A Heart-Centered Approach To Being Human
Community service… what do you think about, when you hear that term? Yes, it’s a non-paying job performed for the benefit of others within the community. But many people think of it as a mandatory sentence, a sort of payback, in lieu of jail time. Some countries require community service of teenagers. Some schools mandate it as a graduation requirement. And so, community service sometimes comes with a bit of emotional baggage: it can be seen as an obligation, done grudgingly, and not of one’s own accord.
But community service should not be perceived as a punishment; rather, it’s a reminder that we are all in this together, and that by helping each other, we all thrive.
What is service? For many, it’s the opposite of their natural inclinations. “What’s in it for me?” is a question many of us consciously or unconsciously ask much of the time. We look for situations that meet our needs: in other words, we expect others to serve us.
But it has to go both ways. You can’t have receiving without giving! Community service teaches us to stop asking, “Who’s going to meet my needs?” and start asking, “Whose needs can I meet?”
It’s unfortunate that many people confuse “servitude” with “service.”
- Servitude: helping with the intent of return (usually money)
- Service: helping with the intent to help another, with no expectation of return
The deeper meaning, the foundation of service, is love. What do you do when you love someone? You give. You WANT to give, just because it makes you feel good. You want to give your loved ones happiness, comfort, security, help, companionship, friendship, understanding, compassion, acceptance, and of course much more. You want to shoulder some of their load, not because you expect to be loved more, but because it gives you joy to do so.
One of the ways love is expressed is through service, and service is expressed through deeds. It’s so much more than doing the hard work so that someone’s life can be easier.
Being of service is being humble. It is a recognition that while we can survive without one another, it’s extraordinarily difficult to thrive. We need each other, and in order to be the recipients of help, we need to give it.
Service is not something we should think of as an extra thing we add to our to-do list, if and when we have spare time. Rather, think of community service as “paying it forward” to those who haven’t touched your life… or repaying the selfless acts of people who have impacted you – even in ways you don’t think about.
Life is a circle of giving and receiving. Yes, sometimes it may involve mundane or repetitive work… yes, it may sometimes feel like you’re slaving away while others benefit… yes, it may not always be fun and you could probably think of a hundred things you’d rather be doing. But just as you love to do things for people you love, could you actually increase the love, compassion, care and connection you feel for others by serving? Absolutely!
Think of community service as a way to explore new interests and possibly find a new passion; or, as a way to hone your skills in a particular area. For example, a friend of mine recently started volunteering to clean up and maintain a tiny garden space in front of her town’s post office – a “one-horse” itty bitty post office tucked away in a small mountain town. There was no reward to this, except her own satisfaction. She spent her own money and donated her time to this simple beautification project, for the simple reason that she wanted to make this forlorn corner of the town a little brighter. She loved gardening, so why not turn her passion into a bit of community service?
Another friend has two kids, and her oldest was inspired by the “Adopt-a-highway” program in their state. My friend’s 8-year old son adopted the road they lived on, and spent a year doing monthly trash cleanup on a one-mile long stretch of road. Of course this became a family affair… and the only reward he got was a small sign placed on the road that displayed his name as the highway adopter.
Take the time to think about how you can marry your passions, talents, unique gifts, and community service. What would you enjoy doing that could make your corner of the world a little brighter? What could you share that would be enjoyable and altruistic at the same time?
Finding the right community service projects is as easy as looking around, and asking. You might be surprised at how many people are simply so overwhelmed that they can’t take the time to do something you would enjoy doing. Ask for community service ideas at community theaters… libraries… senior centers… service organizations such as Rotary Clubs or Lions Clubs. Check with churches… preschools… animal shelters… town parks… and the local chamber of commerce. Try youth organizations… conservation groups… animal rescue groups or sanctuaries and women’s shelters. There are dozens of opportunities in every community!
In the genuine spirit of love, community service is a beautiful, rewarding, fulfilling and joyful act!