Despite the fact that I live in the same city, this past month has been a steep learning curve and a whirlwind of transitions. When I started writing this post I was listening to the sound of rain falling on the pavement and coffee brewing – and I had some really insightful thoughts. But now it’s a day later and it’s a Monday no less and the sun has set and somehow I’m still working and I definitely have no more original thoughts left in my brain – so instead I’m going to just summarize this great article I read. And I’m writing this all while listening to 5 Seconds of Summer on repeat, so yeah.
(This article will be helpful to read if you have ever volunteered at a soup kitchen, are a volunteer with a kids ministry, are a social work major, think about giving money to the homeless people on the street, go on mission trips, want to save the world, or if you happen to be an AmeriCorps member with an education nonprofit, like me.)
I’m surprised long work hours haven’t killed me yet, but I guess it’s because I’m surrounded by my two favorite types of people – students/youth who are inspiring and funny, and kindred spirits who are wired the same way as me and are passionate about youth empowerment and education.
In this line of work there’s a lot of joy and inspiration and warm fuzzies – also some anger and some heartache and some tears. Those things are a pretty obvious part of the work, but there are some things under the surface that are kind of left unsaid and a lot of questions that are seldom asked . One very questionable thing that I’ve been wondering a lot about lately is service (a term that I don’t particularly like, but will do in this discussion).
serv·ice; ˈsərvəs/: the action of helping or doing work for someone:
“It’s not, we’re told, about the money”
I laughed when I read this. I pictured some bright-eyed recent college-grad (not me?) patting herself on the back – ‘It’s not about the money!’ If it’s not about the money, then what’s it about? Helping other people?
Adam Davis summarizes the main reasons why people choose to give their lives to ‘service’:
1. We are all God’s children; by serving others we serve God
2. We are all children of the earth; there’s a principle of commonality
3. We identify with others, (I see you suffering and can’t help but imagine myself suffering)
4. We win praise by serving others- it earns me a good reputation
5. Guilt – “please let me serve you, perhaps I will suck somewhat less”
Why help people?
Somehow while writing this I’ve switched to listening to Sam Smith on repeat (this is more acceptable I think?) and I am becoming incredibly introspective and sad.
Service/helping people and the motivations behind it are incredibly complicated. The effects of service include much more than the act itself – and the questions you can ask about service are endless (Adam Davis came up with these, not me.):
Could the act of service be demeaning to the served? Does it matter, as long as the service is provided and the served receives what he/she needs?
Why is service good? Is it because of the aid it brings to those served? Are there act of service that make both the server and the served feel good but don’t necessarily have any external good? And if so, is that service still good?
Do some acts of service entrench and even extend the very gap they mean to bridge?
Ugliness in all
Anyone who knows me well enough (namely my mother) knows that I’ve always had a tendency to associate with reason #5 (Guilt) and sometimes #3 (Pride). Learning to serve others has been a long battle of wanting to love people, but knowing deep down that my true motivations are either A) so I can live with myself and sleep at night or B) so that my life accomplishments match the glamorous endeavors that will eventually go into the book I will write about my life.
“I serve you because I want to, I choose to, you receive my service because you have to, you need it. I live in the realm of freedom, you live in the realm of necessity. By serving you, I confirm my relative superiority. By being served, you confirm your inferiority. By my apparent act of humility, I raise myself up. The happiness, Nietzsche says, of slight superiority.”
When guilt and pride are your primary motivations, the good of the server remains primary, and the good of the served is secondary. Disclaimer: I am extremely proud of the organization I am a part of, and all the work that we do for students. That being said, if the questions listed above are never asked – we risk doing more harm than good. No one has perfect motivations, and no one should pretend to.
Beneficence vs. Nonmaleficence
Doing more harm than good is the last thing anyone wants, but is it better to do nothing?
The idea behind service is to move the way things are toward the way they ought to be.Some (perhaps all?) service activity might be both good and bad.
What am I trying to get at here? I really don’t know. At this point, I’ve switched back to listening to 5 Seconds of Summer. My brain hurts.
- Read this article
- Love my job. Love working with students.
- Is serving others always good? How do we serve others well?
- 5 Seconds of Summer > Sam Smith??