L. servitium “slavery, servitude,” from servus “slave” (see serve). Meaning “act of serving” from 1230.
“It seems to me that we spend an inordinate amount of time and attention on fixing ourselves when we could really be directing that out to serving others,” —Eve Ensler
As a young doctor, I thought that serving life was a thing of drama and action and split-second judgment calls. A question of going sleepless and riding in ambulances and outwitting the angel of death. A role open only to those who have prepared themselves for years. Service was larger than ordinary life, and those who served were larger than life also. But I know now that this is only the least part of the nature of service. That service is small and quiet and everywhere. That far more often we serve by who we are and not what we know. And everyone serves whether they know it or not. We bless the life around us far more than we realize. Many simple, ordinary things that we do can affect those around us in profound ways: the unexpected phone call, the brief touch, the willingness to listen generously, the warm smile or wink of recognition. All it may take to restore someone’s trust in life may be returning a lost pen or a dropped book.
Rachel Naomi Remen
The highest service we can perform for others is to help them help themselves –Horace Mann–
It is high time the ideal of success should be replaced with the ideal of service……..Albert Einstein
The Sweetest Lives by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The sweetest lives are those to duty wed, Whose deeds, both great and small, Are close-knit strands of unbroken thread Where love ennobles all. The world may sound no trumpets, ring no bells; The book of life the shining record tells. The love shall chant its own beatitudes after its own life working. A child’s kiss set on thy sighing lips shall make thee glad; A sick man helped by thee shall make thee strong; Thou shalt be served thyself by every sense Of service which thous renderest.
Three Wondrous Answers
Lev Tolstoy (related by Thich Nhat Hanh)
This is the re-tale of a short story of Tolstoy’s, the story of the Emperor’s three questions. Tolstoy did not know the emperor’s name. . . One day it occurred to a certain emperor that if he only knew the answers to three questions, he would never stray in any matter.
What is the best time to do each thing?
Who are the most important people to work with?
What is the most important thing to do at all times?
The emperor issued a decree throughout his kingdom announcing that whoever could answer the questions would receive a great reward. Many who read the decree made their way to the palace at once, each person with a different answer. In reply to the first question, one person advised that the emperor make up a thorough time schedule, consecrating every hour, day, month, and year for certain tasks and then follow the schedule to the letter. Only then could he hope to do every task at the right time. Another person replied that it was impossible to plan in advance and that the emperor should put all vain amusements aside and remain attentive to everything in order to know what to do at what time.
Someone else insisted that, by himself, the emperor could never hope to have all the foresight and competence necessary to decide when to do each and every task and what he really needed was to set up a Council of the Wise and then to act according to their advice. Someone else said that certain matters required immediate decision and could not wait for consultation, but if he wanted to know in advance what was going to happen he should consult magicians and soothsayers. The responses to the second question also lacked accord. One person said that the emperor needed to place all his trust in administrators, another urged reliance on priests and monks, while others recommended physicians. Still others put their faith in warriors. The third question drew a similar variety of answers. Some said science was the most important pursuit. Others insisted on religion. Yet others claimed the most important thing was military skill.
The emperor was not pleased with any of the answers, and no reward was given. After several nights of reflection, the emperor resolved to visit a hermit who lived up on the mountain and was said to be an enlightened man. The emperor wished to find the hermit to ask him the three questions, though he knew the hermit never left the mountains and was known to receive only the poor, refusing to have anything to do with persons of wealth or power. So the emperor disguised himself as a simple peasant and ordered his attendants to wait for him at the foot of the mountain while he climbed the slope alone to seek the hermit.
Reaching the holy man’s dwelling place, the emperor found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut. When the hermit saw the stranger, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to dig. The labor was obviously hard on him. He was an old man, and each time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn the earth, he heaved heavily. The emperor approached him and said, “I have come here to ask your help with three questions: When is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times?” The hermit listened attentively but only patted the emperor on the shoulder and continued digging. The emperor said, “You must be tired. Here, let me give you a hand with that.” The hermit thanked him, handed the emperor the spade, and then sat down on the ground to rest. After he had dug two rows, the emperor stopped and turned to the hermit and repeated his three questions. The hermit still did not answer, but instead stood up and pointed to the spade and said, “Why don’t you rest now? I can take over again.” But the emperor continued to dig. One hour passed, then two. Finally the sun began to set behind the mountain. The emperor put down the spade and said to the hermit, “I came here to ask if you could answer my three questions. But if you can’t give me any answer, please let me know so that I can get on my way home.”
The hermit lifted his head and asked the emperor, “Do you hear someone running over there?” The emperor turned his head. They both saw a man with a long white beard emerge from the woods. He ran wildly, pressing his hands against a bloody wound in his stomach. The man ran toward the emperor before falling unconscious to the ground, where he lay groaning. Opening the man’s clothing, the emperor and hermit saw that the man had received a deep gash. The emperor cleaned the wound thoroughly and then used his own shirt to bandage it, but the blood completely soaked it within minutes. He rinsed the shirt out and bandaged the wound a second time and continued to do so until the flow of blood had stopped.
At last the wounded man regained consciousness and asked for a drink of water. The emperor ran down to the stream and brought back a jug of fresh water. Meanwhile, the sun had disappeared and the night air had begun to turn cold. The hermit gave the emperor a hand in carrying the man into the hut where they laid him down on the hermit’s bed. The man closed his eyes and lay quietly. The emperor was worn out from a long day of climbing the mountain and digging the garden. Leaning against the doorway, he fell asleep. When he rose, the sun had already risen over the mountain. For a moment he forgot where he was and what he had come here for. He looked over to the bed and saw the wounded man also looking around himself in confusion. When he saw the emperor, he stared at him intently and then said in a faint whisper, “Please forgive me.”
“But what have you done that I should forgive you?” the emperor asked.
“You do not know me, your majesty, but I know you. I was your sworn enemy, and I had vowed to take vengeance on you, for during the last war you killed my brother and seized my property. When I learned that you were coming alone to the mountain to meet the hermit, I resolved to surprise you on your way back and kill you. But after waiting a long time there was still no sign of you, and so I left my ambush in order to seek you out. But instead of finding you, I came across your attendants, who recognized me, giving me this wound. Luckily, I escaped and ran here. If I hadn’t met you I would surely be dead by now. I had intended to kill you, but instead you saved my life! I am ashamed and grateful beyond words. If I live, I vow to be your servant for the rest of my life, and I will bid my children and grandchildren to do the same. Please grant me your forgiveness.”
The emperor was overjoyed to see that he was so easily reconciled with a former enemy. He not only forgave the man but promised to return all the man’s property and to send his own physician and servants to wait on the man until he was completely healed. After ordering his attendants to take the man home, the emperor returned to see the hermit. Before returning to the palace the emperor wanted to repeat his three questions one last time. He found the hermit sowing seeds in the earth they had dug the day before.
The hermit stood up and looked at the emperor. “But your questions have already been answered.”
“How’s that?” the emperor asked, puzzled.
“Yesterday, if you had not taken pity on my age and given me a hand with digging these beds, you would have been attacked by that man on your way home. Then you would have deeply regretted not staying with me. Therefore the most important time was the time you were digging in the beds, the most important person was myself and the most important pursuit was to help me. Later, when the wounded man ran up here, the most important time was the time you spent dressing his wound, for if you had not cared for him he would have died and you would have lost the chance to be reconciled with him. Likewise, he was the most important person, and the most important pursuit was taking care of his wound.
“Remember that there is only one important time and that is now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person you are with, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.”
Tolstoy’s story is like a story out of scripture: it doesn’t fall short of any sacred text. We talk about social service, service to the people, service to humanity, service for others who are far away, helping to bring peace to the world, but often we forget that it is the very people around us that we must live for first of all. If you cannot serve your wife or husband or child or parent, how are you going to serve society? If you cannot make your own child happy, how do you expect to be able to make anyone else happy? If all our friends in the peace movement or of service communities of any kind do not love and help one another, whom can we love and help? Are we working for other humans, or are we just working for vane glory that society bestows on people for performing “community service”?
The Call to Serve
Those of you that are parents of small children know about the effort and sacrifice that is required to raise them happy and healthy. And we would submit that you feel that your children are your greatest source of happiness. This same feeling of pride and love comes to many of those who are called to the ministry, teaching, medicine, or even the hospitality industry. Serving others is sometimes a thankless job, yet it remains a reward in itself. Here are some ideas to consider for increasing your personal level of service, while bringing happiness to yourself and others:
- Show respect and courtesy. It seems like such a small thing, and in our busy lives we often forget that a kind word, a helping hand, or just a smile and “Thank you” can create a bright spot in another person’s life. And then two people are happy.
- Listen more than you speak. One of the things that my wife has taught me is that sometimes she just wants to vent about her day. Being a man, I will often have advice on how to handle the situation (and men are seemingly hard-wired for problem solving). One of the things that makes her so special is that she tells me when she wants advice and when she just wants me to listen. My listening makes her happy.
- Give genuine praise. Recognizing the contributions of others is a mighty act of service. This is an investment in others that doesn’t cost you a thing, and the returns can be amazing. Remember, “Praise in public, punish in private“. Even in a disagreement there is an opportunity for service, and you can restore happiness to the relationship, if you speak the truth in love to help another to learn and grow.
- Keep your promises. You can create an atmosphere of service simply by doing the things that you say you will do. Dependability and punctuality are the hallmarks of the service-oriented individual. When people can trust you it creates happiness all around.
- Practice forgiveness. Pointless hard feelings are the source of so much unhappiness in the world. Holding a grudge against another is a blemish on your soul. When you can let go of this, you can begin to heal the pain. Making a point of forgiving someone is a great service, for there are times that the person may not even know that they have hurt you. You can even forgive those who do not want to be forgiven, trust me – it will make you happy.
A Great Example of Service.
Before Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples, he took on the menial task of washing the feet of his disciples. As we consider what Jesus was teaching to his followers, we must keep in mind that this was done in the context of the Passover meal as he prepared to become the sacrificial lamb for the sins of all the world. The disciples would look back and remember that before the meal began, Jesus washed their feet as an example for them. He rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. Jesus was performing the task that usually a slave would perform. It was a humble act. It was customary at the time when a guest arriving for the meal had been greeted, a slave would remove the guest’s sandals in preparation for washing his feet and so that the sandals would not bring in dirt that had been picked up along the way. Then the feet were washed by a servant, water being poured over them, which were then rubbed with hands and dried with a towel. Jesus was willing to perform this humble act on the disciples. He was the Son of God and the Creator of the universe, and yet here he is washing the feet of his disciples. What is there that we are too proud to do? What activity in our organization is there that is beneath us? The reality is that the most powerful thing that you can do as a leader is to humbly serve your followers.
99 Ways to Serve Others Today
- Smile: This is a great habit to develop to start each and every day and to practice whenever you have the chance. The great thing is that smiling at others is easy and takes nothing but a little effort. Nearly everyone responds to a smile and it makes you and the other person feel better immediately.
- Hold or Get the Door for Someone: Simple things are a great way to serve others and these little things can really make a great difference. Stop and hold the door for someone whenever you get a chance you hold the door and let someone go in front of you. This sends a strong message and you can really bump it up by combining this with #1, a great smile with the door offer.
- Help someone get where they want to be: I mean when it comes to transportation or as a physical destination. There are always friends, colleagues and family needing a ride somewhere or a pickup form a trip, vacation or event. Perhaps it’s to be a designated driver for a group of friends. Simply offer to help get there where they want to be.
- Buy someone lunch: Buying lunch is not that expense, as many people do it everyday and when you have an opportunity when you are getting or eating lunch with someone, simply buy their lunch as well as yours. Don’t offer, don’t tell them, just do it and don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t say they can get the next one, don’t say they’d do it for you, just buy them lunch and leave it at that.
- Pick up a hitch hiker: This one scares a lot of people and I will certainly include myself in that group. However, it’s a great way to serve others and is a lot safer than we tend to think or what we are often taught about strangers. It is also very safe if you think about where and when it is OK to pick up a hitch hiker and what people you want to pick up. Often you can offer someone (a stranger a ride) when they are not trying to hitch hike and this is very safe.
- Provide Road Side Assistance: People have car trouble all the time. I’m sure you have at one point as well. Whether its changing a tire, jumping a battery or calling for an expert for a tow. Stopping to help someone can make a tremendous impact on someone who is struggling on the side of the road. This is especially true with accidents and is sad when people leave in a hurry when they should be stopping to help and offer a testimony to ensure people are not taken advantage of.
- Mow Your Neighbors Lawn: Little things make a big difference and little things for a neighbor can turn an unknown neighbor into a great friend. Mowing a lawn or raking some leaves only takes a few minutes to do a little more than your own yard. it looks better when lawns are mowed at the same time and while you shouldn’t expect it, often such favors will be returned. I’ve experienced this one many times.
- Invite someone over for dinner: An easy way to develop relationships is to have a meal together and so inviting someone over for dinner is a great way to serve them and that relationship.
- Give a gift certificate: I love giving people living on the street gift certificates. Gift cards for food or stores for basic needs like clothing you can buy pretty much anywhere and then instead of giving money to someone who you have no idea how they might spend it, you can give them something that they have to use for their basic needs. I’ve given grocery store $20 gift cards to peddlers and they are always just thrilled getting it and it makes it easier for me knowing they can’t just turn around the corner and spend it on drugs or alcohol (you can’t buy alcohol in grocery stores here in Canada).
- Help someone achieve a goal: People often struggle achieving their goals and every one of us can use help in some way. Ask people about their goals and do what you can to help them achieve it. Perhaps you make a suggestion of where to start or some person to refer, a course or knowledge or some personal tutoring or action to help them with, whatever it is, helping people achieve their goals is a wonderful way to serve others.
- Share your dreams with someone: The more you think about your dreams and share them with others, the more likely they are to come true and for you to spend time on them. So, sharing your dreams with someone and them sharing theirs in return, helps make those dreams more likely and timely.
- Shovel snow from more than your own walks: If you live in a subzero climate with snow, shoveling the walks can be a regular event in the winter months. Take a few minutes and shovel the walks for your neighbors or a local bus stop, or public pathway.
- Write an article that helps people: This is an easy one for bloggers as it’s a regular event. For non-bloggers however, writing is not always seen as a way to help people, but it’s incredibly helpful. Pick a subject you know well and write an article about it and share it with people you know.
- Teach something specific that you know about: Take writing one step further and teach someone something you know in person. Take the time to help them learn it, to explain it and to have them learn from you. Teaching is a great way to serve others and we all have an opportunity to teach others in areas we already have learned.
- Listen intently in conversation: Conversations and communication can be difficult at times and in order to make it work and to serve others in a communication is to truly listen and to listen intently. Others will feel values that you took the time to listen and they were actually paid full attention and that you cared enough to hear them out.
- Always let others speak before you: Another angle of communication is in when you speak and when others speak. To give to others and serve them in your communication, let them speak first and present their ideas. Often the people who speak first are the ones credited with an idea (if you had the same idea to share as well) and it’s great to allow that credit and attention to be paid on someone else. It’s a wonderful way to serve someone else when you know they had the same idea as you, but instead of stating that, you can simple tell them, “That is a great idea!”.
- Volunteer in your community: This likely came to mind when you first thought about serving others and it’s a classic example of course. There are many ways to do this through programs, organizations, clubs, groups, community associations and any other activities in your community. There are often websites and directories for connecting volunteers and placements that would be good for them. Do some searching around your community.
- Host a homeless person overnight in your home: It’s sad that this is such a scary thing for people image themselves doing but what better way to serve others than to provide the most basic of needs for someone who really needs it. There are many incredibly deserving and kind homeless people who simply can’t afford a home in our rich nations even though they have a job and family. Helping these people out and to get to know them a little and provide some assistance is a great way to serve others.
- Donate money to a charity: Pick the charity you like, or many and set aside some money to give to them. The best way to give is to set it up to be an automatic width drawl so that the charity knows they can count on that monthly contribution and so that you make sure you do your giving before your other spending. We all spend too much anyway.
- Pick up loose garbage: Our cities are for the most part, quite disgusting. There is garbage everywhere you go and it will never get cleaned up without people seeing the difference and by helping to pick it up. Do what you can and stop to pick up some garbage instead of walking over it for a change. I especially like to do this when I go out into the wilderness for a hike or ride. I always come home with more than I went out with since I make sure I take a moment to notice and to pick up someone’s garbage left behind.
- Be a mentor to someone: Everyone needs help to achieve their dreams and goals in life and mentor ship is an excellent way of providing that needed help, encouragement and guidance required. Look for opportunities to mentor people and provide that benefit to someone else as a way to serve.
- Give away your old stuff: I said it above and I’ll say it again. We all have too much stuff. Do a favor for people in need and give away some of the things you no longer need or use or wear. Others would be happy to have it and it will help you simplify your life and enjoy your time more. Find a few locations that you can drop off your stuff or call an organization that collects your goods to redistribute to those in need.
- Buy someone a book: Do someone a service and buy them a book. Don’t buy them a book though that YOU would enjoy, buy them a book that THEY will enjoy.
- Be genuine with your apologies: Put some sincerity into your apologies and be genuine when you do make a mistake. Own up to it and make the appropriate apology in person and in a serious tone.
- Bring baked goods to work: No matter where you work and if you work with people, people love food. Bringing in some baked goods or snacks is always appreciated. You can do this with your colleagues or clients, just try to ensure the food is something most can enjoy and its best to find something that is not just sugar or unhealthy. There are many great foods to share that are healthy as well and people do enjoy.
- Compliment someone: Serving others has to be about them. Compliments are a great way for you to focus something positive on them and brighten their day. Find something you can be genuine about and give them the compliment with a smile and positive approach.
- Help to organize charity event: Charities and non-profit organizations struggle to get people to commit to planning an event or attending a volunteer effort. You can help out the organization AND the people it is serving if you help to run the charity or a charity event.
- Be sportsmanlike on sports teams: Sports involve a lot of different personalities and sometimes emotions. Playing very sportsmanlike and keeping your cool even when others do not, serves everyone playing as an example and often the source of calm for the rest of a team. Do your best to stay calm, play with sportsmanlike conduct and encourage fair and fun play over competition and winning.
- Encourage people: You have endless opportunities to encourage people to do what they love, follow their dreams, achieve their goals and do the things they enjoy doing. Encourage positive behavior and fun actions through you day, you will enjoy it more, help others recognize those same things and hopefully, keep more of those actions coming as a result in the future.
- Give books you’ve read away: Not many people read all the books they have, let alone read them more than once. If you have books you know you will not read away keep them in mind and anyone interested in that subject, simply give them that book.
- Be a friend to those who don’t deserve it: Friendship is often thought to be something that is earned. Well serving others you not looking for what others earn, you are simply serving others. Extend the offer of friendship to someone who doesn’t seem like they deserve it. Perhaps they have made some bad choices in life, hurt you in the past or stuck in a difficult set of habits to break. The best thing for them is a true friend and it’s a great way to serve if you can provide that.
- Support mission and aid workers: There is constantly aid work going on around the world and traveling missionaries or support works in developing nations and disaster zones and they need support. You can support them with funds, letters, time, gifts or any combination of those. Spread the word as well and help these organizations grow, they are themselves doing a great service that deserves more support.
- Share your creativity: Creativity sparks new ideas in others and ideas trigger change, growth and hope. Sharing your creativity with others serves these same results and is a great way to connect with people as well.
- Promote someone else’s idea: We all our own ideas but how often do you reinforce and encourage someone else’s idea. It’s just one more way to serve and build others up.
- Tell someone they are your friend: It’s funny how we don’t know how to classify as a friend or not. Everyone has a different definition of this, but we all like to hear that someone is our friend when we do finally hear it. Make it obvious if you are around someone new or you just don’t really know if they consider you a friend or not, to specifically say it. Fit it into a sentence or an introduction or just a comment, like it’s great to do stuff like this with friends, thanks.
- Introduce a friend to someone they don’t know: Friends make connecting with other people much easier and if you ensure you always introduce your friends to other people you know, it builds new connections and make more people feel welcome in a conversation. It’s never fun to be the third wheel not knowing someone in the group so make sure you always introduce people to each other.
- Talk to people at parties who look “out of place”: On the theme of meeting people and introducing people, often you can serve others by simply approaching them and introducing yourself. It only takes a minute and can make a new person or someone who is uncomfortable or out of place to feel a lot better. Invite them other into a group you are with, or just spend a few minutes to ask them questions and help them feel more comfortable.
- Stay calm and don’t react in arguments: Arguments are a sure way to cause problems and staying calm may not be the easier thing to do (especially if you are under attack), but it is the best way to serve others both in the argument and seeing it indirectly. If you can stay calm and not make the situation any worse, then you do everyone a service including yourself from not reacting negatively.
- Support your loved ones no matter what: We often put higher expectations and judgments on those we love instead of accepting thing for who they are and their decisions. There is nothing wrong with hoping for them to change or break away from destructive habits or decisions but there is a point at which you simply must support them as well if they make decisions or choices that you don’t agree with. Isn’t that the best way to show you love them anyway?
- Share successes: People learn from the success of others and so sharing both your successes and the successes of others with more people is an easy way for everyone to learn from those experiences.
- Practice appreciate inquiry and positive dialog: Appreciate inquiry has so many benefits it’s a wonderful way to help people feel included, listened to, engaged with and ultimately it’s a way to bring the best out of people and what they are involved in doing.
- Pay for the stranger’s coffee behind you in line: Head on through the drive through or even at a till in person and tell the cashier you would like to pay for that other person’s purchase as well. You will quite likely surprise the cashier and the other person with such a simple act of kindness.
- Offer your seat on the bus / train: Public transport is often quite crowded and it’s sad how selfish people seem to be when onboard. Look for a chance to offer your seat or a helping hand to someone traveling with extra bags, children or perhaps a disability.
- Share great emails and blogs with others: The best blogs and emails exist because of the authors wanting to provide value and great content. There is much to learn from blogging and the best part by far, is the way it serves others and connects you with people.
- Take on a project as a DIY with a friend: Do-it-yourself (DIY) has many benefits and when you can offer to help a friend take on a project you are doing a great service for them. Your help, support and perhaps expertise will bring you together to accomplish something and enjoy it when its done.
- Accept others ideas without immediately judging them: It’s easy to be critical at times, especially if we think we have our own better idea. Do a service to others and don’t discount or be negative towards their ideas. Let them stand on their own and don’t immediate judge them.
- Put and keep your cell phone out of site in conversation: If you are in a conversation with someone, give them your full attention, face them and put your cell phone away. It sends a poor message to be texting or receiving a call in the middle of a conversation. You can’t serve someone when sending the message that whoever might be texting or calling is clearly more important than you.
- Inspire others: This is a whole list on its own for ways to do this but we do all have things we are passionate about and enjoy. Spread that passion and look to spark inspiration in others in sharing those.
- Share appreciation aloud: People rarely feel appreciated enough even though it is incredibly easy to do. Practice expressing what you appreciate about someone and do it aloud so they hear it and perhaps others will hear the same, share more or learn from you to do the same.
- Share gratitude in life: Similar to appreciation to others, gratitude is usually expressed towards circumstances, gifts and talents and life and life in general. Some show gratitude to God, to others or to their environment. Be grateful for what you have, recognize the abundance you have to experience and share that gratitude with others. Spreading gratitude and recognizing it is definitely a way to serve others.
- Demonstrate perseverance: There are many ways to demonstrate perseverance but I’m thinking more specifically in the ways you are already serving others. Taking items on this list and persevering to keep them happening, to keep on practicing, to keep on serving.
- Make moral decisions: Moral decisions are ones that are considered to be right. Moral decisions serve the general good and allow you to serve by making choices based on what is right and good. We all have a moral grounding as human beings and it’s how we are created and how we think at the deepest fundamental levels. Using that moral compass for our decisions serves others in these good decisions.
- Live ethically: Ethical living has some parallels with moral living but perhaps more from the human defined perspective, and not human nature. Ethics are largely defined by our cultures and society and so making that system stable and effective requires that we follow ethics and make decisions that take society into mind and use that in the way to live. It’s all about what is right for many, a great way to serve others.
- Share your mistakes with others: Mistakes are a wonderful way to learn and something that can easily be taught to others if shared. Examine your mistakes and do more than learn from them yourself, share them with others. You can gain a lot of trust in sharing mistakes and help others learn from those actions before they make the same mistakes.
- Clap and cheer aloud: You often have a chance to clap for someone or even cheer for them at conferences, events or sports activities. What about in meetings, daily work or even at home around the house? Take a moment to recognize others and serve them by showing your appreciation for a job well done, an accomplishment or for taking on a new adventure. Show them by clapping for them or cheering. Bring others into the habit and use it often. We do this in my workplace very often in meetings, after hearing good news or any accomplishment that is share with a group. The cheers and clapping always bring on a smile and serves everyone involved.
- Tell me about yourself : Tell me about yourself or introduce yourself are pretty common questions in interview and sometimes in business meetings with new clients or with new employees and colleagues. Use this chance to share your values and principles instead of just your usual background like where you work, your educational background or where you live. Tell someone what you value most, why and what principles you follow in all of your life.
- Magnify someone’s kindness: So how do you magnify someone’s kindness? You truly appreciate it. You accept it – you accept that in that moment, you are depending on someone else, that you really do need someone else.
- Be willing to describe your vulnerabilities: Vulnerability exposes oneself and is an catalyst to building trust. When people see vulnerabilities, they relate quickly and connect at a stronger level which immediate builds trust with that person. Vulnerabilities also humble oneself which leads to…
- Be humble: There are many ways to be humble, not just in exposing vulnerabilities. Giving credit to others, taking blame, talking about others not yourself, and avoiding the temptation to be right are all great ways to be humble. Humility is goes hand in hand with serving others from a character trait perspective and the focus on others is what allows humility to surface.
- Choose to be happy: Happiness is not something you seek, it’s not something you can find and its not something you can gain based on “if only…”, “when this…” and “as soon as this happens…” thinking. Happiness is something you must believe you can have and you then have to choose to be happy. You can be happy with hardship and suffering all around you and under terrible circumstances in your life if you truly believe you have that choice. For all those that need outside influences to be happy, you can provide that service and choose to be happy and to be an example of happiness for those around you regardless of the circumstances.
- Admit your faith and beliefs: How can you possibly serve others if you do not share or admit your faith and beliefs with them. Wouldn’t that be deceiving them, hiding things from them or even lying to them if you take it too far in fear of telling them? If you truly have faith and believe in it, you HAVE TO also believe in the value of sharing it. Yes, there are good times for this and perhaps some bad times, but you must be willing to admit your faith and belief systems.
- Ask open ended questions: Good conversations depends a lot on questions and interaction between people. You can give control of a conversation and draw someone into being more expressive with you by asking open ended questions that allow them freedom to respond with more of their thoughts and not just a yes or no answer.
- Be a change agent: We need to change through life or we become complacent and we die within our trapped lives. Change prevents that and allows people to grow and develop. Obviously personal development is connected deeply to change and if you see the value in it, serving others should involve being a change agent to help make changes happen in your life, those around you and your community for the better lives of all.
- Avoid and guard against gossip: Gossip can be disastrous to friendships, careers and other people’s lives. Learning to avoid gossip and guard against it both for yourself and for others is a valuable service to engage in.
- Live with purpose: Purpose is difficult to understand if you don’t know your purpose yet. It becomes the driving force in your life and gives you the energy to do all that you do in place of all the distractions and selfish acts that tend to keep us from our ultimate purpose. I’ve learned that people who believe they know there purpose rarely claim a selfish one and its most often one that has a betterment for others at some level in it. I believe we all have this created in us and so living with purpose in some way involves serving others. I certainly know that’s in my purpose.
- Express your passions: Passions expose a positive attitude, joy and excitement from a person when they are expressed, or at least more so than normal topics. This excitement rubs off on others and in turn help to encourage them to be excited or to express their own passions as well.
- Ask more questions than you answer: Asking questions shows interest in others and makes them feel more comfortable and connected in conversations. Use questions to serve others.
- Hand write a personal thank you card: Hand written cards and especially thank you cards are very impactful compared to verbal, email or other means. Write a personal note or thank you to those that do things for you. It’s a simple way to return a good feeling.
- Take the blame: I don’t mean to take the fall for things you did not do (as that seems dishonest), I’m meaning to own up and take the blame when you do make a mistake. Owning up to it instead of denying it, blaming others or fighting back in any way is the fastest way to resolve things and so a great way to serve others.
- Keep excuses to your self: It’s very easy to be get defensive and this is related to the blame game above. We use the technique of the victim cycle to make excuses in life. Keeping these excuses to ourselves at least keeps others from getting sucked into the blame game and helps to protect our habits from impacting others. Of course learning to eliminate excuses altogether is best but even the first step of keeping them to yourself helps to serve others.
- Apologize sincerely: It’s actually quite sad to see how poorly most people apologize. Insincere and often still accusing of others disguised right within the apology. “I’m sorry you took it that way” is a LOT different than saying “I’m sorry I hurt you”. Keep your apologies sincere and always make sure you only include what you did that you are sorry for.
- Promote employee engagement: A great way to serve others at work is to engage other employees and colleagues whenever possible. Look at ways to involve others, find things that excite your colleagues and show interest in people over the bottom line.
- Give honest feedback: Mastering feedback is a crucial skill for a manager but can apply to anyone when serving others. Feedback is a powerful tool to use to send a message of concern and care. If feedback is used properly, there is no good or bad feedback, it’s simply a way of showing concern, express a hope for developing the best in others and a great way to serve them.
- Tell stories: I love stories and I know many others do as well. It’s unfortunate so many people lose interest in stories as they age, I for one have not. Anything told as a story or that makes a story is of interest to me over other experiences and I know that stories have a way of drawing in others and developing relationships. Telling stories attracts people and is often used as a way to communicate an otherwise complex topic.
- Control your response: While it is difficult to master, we do control our response to every situation in life. The choice is hard to always make the way we want to when thinking clearly yet with practice, we definitely serve others by getting better as controlling our response and being constructive and positive in otherwise difficult circumstances.
- Master your state of mind: Our response is typically due to some moment or short time frame. Our state of mind however, is really an extension of that response and applied over long periods of time. State of mind affects our emotions, our mood and our thoughts at a drastic level and so in order to be at our best and to be in a state of mind that is helpful to others, we need to have some control over that state of mind.
- Use the words, “Thank you.”: Why is “Thank you!” so hard to say? Compliments can be hard to come by sometimes and I believe its because we are so good at wrecking a good compliment with a poor response. Sometimes we argue back and say things like, “No I didn’t” or “Nah, you’re just saying that”. People have been taught that that is how to be humble but they are sadly mistaken. Responding in this way sends the message that they are wrong and so the compliment is rejected. It’s a terrible thing to do and subtly and unconsciously stops people from sharing compliments. There is one good response for a compliment, two simple words, “Thank You”.
- Be prepared: The good old Scout’s motto, “be prepared” is a great way to think when it comes to serving others. If you are not prepared, you will need to be dependent on others and if you need them, how can you serve as easily. I’m not saying there are not exceptions to this, but in general, if you are prepared for a circumstance, you are more likely able to serve others in that circumstance yourself.
- Stay healthy: Staying healthy keeps you out of the health care system, keeps others from having to look after you and enables you to live longer, set a good example and be able to serve others. If you can’t look after yourself, how can possibly serve others as easily?
- Live with less stuff: Serving others tends to take a second place in life for many of us from all the other things we have going on. We volunteer if we have time, we help a friend if we are not already doing something and we put our spiritual needs behind our career and family for the most part. Well, all our stuff and complexities tend to distract us even more and so living with less stuff and activities is an easy way to serve others as it frees our time for it and lets us put it as a priority.
- Eliminate complaints: Complaints are toxic to other people and their moods. Most complaints are simply dwelling on the past and never really help anyone. Do others a favor and eliminate your complaints.
- Keep emails positive: Emails are a cause of many communication breakdowns from saying things the wrong way or sending an unintended message. This happens especially with emails that are criticizing something or negative in tone. To prevent this and to keep in mind your service to others, keep your emails positive.
- Communicate in person: When you have a chance to communicate in person over email, voice mail and even the telephone, take it. You can always communicate more easily in person than other methods.
- Ask for help when needed: Another way to serve others is to ask for help when its needed. People do generally want to help when they can and asking for help is a sure way to give them that opportunity. Taking on work yourself often leads to frustration and bitterness which can have long term effects that affect your ability to serve. Sharing skills, advice and a helping help is a great way to serve others, on both sides.
- Use your talents: You are created with your own set of unique talents and when you discover what they are you should use them. Talents are wonderful to show with applied skill and are very inspiring to others. Your talents are always the areas you will have the most impact in and if you use your talents, you have the greatest ability to serve others.
- Practice patience: I’ve had to learn this one the hard way and am realizing how effective applying patience is in serving others. While I used to get very frustrated and impatient with others, I’ve felt that God has been testing to learn to have patience and has opened my eyes to see how it is best for others when patience is practiced. I have learned the value in it now and truly believe that patience is a powerful way to serve others.
- Be a Good Steward: Use the resources that you are blessed with in good measure. Don’t be wasteful. Leave some for someone else.
- Forgive an action: Holding a grudge will get you nowhere. Forgiveness as hard as it is, is the best way to serve others.
- Cancel a debt: Have you ever chipped in a few coins to cover someone’s bill at the grocery store? How about the money a friend borrowed and has never paid back yet? Cancel the debt and simply give it to them with no expectation of repaying the debt. If someone owes you something, don’t hold it over them, simply cancel and forget the debt and hold onto the relationship instead of the money attached.
- Avoid the unimportant: Unimportant things distract us constantly from our lives, in our work, our families and in our relationships. The debt mentioned above could one of these things and it prevents us from realizing and experiencing what actually matters. If you want others around you to experience the best memories and relationships with you that is possible, avoid the unimportant and start doing, saying and acting on the important things in your life.
- Be enthusiastic: I know that this one may be somewhat a personal preference but as a very animated and enthusiastic person myself, I’ve heard countless times how my energy and enthusiasm is such a great presence and character trait. I see the same in others and so I definitely believe that enthusiasm builds positive energy in others and that can only serve them by influence and perhaps, by being contagious.
- Donate blood: This is a huge need for trauma care and a very selfless act that is truly done to serve others and provide a critical need.
- Use positive dialogue: Positive dialogue fits into a few other items here as well but this is specifically in how you talk and what you talk about. If you focus on the positives in your life and words you say, you will make a positive impact on others as well. Positive dialogue includes discussions, your comments, feedback, hopes, dreams, aspirations and stories that are uplifting and positive in nature.
- Do extra household chores: This is an easy one to do but unfortunately the word, “chores” has such negative thoughts associated with it for most people we avoid it. If that is the case for others as well, would you not say then that to serve them well would be to do some of their household chores?
- Give anonymously: Giving is a great way to serve others. Make it an even better service by leaving a mystery by giving anonymously. If you are serving them, you don’t need the recognition and certainly don’t need the receiver to feel any obligation. The best gifts are the ones received in gratitude and anonymous gifts are easier to be grateful for than one that is connected elsewhere in our lives, so give anonymously.
- Leave a specific compliment with a tip: Tips are an easy way to serve others in return for what they have done for you. If you want to make a stronger impact, then write a note or message with a tip to leave a specific compliment. Perhaps at a restaurant you could ask to speak to the manager and tell them about the great service you received from a specific server. The restaurant manager will be happy to hear this and the server will likely gain other benefits, far more than just your added tip.
- Say hello often to strangers: Make someone’s day by greeting a stranger, or smiling in public, or by simply saying hello to people as often as you can. Most often it brings a smile in return and isn’t that a great way to serve. I think so.
- Keep your promises: Being a person who can be trusted to do what you say is an important way to serve others. Breaking a promise kills trust and takes much longer to rebuild. If you want to serve others, you need to keep your word to them and be honest when you know you can’t keep your promise as early as possible or ideally, before you make it in the first place.
- Let love for others drive your life: Love is the most powerful thing in this world. It provides us all with an ability to drive through incredibly painful circumstances. It brings about hope and joy that can overcome any amount of suffering and it sets an example for service to others.
THE SELFLESS ATHLETE
The selfless athlete is not caught up with the typical questions that burn in the brains of the vast majority of competitors: “What’s in it for me?” “How many points/goals/touchdowns can I score?” “Will I be the one starting?” “Will I get all the attention that I deserve?” “Am I getting the most playing time?” “Will I be the MVP?” Instead, the selfless athlete asks him/herself far more meaningful questions. “How can I give to my teammates?” “How can I make those around me better?” “What can I do to help the team be successful?” “How can I contribute to this sport?” And, a question that would blow most athletes’ minds, “How can I give to my opponents?” Selflessness is an essential ingredient in team harmony, and without this all important team quality, there can never be any great individual success. Why?
The most successful teams in and out of sports play together as a team. There’s no question that it’s never the best team that always wins, but the team that plays best together. All the players on a championship squad intuitively understand this concept and know that you can’t get to winning through individualism. Selfish behavior always detracts from the team’s day to day performance and overall mission. NOT occasionally, NOT sometimes, NOT often, but ALWAYS!
Remember that old cliché’, “there’s no “I” in TEAM.” The problem with sports in our country is that when you look at our most visible role models, our professional athletes, you see far too many “I”s and too few real TEAMS. Too many pro athletes have a “superstar” mentality. That is, they think that just because they have extraordinary athletic ability, they are a gift to mankind and have free license to act any way they would like. Towards this end they are selfish, narcissistic and exhibitionistic, believing that the team is secondary to, and should revolve around them. They believe that the rules of the group don’t really apply to them and instead, they should have their own set of rules that are sprinkled with a heavy dose of preferential treatment. Even the expression, “franchise player” reflects this over-inflated value of the individual and breeds an attitude of selfishness. If you are a franchise player, then the team gets built around you, instead of molding all of the individual players together into a superstar team. This is completely backwards and just like having the tail wag the dog.
The selfishness that underlies this “me first” mentality is fueled by fear and insecurity. The fear and insecurity is based on the self-limiting and mistaken belief that the “pie” of success is limited in size, and that if someone else gets a big piece, then that means your piece will be that much smaller. This insecurity and fear-driven mentality will lead you to be jealous of those teammates who get more playing time and/or recognition than you. It will fuel your anger at opponents who beat you. If left unchecked, these darker, but quite normal feelings will lead you to say and do really stupid, embarrassing things that will ultimately, assuming you have your head on straight, leave you feeling disgusted with yourself.
By serving others and putting the team first, you are investing in long term success that will ultimately make you far more successful than if you had decided to selfishly go it on your own. Like a good investment, it may take you time before you can see any real dividends or payoff. It requires tremendous patience and trust. Through the process it’s perfectly normal to worry that you won’t get what you feel you truly deserve. However, in the long run, this higher road of selflessness and of serving others will transform you in ways that selfishness never could. Giving is the only real way that you can begin to get in meaningful ways. Serving others is the only way that you can become a true champion.
Put on a Coat or Build a Fire?
When we are thinking about the virtue of service we need to remember that “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
A revered wise man once journeyed to visit a younger wise man who was known for his spiritual devotion. The older wise man was very much impressed with the young man’s total immersion in prayer and study, and asked the secret of his unwavering piety. The young wise man replied that by concentrating deeply and exclusively on his studies; he was able to ignore any outside influences that might distract him. The older wise man had noticed that many of the nearby villagers from the young wise man’s town were involved in activities that were quite contrary to living a life of virtue. This disturbed the older wise man so he said to the young wise man, “When it is very cold, there are two ways to warm yourself. One is by putting on a fur coat; the other is by lighting a fire. The difference is that the fur coat warms only the person wearing it, while the fire warms anyone who comes near.” The point being that the young wise man should be spending more time teaching and serving the people of his village than in self-indulgent prayer.
Our gifts and blessings are not intended for our use alone, they’re intended to benefit all people – from those in our immediate families to those in larger community. Each of us has been given distinct talents and abilities, and, it’s our duty to share them with others through service. A skill you or I take for granted might fill an indispensable need for someone else, and have a far greater impact than anyone could imagine. A kind word, a caring gesture, for example, might make someone’s day, or encourage an addict to enter rehabilitation, or even convince someone not to commit suicide!
Serving others means acknowledging that you are more than an individual concerned about yourself alone; that you are part of a larger community, and therefore responsible for your neighbor.
Serving others means dispelling the cold by building a fire that warms others as well, instead of just putting on a coat that warms only you.
The Pickle Jar
Have you ever had a new jar of pickles at a picnic? You just couldn’t get the top off. Everyone’s burgers are getting cold so you start passing the jar around. Seven people try their hardest but it is the eighth person who gets the top off, seemingly with ease. Is the eighth person stronger than the first seven? Of course not, although those seven people might make that assumption! It took the collective effort and strength of ALL eight people to get the job done.
WHAT IT TAKES TO SERVE OTHERS
The first step in serving the needs of others is that we need to develop an awareness of the needs of those around us. It’s not always quite so easy for us to see the needs of people around us, though. If we really want to become the kind of people who minister to the needs of other people, we have to develop a consciousness or awareness of those around us who have needs. And we are not just talking about physical needs here. Those are often easy to spot. But people have emotional and spiritual needs, too. And those are usually much harder to discern.
What compassion is all about is seeing someone else with a need and then being willing to do whatever we can to help the person with his or her need – not because the other person deserves it, but because we have been put in a position to help with those needs. Our path has put us into the life of another and we have been provided us with resources that we can use to meet those needs. True compassion is not just an emotional feeling; it’s an act of the will. It’s a decision on my part to serve the needs of another regardless of how I feel about that person. Most people are only willing to help people that they like, people who are most like them. Heck, that’s easy, anybody can love people we like. The real measure of love is whether or not we can love the unlovable.
This is where the process breaks down for most of us. We see a need and we even have compassion for the other person. But, we’re not willing to take the next step. Because the next step is that we actually have to have contact with the other person. And sometimes that’s not real comfortable. It can be stinky and dirty and messy. In today’s high tech world, we don’t like to make contact. We would much rather send them a text, email, or tweet them. Serving others means getting your hands dirty. Sometimes that means we have to take risks. Risks like the threat of disease, real bodily danger, contempt, anger, and often humiliation. Sometimes “contact” means that we need to get involved in the life of the person in need. Most of us aren’t any too quick to get involved with the life of a homeless person, an unemployed ex-felon, a single mom, someone of a different race, a social outcast, a terminally ill patient, or a migrant laborer.
Would you be willing to make contact, to get involved in these lives in order to serve their needs? If you’re at all like me, here’s the weak link in the process of serving the needs of others. In those cases when I do see a need and when I have compassion on the other person, I often choose to just bypass this step. I look the other way. I figure someone else will help them out. Or sometimes, maybe I’ll ease my conscience a little by just giving the person some money without making eye contact with them, or even better, give someone else the money so that they can get involved in the person’s life on my behalf.
I have a great personal story about this. Remember the 2010 earthquake in Haiti? An estimated three million people were affected by the quake. Many countries responded to appeals for humanitarian aid, pledging funds and dispatching rescue and medical teams, engineers and support personnel. I had always been a big fan of Mother Teresa, so when I learned about the earthquake, I contacted the Missionaries of Charity’s international office and told them that I would like to help out with their efforts in Haiti. I was thinking of giving them a good sum of money, so naturally when my call was not returned for over a week, I became indignant. I asked myself “What kind of an organization are they running?” Then one day, I got a phone call from one of the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. She wanted to know how soon I could be in Haiti? I stood there speechless, they didn’t want my money….they wanted me!
Sometimes, maybe donating money is all we can do, but there is no substitute for the human touch that accompanies our contact and involvement in the lives of others.
If we are going to care for the needs of others, then the first thing we have to do is to determine the real needs of the other person. Sometimes the needs are obvious. That’s usually true when it comes to the physical needs of others. If someone is hurt or hungry, or needs clothing, we can usually determine those needs pretty easily. But sometimes, when the needs are more emotional or spiritual, they are not quite as easy to see. That’s where we have to go back to that very first step and work at being conscious and aware of the needs of others. That’s another reason the whole idea of contact and involvement is so important. The more time we spend with other people, the greater the likelihood that we’ll be able to discover their deepest needs. Then, once we determine what the needs are, we have to use whatever resources we have at our disposal to meet those needs.
When we are brought into the lives of others and we have been blessed with the resources to meet needs in their lives and we fail to care for those people, we not only rob them of the help they so desperately need, but we also rob ourselves of the blessings that come from serving them.
Whenever we choose to serve the needs of other people, there is always a cost involved. Sometimes our time, sometimes our emotions, sometimes our pride, sometimes our financial resources, and often all four.
We turn our heads from dozens of opportunities to serve others every day. We have conditioned ourselves to look the other way. We need to retrain ourselves and this often starts with “baby steps”, like holding a door open, giving a helping hand, tackling a fix-it job for that elderly neighbor lady, or handing that homeless person a few McDonalds gift certificates.
Most of us intend serve others, but you know what they say “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.
Let’s take action!
ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX
Richard Foster offered St. Therese of Lisieux as a wonderful example of serving others in the way of Christ. In her short life (she lived from 1873 to 1897) she learned a lifestyle of praying while offering simple, humble service to others: The “Little Way”, as she called it, is deceptively simple. It is in short, to seek out the menial job, to welcome unjust criticism, to befriend those who annoy us, to help those who are ungrateful. For her part, Therese was convinced that these “trifles” are more meaningful than the greatest deeds of recognized holiness.
The beauty of the Little Way is how utterly available it is to everyone. From the child to the adult, from the sophisticated to the simple, from the most powerful to the least influential, all can undertake this ministry of small things. The opportunities to live in this way come to us constantly, while the great fidelities happen only now and again. Almost daily we can give smiling service to nagging co-workers, listen attentively to silly bores, and express little kindnesses without making a fuss.