity of the Sexed Body: Asymmetry, Equality, and Real Reproductive Justice” panel Nov. 13. | Steve Toepp / University of Notre Dame

Efforts to redefine women undermine their feminine dignity and unjustly pressure them to resort to abortions to keep pace with men in the workforce, a panel of women scholars said earlier this month in a discussion that highlighted the harmful consequences of de-sexing society.

Titled “The Dignity of the Sexed Body: Asymmetry, Equality, and Real Reproductive Justice,” the Nov. 13 discussion took place at the 21st annual fall conference of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, and featured presentations by English professor Abigail Favale, legal scholar Erika Bachiochi, and writer Leah Libresco Sargeant.

Favale, the dean of the College of Humanities at George Fox University, in Newberg, Ore., spoke about the dangers of divorcing the terms “woman” and “female.”

Currently, she noted, “defining a woman as an adult human female is considered hate speech” by some, and use of the terms “pregnant woman” or “breastfeeding” can be labeled discriminatory. Yet “appropriating the identity of a woman is considered laudatory, liberating, the next frontier of civil rights,” she said.

“[I]f woman no longer names the billions of persons who are female, how do we speak about them?” Favale asked.

Apparently, the answer is not so easy. Favale cited three failed definitions as proof.

One, from the Australian Academy of Sciences, defines a woman as “anyone who identifies as a woman.” A second definition, offered by British philosopher Katherine Jenkins, is someone who “experiences the norms that are associated with women in her social context as relevant to her.”

A third definition comes from trans-identified person Susan Striker, who says a woman is “useful shorthand for the entanglement of femininity and social status regardless of biology — not as an identity, but as the name for an imagined community that honors the female, enacts the feminine and exceeds the limitations of a sexist society.”

Favale says these definitions unseat the dignity of women in a deeply disquieting manner.

Libresco, Favle and Bachiochi during the “The Dignity of the Sexed Body: Asymmetry, Equality, and Real Reproductive Justice” panel Nov. 13. Steve Toepp / University of Notre Dame
Libresco, Favle and Bachiochi during the “The Dignity of the Sexed Body: Asymmetry, Equality, and Real Reproductive Justice” panel Nov. 13. Steve Toepp / University of Notre Dame

“The most stunning aspect of this linguistic insurrection is the unnaming of female humans,” she said. “To quote Helen Joyce: The quest for the liberation of people with female bodies has arrived at an extraordinary position: that they do not even constitute a group that merits a name.”

The divorce between woman and adult human female also puts women in physical danger, Favale argued.

Women are the primary beneficiaries of the “few sex segregated spaces that continue to exist in western, liberal democracies — bathrooms, locker rooms, prisons, shelters, sports teams — [and] all of those exist for the benefit of women who are more vulnerable to sexual assault and harrasment,” she said.

Driving Energy Efficiency in Low-income Countries

Nov 22, 2021

Credit market failures could slow energy efficiency adoption in low-income countries, according to a new research paper titled “Credit, Attention, and Externalities in the Adoption of Energy Efficient Technologies by Low-Income Households.”

Low-income households face credit constraints in adopting energy efficient technologies, which policymakers may address with financing programs and subsidies, according to the paper. The paper’s authors are Susanna B. Berkouwer, Wharton professor of business economics and public policy, and Joshua T. Dean, professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Berkouwer and Dean generated these findings during a recent 14-month study of the adoption of energy efficient charcoal cookstoves among 1,018 low-income households around Nairobi, Kenya. They selected a popular brand of energy efficient cookstoves called Jikokoa and offered them to participants at a subsidized price. More than 500 households opted for it. The cookstove is designed with improved insulation for better heat retention.

Using data collected across four survey rounds, the researchers estimated that the households that switched from traditional charcoal cookstoves to the energy efficient alternative saw a 40% reduction in charcoal spending, saving the average household $118 a year. The authors put that in context: Those households have an average monthly income of $120. The Jikokoa cookstove retails for $40, so the savings corresponded to a 300% annual rate of return on investment.

Despite those gains, households without access to credit were willing to pay only an average of $12 up front for the cookstove that retails for $40. But the group with access to credit was willing to pay $25 to buy the stove. “The main barrier to adopting the more energy efficient stove is just money. People don’t have the cash on hand,” said Berkouwer.

Dimensions of Financial Constraints

The median household in the study spent 20% of its budget on energy, compared to 3.5% for the median American household and more than 7% for the poorest Americans. With those high energy costs, the “attention to savings” may already be high for low-income families, the paper noted. Unlike similar studies in rich countries, inattentiveness to the savings did not contribute to low willingness to pay, Berkouwer pointed out.

Carbon taxes might not be effective in low-income settings where people face credit constraints, the paper pointed out. Policymakers could expand access to credit in order to increase adoption of energy efficient technologies among low-income households. But the authors note that this path has obstacles, including “information asymmetry and adverse selection in credit markets, and the informal nature of many low-income economies.”

Instead, the authors recommended subsidies on energy efficient technologies. Berkouwer said those subsidies could apply to both households and manufacturers of cookstoves. Some manufacturers, like Burn Manufacturing, which makes the Jikokoa stove, already get subsidies through carbon offsets, Berkouwer added. Burn is also working with women’s groups in Kenya to find new ways to provide loans. Women accounted for 95% of the respondents in the study.

“The main barrier to adopting the more energy efficient stove is just money. People don’t have the cash on hand.” –Susanna B. Berkouwer

Berkouwer said the energy efficient cookstove also brought health benefits. Compared to traditional charcoal cookstoves, the energy efficient variant uses half of the charcoal and generates half of the smoke. “Respiratory disease is one of the main killers in a lot of low-income communities.” Berkouwer and colleagues are planning a large, follow-up health study of the households they tracked, where they would measure indicators like blood pressure and blood oxygen levels.

Why Focus on Low-income Countries?

Identifying the optimal policies to promote the adoption of energy efficiency in lower income contexts is important because almost all growth in global energy demand in the next several decades is expected to come from low- and middle-income countries, the paper stated, citing International Energy Agency data. Also, in Kenya specifically, more than two-thirds of households still use traditional wood and charcoal stoves as their primary cooking technology with “significant negative health consequences,” the paper pointed out.

A growing number of low-income countries are implementing carbon taxes to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and local environmental pollutants, the paper noted. South Africa, Chile, and Mexico have all enacted a carbon tax since 2014, each covering at least 40% of domestic greenhouse gas emissions, it added.

Biden’s America Becoming Third World In Crime?

By Naveen Athrappully November 24, 2021 
Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said Tuesday that theft is a growing problem in the company’s stores, and the aggressive behavior displayed by shoplifters is “traumatizing” staff members, which has led to retention issues in the otherwise tight labor market.

Barry told Wall Street analysts on a conference call to discuss earnings that criminals often carry in weapons like guns or crowbars and threaten employees and customers. Consumer electronics have reported an increase in organized crime, according to the CEO.

“This is traumatizing for our associates and is unacceptable,” Barry said on the call. “We are doing everything we can to try to create [an] as-safe-as-possible environment.”

A common tactic is a loosely-formed gang of criminals who burst into the store and make off with an entire shelf’s worth of high-value goods, which they then resell. Barry said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” that the crime surge has begun to hit the company’s bottom line and its ability to retain staff.

Best Buy has reported fourth-quarterly earnings below expectations although shares have gained nearly 40 percent this year despite the supply chain crisis and resulting shortages.

Barry mentioned that San Francisco and other parts of California were “hot spots” for criminal activity but there were problematic areas in other parts of the country as well.

Organized Shoplifting

The Best Buy CEO’s comments come days after a dramatic criminal attack on a Nordstrom store in Walnut Creek, California. On Saturday, a gang of 80 thugs pulled up to the store, blockaded the entry, and ransacked the luxury store. Employees were assaulted in the raid, which was over within a minute.

Then there was another incident with a Nordstrom store in The Grove retail and entertainment complex in Los Angeles where a group of thieves smashed windows, triggering a police pursuit. Three people have been taken into custody.

The thefts are reportedly part of organized crime networks that recruit mostly young men for $500 to $1,000 to steal high-value store merchandise. The goods are then shipped to other parts of the country or resold online. The number of crimes has seen an increase during the holiday season, according to law enforcement officials.

Retail security guards are not equipped to handle such aggressive criminal behavior. They’re not trained to subdue suspects or pursue them, but instead, to simply “observe and report,” according to mall security expert David Levenberg.

“The value of the merchandise is not worth somebody being injured or killed,” he told ABC News.

Levenberg added that cities with progressive prosecutors like Los Angeles and San Francisco are the hardest hit. “The consequences are minimal and the profits are substantial,” said Levenberg.

Many do not consider the recent spate of thefts in places like San Francisco as “shoplifting” because the term denotes an effort to conceal the crime.

One of the reasons behind this increase in criminal behavior is that, according to California state law, stealing merchandise worth $950 or less is just a misdemeanor, which means police won’t bother to go after the criminals. In cases when they do, and capture the perpetrator, prosecutors will let it go.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a new law in which he made shoplifting, even below $950, a crime but only when an organized syndicate is behind it and they plan to resell the stolen goods.

Volunteerism Enhances Workplace Skills

The idea of fostering learning through service is surprisingly controversial. Employers should plan carefully.

Image courtesy of Anna Godeassi/

Attract and retain top talent, boost morale, build brand awareness, give back to the community — these are among the most common reasons companies support employee volunteering, often through flexible scheduling or paid time off.1 But a new rationale is emerging: If managed appropriately, volunteer work for a charitable cause can help employees develop valuable capabilities that can be put to use at work.

Skills-based volunteering is a rapidly growing channel through which businesses engage in corporate citizenship.2 Traditional volunteer activities (serving people at a soup kitchen, for instance, or planting trees) tend to leverage general competencies. Skills-based volunteering, on the other hand, involves applying job-related expertise in specialized areas such as marketing, project management, and IT and often enables participants to acquire new skills along the way.

Several studies have found that there are positive outcomes for the volunteers, too (although research that focuses on skills-based volunteering is sparse). For instance, when employees frequently apply their professional skills, they find their volunteer assignments more valuable and report higher levels of skill development.5 And when they acquire new skills, they feel they are more likely to succeed in their jobs.6 The inverse appears to be true as well: When employees do not learn from volunteering, their job performance actually suffers.7

Ultimately, though, declaring skills-based volunteering to be a clear win-win-win is overly simplistic. Despite the positive implications overall for talent development, this body of research does not shed light on how people respond when their organization explicitly positions volunteering as a way to develop or acquire skills. But such positioning matters. Since employees can, depending on their outlooks, either embrace or derail corporate programs, we decided to examine their responses to employers’ efforts and messaging around volunteering.

Our early findings show that skills-based volunteering programs can backfire if employees believe that profiting — in this case, through improved employee performance — is the real aim. The very notion of skills-based volunteering may, at least for some, undermine the purpose of volunteering: to give, not to gain.

We spent one year investigating two companies that deliberately folded volunteering into learning and development initiatives. Both had clear policies and internal marketing campaigns that stressed the link between volunteering and skill development, and employees were encouraged to note their volunteering efforts in their performance reviews. Alongside our observations and informal discussions with managers and with employees who were volunteering, we conducted interviews with the corporate relations teams, facilitated focus groups, and interviewed volunteers across different geographic locations.

The responses to our questions about developing skills through volunteering were surprising. Although prior survey-based research has found a correlation between skill development and positive impressions of volunteer activities, in our qualitative investigation, employees did not naturally make the connection on their own.8 In fact, many admitted that they had never thought about learning from volunteering before. For about two-thirds of our interviewees, the interview process itself helped them identify and articulate how and what they had learned.

Even more surprisingly, the remaining third of our interviewees responded defensively or expressed outright anger at the suggestion that volunteering could be used for personal or employer gain. These volunteers were enraged by the idea that volunteering could be anything more than giving back to the community and refused to view it as an opportunity to develop skills.

What explains the difference in responses? Our analysis suggests that it depends on how people interpret their employers’ motives. We’ll discuss why in more detail — but first, let’s take a closer look at each type of response.

When Giving Back Turns to Blowback

The interviewees who had the most extreme responses got angry when asked whether they had gained skills from volunteering. One volunteer was adamant that volunteering and skill development should be “completely separate” and snapped, “OK, I’m going to throw that back at you. … How would you answer that question?” In a sharp tone, he insisted, “I wanted to volunteer purely to offer my own personal assistance,” and he accused management of being immoral for suggesting that volunteering is a route to skill development. Another volunteer asserted that the motive for volunteering should be altruism and that “adulation from your manager or department … is totally irrelevant.”

These volunteers displayed what anthropologist Ward Goodenough would have called moral outrage: anger, disgust, or frustration directed toward those perceived to have violated one’s ethical standards.9 It seems that this response surged in some of our volunteers because they felt that our question challenged their moral identity and integrity: They questioned how the business could think that their work with charities was motivated by anything but a desire to help others. One volunteer who said, “[I want to] make my point very clear,” stated, “For me, it’s about putting into the community; it’s not enough to say, ‘Well, I am going to put into the community if I get something back out of it.’” Although these volunteers found their experiences meaningful and important, many said they were insulted by the suggestion that they or their companies could gain from volunteering. They happily donated their skills but were aghast at the thought of developing new ones in the process. With a raised voice, one volunteer argued, “It’s not about developing me as a person for the benefit of my company; it is about using my skills to give back to the community.” We found that moral outrage was strongly associated with outright rejection of the idea that learning could, did, or would take place.

Others made comments that amounted to what behavioral scientist Chris Argyris would have called defensive routines: actions or responses designed to avoid threat. As Argyris pointed out, defensive routines prevent learning because they inhibit reflection, stop conversations short, and deflect attention from a perceived attack.10 “Oh, that’s interesting,” is one example that came up repeatedly in our interviews. Others included “Right, OK,” “It could be a good idea,” and “Aha.” Such replies, coupled with defensive body language (crossed arms and body shifts to the sides of chairs), signaled indifference, filled in the blank spaces of a conversation without supplying substance, and ultimately shut down the discussion. When probed about learning from the experience, many volunteers refused to engage and simply reiterated their personal moral motive: “You don’t volunteer for the benefits for you.”

Making Sense of Learning From Volunteering

Now let’s consider the approximately two-thirds of volunteers who responded with curiosity rather than hostility or defensiveness. For instance, one stated, “I have never thought about volunteering as me learning something; volunteering, in my mind, is always like giving up my time to help others.” At least initially, many volunteers did not focus on the fact that activities such as participating in mentorship opportunities, delivering job preparation workshops, or serving on a nonprofit organization’s board enabled them to leverage their existing skill sets or gain new ones.

As the interviews progressed, though, we noticed that these volunteers embarked on a sensemaking journey.11 They reflected on their experiences, rationalized their activities, connected the dots between volunteering and learning, and acknowledged that volunteering had changed their behavior at work. Sensemaking is critical for learning; research shows that people who don’t deliberately process their experiences are much less likely to learn from them.12 Our respondents noted how the interview process aided their sensemaking. One pointed out, “I think that just talking to you, what I am realizing is that we are doing this volunteering and most people participating probably aren’t understanding what they are learning from it, including myself.”

Once interviewees started to make sense of their experiences, they were able to articulate how and what they had learned. Take, for example, a business manager who discussed his volunteer experience as chair of a nonprofit group that supports vulnerable youth who are called to legal hearings. “Absolutely, volunteering has given me skills to bring into the organization. I think the biggest skill is facilitation,” he said, noting that he has grown by “developing empathy and [an] understanding of other people’s circumstances and bringing that to my day-to-day role.”

Many volunteers emphasized the acquisition of soft skills, such as resilience, leadership, and team building, rather than technical skills. For instance, an HR manager who volunteers in a mentorship program for young entrepreneurs commented that seeing progress in her mentee “has given me confidence that my advice and skill set [are] helpful.” She acknowledged that “volunteering makes you a much more compassionate person” and that as she gets older, “it becomes much more important to flex those skill sets.” Developing soft skills is an important benefit to identify, because such skills are hard to teach in a training environment and transfer into practice — and leadership skills in particular are more likely to be acquired through action and reflection.13

Sensemaking not only enables learning but also prompts individuals to springboard into action and ask, “What now?”14 We found that volunteers discussed the potential to gain and share skills in ways that they had not considered before. For instance, a customer service analyst, who volunteers as an event facilitator (selling tickets, distributing flyers, and orienting guests) for a children’s hospital, felt that her business skills were underutilized. She stated, “I think some skills-based volunteering would be really rewarding. … I think that would be really good, actually, to do something like that.” She mentioned that she would look for opportunities to volunteer as a mentor to “help somebody in Excel skills … which is stuff that I do day in and day out.” She thought that mentorship could also develop her people-management skills by providing her with opportunities to appreciate different learning styles and to practice communicating clearly. Once interviewees had made sense of skills-based volunteering, many suggested that they would seek, as one put it, “volunteering that fits in with what I want to give and gain.”

What makes intelligent people intelligent?

  • Intelligent people see what could be, common sense people see what is
  • Intelligent people think abstractly, common sense people think practically
  • Intelligent people think unilaterally, connecting multiple fields of study. Common sense people focus on a niche and add to the same topic
  • Intelligent people focus on statistics, common sense people focus on the experience
  • Intelligent people push limits, common sense people take advantage of what already is established
  • Intelligent people think inside-out, common sense people think outside-in
  • Intelligent people blend things, common sense people keep things in their separate boxes
  • Intelligent people take risks, common sense people prefer the security
  • Intelligent people see second and third-order effects, common sense people a continuation of the same effect
  • Intelligent people connect unlike things, common sense people connect like things
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