Being of Service?

Posted on October 28, 2007. Filed under: Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality |

Most of the spiritual and religious teachings I’ve encountered, as well as many of the secular/humanist ones admonish their adherents to “be of service” to some portion of humanity. There are many ways and definitions of “being of service”. I’ll discuss the most prominent ones I was taught.

There’s the one that goes: We should help those less fortunate than ourselves. There’s also this: Give back, to acknowledge the blessings you have received. Finally, there’s the one that’s a bit more obscure, but goes something like: The world is a circle (I dub this the “musical play philosophy” a la Lost Horizon or The Lion King) and in order to allow “energy to flow” rather than stagnate, you must give and receive, just as you must breathe in and out. OK. I’ll tackle these one at a time:

1. You must give to those less fortunate than you. My first reaction to statements like this is “Oh yeah, who says so?”, but I’ll try to be a bit mature, here, and state that I don’t believe there is anyone less fortunate than me. This could be interpreted as me being insultingly egocentric, or else a very sad sack, but I mean neither thing by it. I just don’t believe that fortune “smiles upon one and not another”. I consider myself to be enormously blessed in many ways. I have my cranky days, and my disappointing moments. But I also have all the resources of the Universe at my disposal, and I believe we all do, too. Moods, likes, dislikes and priorities are creative ways I and other humans have found to mold ideas into concepts, and then to create the reality around us. If we’re inspired to want to work for or give to an organization, cause, or person, I’m all for that. It’s just the sense of obligation I object to. For me, seeing someone as “less fortunate” creates a separation. If I start to see someone as less fortunate, it’s not a great leap to then start to see them as less deserving, less worthy, just “less” in so many ways. I do not want to relate to my fellow humans in that way.

2. You have received much, therefore it is your obligation to give back. There’s something to be said for “ebb and flow”; “yin and yang”. What’s prevalent for me here is “obligation”, again. I think the ebb and flow naturally takes care of itself if I try to stay congruent with myself. I will then express kindness, helpfulness, and a host of other qualities, but I’ll do so because they come from who I truly am. After all, if all I do is receive, people will get tired of giving to me, and eventually go away, and therefore that excess or imbalance will stop. It seems to work a bit differently the other way around. There are those who give and give and give, and sometimes it stops for them only when they’ve worn themselves into a breakdown or ill health. And then what “good” are they? If I give from myself, not because I’ve “decided” to, but because that’s who I am, I will not feel depleted. I’ll allow renewal and receiving, too. I have also experienced receiving ‘help” out of obligation, and it seems that no matter what good face is put upon it, on some level I “know” the giver’s heart is not in it, and that they know that I know. It doesn’t feel good to me to receive reluctant help, and I don’t want to treat others that way either.

3. You must continue the “circle of life” by passing on a blessing to someone else, if you’ve received one. Well, the word “must” is very like “obligated”, isn’t it? I do think this is another “spiritual truth” that takes care of itself naturally if we stay true to ourselves, and stop “efforting” so much about it. Relax, and let go, and it will come ’round again in its own time.

I don’t want to close without saying a few words about selfless service If “selfless” means I will get my ego-self out of the way, and not do “charitable works” to get recognition, or to help myself feel “better than”, than I agree with the term. I notice it so often gets interpreted, though as “Others are more important than you. You must give to them, even if it denies you what you desire.” I’m not on that bandwagon, brothers and sisters! I am the most important person there is, to me, and I’m of no use to myself or anyone if I don’t recognize this.

I like some of what some Buddhists say about service, and here’s a quote from that perspective from a good article by Darryl Pokea “One of the deepest acts of service can be to let another person face the consequences of their own actions…It is important to keep in mind that we must not interfere and not give in to the illusions of…apparent helpfulness, rationalized as service…Being of service to one another does not mean we are to rescue and deprive the other person of…experience.”

As I was compiling ideas for this post, I came upon BlogBud Richard’s, Siren Song, and was much struck by a poem of Margaret Atwood’s he quoted there. Do read it if you will. Richard’s own words gave me much to think about and applaud: “It is vitally important that we each think calmly and clearly before giving our personal power to anyone. It is our responsibility to ourselves and to the entirety of existence, and we should not take this responsibility lightly.”

I wish you peace and good service.


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18 Responses to “Being of Service?”

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i kind of believe in karma, so i do admit that sometimes i do good in the hopes that i get some back when i need it. that said, i don’t go out of my way to do something good just because i believe in karma, but rather i do it because i can therefore i want to. there are days when i could but i didn’t, but i don’t beat myself up for that! πŸ™‚

Yesssssss! Awesome. We are definitely aligned here πŸ™‚ So very true. All that obligation and “must” BS is, well, BS πŸ˜‰ That’s all about humans and their seemingly insatiable desire to control other humans, all rooted in fear. It goes against our basic human right to freedom, our free will, and greatly discounts the wisdom of our own hearts and minds.

“They” wanna make it all so complex, they love their rigid rules, when it should all simply be guidelines, bending and swaying like trees in the wind πŸ™‚

And simple is what it is, one directive above all. Follow your heart/intuition πŸ™‚ And then don’t worry about it — or what others think about it. There’s real freedom and joy in that, babe πŸ˜‰


Good reflexions…CWG 2 talks about it in his own ways..Sometimes helping others is to better manipulating people and/or helping can be for one’s own interest and/or by guilt…In my opinion a good service is about feeling good doing a favor freely and spontaneously…Thank you sharing ur thoughts on that..


sulz: Thank you for your thoughts on this. I kind of believe in karma too (I like how you put it!) It seems that what comes back to me is the “energy” or “emotional integrity” I put out. And what “doing good” is, exactly, can be hard for me to define. Sometimes the greatest kindness is not to intervene.

dovelove: Thanks for pointing out that there are control issues involved in “helping”. Many agencies, organizations, and individuals “know how things otta be” and want to help from that perspective. It can be a challenge to step back and say “This is not my way, but it is your way”.

CV: I like how you use the words “freely and spontaneously”! If I can feel that way, than I am indeed acting from freedom rather than the burden of obligation.

A wonderful discussion here, and a wonderful post Muse. Being of service, if you get away from the tendency to categorize, divide and label it, is an act of healing, and each time we perform a service for someone (a healing) we receive healing in return. We may not be aware of what healing we receive, but we do receive it. The greatest gift any of us can give to another who is less fortunate is empowerment, and the old Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life,” is a wonderful expression of the concept of empowerment.

Richard, thanks so much for offering your wisdom here, especially since you contributed to my original post. I hadn’t thought in terms of service as healing…hmm that puts a whole new slant on it! Empowerment and compassion can be lived, and thus are an inspiration to others.

Sorry Muse I have used reflexions as meaning
thoughts…But I am sure u know what I meant..


I can’t agree with the statement that “each time we perform a service for someone we receive healing,” but I will say more generally that each time we do anything (including and most assuredly helping another) that truly warms our hearts, truly brings us joy, oh-yeah, that is healing. I think real joy should always be our measuring stick πŸ™‚

On the other hand, there are many people out there, “do-gooders,” some call them…and their motivation would seem to be “brownies points” to get to “heaven,” lol πŸ˜‰ And I don’t believe for a minute that those people are spurring reciprocal healing energy for themselves. The energy of intention is very significant. Ya’ gotta have that love/joy thing fueling the act for the same to be returned. Without it, and regardless of what illusion is created from it, the act is rooted in fear/control, and so that same energy will “come back” to the do-gooder. It is the depth of love/joy of the act (of any act) that brings about the healing πŸ™‚

CV: I knew what you meant. You communicate well, and your essence always comes through. I value and appreciate that about you!

dovelove: I think we may have a semantic issue–what is meant by “healing”? I cannot speak for Richard, but I would think the healing takes place in our own energy field, and that of the (apparent) “other” at whom we’re directing our helpful act. If we’re coming from a genuine place, than I suppose healing can occur. (I’m still considering this notion). If we’re coming from a manipulative, angry, or controlling place, though, it’s not really assistance we’re offering. It’s something else. Great input! Thank you.

I agree with you that no one is necessarily less fortunate than another; just because someone is dressed or appears a certain way doesn’t mean you know their circumstances, and really when we think that we’re judging them. I try to help people when I can, though, because I like to, but I try to be careful as well. If it’s a really hot day here and I see a homeless person, I might buy them a bottle of water, for instance, but I wouldn’t give them the money because I don’t know what they would use it on. I know it seems abrupt saying that, but if I gave them money and they only used it on drugs or booze I’d be enabling that.

The thing I wonder about, though, is how much are we really helping? Obviously if somebody has no clothes or food and they have no means of getting it themselves, they have to rely on charity and we’d all want to help. But for more general things, like if somebody’s asking a question they might be able to answer themselves, or needs a loan, am I actually helping them or am I weakening them? I might be filling their need, but I’m denying them the chance to achieve it themselves and to learn the behavior that will bring them more rewards; they’ll never look it up in an encyclopedia, or work to afford what they want and have that achievement. In some ways by taking on their problems, I’m strengthening myself and weakening them. In the end I think it’s more about helping where you can, and sometimes respecting them enough to say no.

I love Margaret Atwood, particularly The Handmaiden’s Tale and Oryx & Crake, but it’s been a while since I’ve read that poem. It’s even better now! Her imagery is amazing and it creates such a story of dependency and longing. It says a lot about us today.

I hear ya’ CJ, and I agree to a point. Here’s the thing πŸ™‚ First of all, if a bottle of water is all one feels compelled to give, then that’s the right thing — for them, and for the other person, in that particular moment. And one should not judge themselves for trusting their own “intuition” in that. They also should endeavor not to judge the other person, not truly knowing them or their circumstances — or even if they do know them πŸ™‚

There’s a reason we have this lovely thing called “intuition,” which I feel is simply a connection to our Higher Self. It guides us, even when we aren’t realizing or trusting that it is. (Note, it works even better when we trust it.) And this is a most valuable thing because every situation is different, there is no clear-cut pattern to follow — in anything really. But we should also consider that sometimes (sometimes) we might not be acting from our intuition, but from a sense of control, which is rooted fear. Distinguishing the two can often be a challenge…

It might not have been your “calling” to do more for this homeless person, but if this person is to ever be helped, then SOMEONE is going to have to FEEL that it is their place to significantly help them. Think about it. Surely you know that there are many people out there in such situations where many people passed them by, but then there was one…

This one helped them significantly, maybe pointing them in the right direction, maybe counseling them, maybe giving them the money to go take some training or clothes to get a job or they actually gave them a job… We don’t do any of these lovely accomplishments alone — there has to be some “lucky break,” someone who had enough faith in us to “invest” (in one form or another) in us in a big way — give us a chance, or give us just one more chance. And that has to be in the right moment, the right time.

Many may pass this homeless person by, judging them all the while, ignoring them, their “fate,” many, many times — not really knowing their circumstances. But then one day someone walks up to the homeless person, and feels this unexplainable desire to be this person’s “lucky break,” and helps them in a big way. From this, their life totally changes for the better…or not.

That’s just it, it’s not for us to judge what outcome is “good” or “bad.” The best thing we can do is to simply not judge others and allow life to be, trusting that in each moment, with each situation, we’ll be guided to do the right thing, for us. Trust it, trust ourselves, and know that is a good thing πŸ™‚

When we do the right thing for us, we automatically do the right thing for others, for the world. When we all begin to realize this, it will be very significant to our healing, and our healing will heal the world πŸ™‚ And what I’ve been saying is that one way to know if something is the “right thing” for you, to know that it is your “calling” or your intuition to do something, is how you FEEL about it, often overriding what you might THINK about it — perhaps a dance between the two πŸ™‚

But again, that joy (a depth of good feeling about something) is a good measure as to whether it is actually one’s intuition encouraging them in a certain direction. It shouldn’t be a difficult thing though, if it feels right, it usually is πŸ™‚


Hey Dove, thanks for the wonderful response! πŸ™‚ I see what you’re saying, and I agree with most of it; I definitely think most of the time what feels right is the right thing to do as well, and I try to live day to day by acting on instinct. I don’t like overthinking things (unless it’s my writing! πŸ˜‰ ). So I’m with you there.

The thing with the homeless person was just an example. My family is quite involved with some of the charities here in Sydney (my father manages one of the opportunity stores), so when we feel like we can do more, we try to. My question here is this. You say that perhaps it takes one person at the right time, doing the right thing, to change someone’s life around. I agree with you completely. But in the case of the homeless man, we actually know him quite well. He sleeps at the end our street, right next to the betting store. We’ve seen people give him money many times and 5 minutes later we see him go into the store and bet it all.

So we try to help him in other ways; like buying the water on a hot day, or if it’s cold or wet helping him to find a shelter, bringing him donated clothes. We never give him money because he’s never given us a reason to expect that he won’t do the same thing; money which by anyone’s standards should be used first for food or shelter always goes on betting or booze.

But of course it’s money that in the end might help him break the cycle, money which would pay for food and shelter and counseling. Would you think then that we’re prejudging the outcome as “good” or “bad” in that case, when we’ve seen time and again the same result? Or is it a better option to try and help in other ways (as we do) and try and change the behavior? I’m asking because this feeds back into my thoughts on whether helping someone so much that it empowers you is actually good for them. I think that if we set him up completely he wouldn’t learn the behavior to survive in his new life, and that would actually weaken him, not help him; in a few days he’d be back where he was. But by helping him find his feet, hopefully he will learn the new behavior and want help, and that will strengthen him.

Maybe I’m off a bit with my thinking, but it’s what we’ve seen through a lot of instances in our community, and I don’t like the idea of helping someone in a way that makes them dependent on you. I’d be interested in what you and Muse think. And I love having my mind stretched, so thanks for that! Better than a sudoku puzzle. πŸ˜€

cj and dovelove, Wow, I went to bed on Halloween night, then was out and working the next morning, and I come back to find all this discussion. You are both awesome, it’s a pleasure to have you here.

cj: A lot to think about with both your comments. I honor your family’s commitment to be of service. It may not always seem so from my post, but I believe this is a high calling. Your example of providing a bottle of water spoke to me, as I live in a very hot and dry climate (in the summer), and we deal with people trying to cross the border from Mexico illegally, and then dying of thirst and exposure. Also, you may have read that some border-crossers died in the recent California fires, too, with no one to assist them.

Having said all that I will respectfully suggest that for me, it is not my work or my business to give or withhold help based on what I think the recipient might do with the money, food, etc. If I find myself concerned with such things, I am in a state of judgment, because I do not know the person’s path. Perhaps their road is to drink or drug themselves into oblivion. This seems harsh, but I just don’t believe that I can say things like “drugs and booze are bad, clean and sober living is good!” The example you gave (and I’m sure neither dove nor I mean to be picking on your examples!) is often used. I was actually involved in a similar discussion in my book group yesterday. A member brought up that he used to refrain from giving people money, because “they’d just go buy liquor with it”. Then, he’d go home and have a couple beers. The irony of that began to trouble him. Of course we’re talking about excess, here, and whether someone is an alcoholic, or addict, or not, but his point was that no matter how he acquired his money, he wouldn’t expect someone to tell him how he could or could not spend it–at least within the law.

But, to get back to the question you actually asked. If I found myself with self-talk about what the recipient might do with anything I gave him/her, I’d refrain from the gift until I was clear within myself. I generally, except on a whim, don’t give unless it feels congruent and joyful to do so. However I will often instead do as you say and find other ways to help, like offering food, or directions to an agency. I just have to be clear, for me, that I’m not offering theses substitutes for money because I’m judging what the person might spend the money on, but because it feels better to help in the other ways.

You ask “…whether helping someone so much that it empowers you is actually good for them?”, and that’s a poignant and pertinent question. My answer is that I can’t know, and, again, it’s not my job to determine this for another person. While I wouldn’t walk by, say, a victim of a stab wound lying bleeding on the street without securing some help, I also believe that sometimes the greatest service we can offer is to let someone know we are there, and allow them to make their own choices.

This can be a tricky game, and, ultimately, I can only ask, “Am I doing what I want to be doing? Is this right for me at this time?”

Thank you so very much, cj, for your large and thoughtful comments, here. It means a great deal to me that you take the time and care to explore these issues.

dovelove, I read through your response to cj three times, and I must say I agree with every word. (Great minds!) Your heartfelt clarification of the use of “intuition” and “ones calling” resonated with me. You are obviously a considerate forward thinker (and not just because you agree with me πŸ™‚ ). I tend to think the world would be a better place if people acted from their core, or center, all the time. The world is a pretty good place, now, though! I recently added the “Blogging Without Obligation” button to my blog, because I believe in that concept. I also now have an imaginary button on my forehead that says “Being Without Obligation”. πŸ˜‰ If we remove that word “obligation” from our actions and thoughts, what are we left with–dare I say Love? Thank you very much for adding your wisdom.

lol… I like that “Being Without Obligation” thingee, haha — hey, love is dang good πŸ˜‰ but the word that came to me was FREEDOM. I think the two are highly intermingled.

And I must say (and I was going to say this before I read that last post to me,heh) that your answer to CJ was perfect πŸ™‚ Are we becoming so agreeable here that we’re spurring the nausea of some? LOL πŸ˜‰

Hey, CJ, the only thing that I feel compelled to add is one of my favorite lines from Iyanla (one of Oprah’s people) and that is, “If you knew what the answer was, what would it be?” πŸ™‚

It seems simple, but I have found there is power in asking oneself that question. It sort of confounds the brain or something, it’s like, huh? lol πŸ˜‰ But the fact is we always have the answers, it’s just a matter of quieting the mind and trusting what comes πŸ™‚


Muse, hope you don’t mind me bringing up an older thread again, but I just wanted to thank you and Dove for your responses. I found your points of view fascinating and though there are still a few things I might not get (yet!), thinking about some of your themes is very inspiring. You actually inspired a post I’m just finishing. πŸ˜‰

My personal feeling is still that I think behavior plays a large part in how we think about other people; if somebody seems to be in a self-destructive situation but their behavior keeps leading them down that path, I’m not sure if all the help you can give them will really matter, or if it’s responsible to give it to them when perhaps you can help in a different way. To me that’s more about perception than judgment. But I love what both of you said about instinct and trusting that what you feel is right, is right. I agree. Overthinking something is just as dangerous as acting irresponsibly, and so often what we feel is our best (and only) guide.

What I love about blogging is the conversation and learning how different people think, and it’s fascinating to see how people can reach a similar viewpoint through many different paths. It says a lot for the power of the human mind and spirit. πŸ™‚

[…] wrote an interesting post a few days ago about “being of service”. She was looking at the way many spiritual and […]

CJ, I don’t mind at all that you have contributed again here, in fact I’m pleased, thank you. I don’t really consider a week-old post an older post, although here in bloggieland it’s practically ancient. I haven’t closed comments on any of my posts as yet–after all, why should I deny new readers access to my collected wisdom ? πŸ™‚
re: what you said about “overthinking” reminds me of an instructor I once had. The class was tax law of all things, but he had a saying I’ve applied to the rest of life since then: Don’t overthink this, folks! Good advice, and I do admire your balance of perception, judgment, and intuition.
Wow, the comments on this have been wonderful. I feel so fortunate to have them all here. Naturally, I hopped right over to your blog to see what you’ve posted. I’m honored to have inspired some of it. It deserves its own comment there, and I’ll be by soon.

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