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“They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing” (Hindu Proverb).
MUCH MORE THAN OCCASIONAL ACTS OF SERVICE, WHAT WE NEED IS A SPIRIT OF SERVANTHOOD. Although acts of service are good in and of themselves (and we don’t have the spirit of servanthood if we don’t actually serve), we would be helped if we worked more on having the heart of a servant. In a positive sense, we need to see ourselves as servants, thinking more often of what we can give than of what we can get. We need to have the attitude and the mindset of one who is in the world to serve and not to be served.
To “serve” means to “help.” It means to do something that somebody else needs to have done. The servant is first and foremost a giver, an individual whose primary role is to provide and to please.
Learning to have this outlook as our primary way of thinking is a challenge. It’s a challenge because from childhood we’ve been acquiring the habit of self-centeredness. We started out in life thinking that the world existed to serve our needs, and many of us have never grown much beyond that pattern of thought. To learn another way of thinking requires going against the grain of a lifelong disposition.
It’s easy, however, to tell whether we’ve learned the spirit of servanthood. The test is simply this: how do you react when someone treats you like a servant? If when treated like a servant you resent it, you probably don’t really see yourself as one, whatever words you may have spoken about the “nobility” of serving others. True servants don’t object when others see them as being what they actually are!
Albert Schweitzer, who knew the meaning of servanthood if anyone ever did, once told a graduation audience, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” Schweitzer was right, of course. And yet we need to be careful. The kind of serving that will make us “really happy” is not rendered for that reason. In our finer moments, we don’t serve for the emotional payoff we get. We serve because that’s what life is about.
“Be ashamed to die unless you have won some victory for humanity” (Horace Mann).