Being of Service?
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.