Imagine you’ve lived a long, full life, and now you find yourself at the pearly gates. Upon arrival, the gatekeeper doesn’t ask how many pairs of cute shoes you have, where you went to school, how much money is in your stock portfolio, or how many children you raised. Instead, you’re asked, “Who did you help? How were you of service to others? How did you use your life to benefit others?” The very idea of one person helping another dates as far back as the beginning of civilization.
This week, you’re invited to explore the concept of service and what it means to have a consciousness of giving. Everyone has something to give, regardless of how small or seemingly unimportant the gift may appear. A simple offer of kindness can make some- one’s day. Service takes many forms, such as offering a smile when someone feels unlovable, appreciating someone’s effort, or spending time with a friend who needs to be heard without judgment. It may be sharing your skill or expertise with someone new to your career field, welcoming a new neighbor into the community, holding the door for the person behind you, or saying thank you to the one who held the door for you. There are many ways to serve.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been the poster child for someone who is selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. I’ve spent my life asking, “What is in it for me?” I tried to figure out how others could help me, rather than what I could do for them. Getting sober changed my attitude, not because I wanted to be a giving person but because I realized I had to help other suffering alcoholics if I was to stay sober. The more I gave, the more I got back in return. What a concept.
Developing a consciousness of giving is hard at first, especially if we’re used to being a taker. But while the process of change is not easy, the formula is simple: willingness + time = a shift in our think- ing. Every experience becomes an opportunity for service. Sometimes we give for the sake of giving and sometimes we give because we know that when we succeed as a collective group, we succeed as individuals.
There are many benefits to being of service to others. It’s rewarding to watch a person’s face light up when you help him or her achieve something he or she thinks is impossible. My personal niche area is working with women and mentoring teenage girls. It’s a pleasure when I see them experience that “aha” moment, particularly when I know that in some small way I helped. Another benefit is that service to others allows us to make amends for past mistakes, particularly if it’s impossible to make a direct amend to the person we harmed. Service to others helps us make new friends. We automatically become connected to a community of like-minded people.
One great question to start a conversation is “What organizations do you support?” Giving freely of what we’ve been given also softens our hearts and warms our spirits. We become nicer people because we care about others. Finally, service is a way to get through the tough times. Each time I faced a major challenge, it was my service work that enabled me to get through it because I shared my pain and used my experience, strength, and hope to help someone else.
With all the benefits, there are still reasons why many people don’t get involved in service activities. Not having enough time is the reason I hear most often. Yet the good news about service is we get to choose what we do and to what extent. “It costs too much and I don’t have the time,” said Jacquie, a woman I coach. Money is not the only way to give, and as for time, we choose when, where, what, and how we give.
Are you like Jacquie, trapped in the belief that giving requires big actions, such as paying someone’s rent, buying dinner, sharing your personal belongings, giving thousands of dollars to charity, or volunteering many hours of your precious time? It can include those actions, but it’s the act of giving that is big.
Giving doesn’t take much, just a willingness to give is enough. Doing someone’s laundry, running an errand, or preparing a meal for someone who’s ill is an act of giving. Taking out the garbage without being asked, volunteering to help out a neighbor who works long hours, or offering to pick up the kids are all examples of things we can do in the name of helping another person. Spending time with a friend, listening without judgment, or putting money in someone’s expired parking meter are other ways to serve.
Maybe today your gift is simply refraining from making an obscene gesture or cutting someone off in traffic. Maybe it’s having the courage to forgive an unforgivable person or treating someone with kindness even when there’s no crisis. Maybe it’s not participating in gossip, or being a voice against gossip. Perhaps your act of service is being an example of courage. Courage breeds courage.
Each time you have the courage to do the right thing, you give someone else permission to do the same. That’s an act of service.