I am not sure when I first saw a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II walking out on the moors of Scotland wearing a dowdy looking oil-skin coat and a headscarf. I was taken aback. I thought, until then, that the Queen would always be regally crowned, wearing her robes with her scepter close at hand. My thoughts about royalty, peerage and social class has changed over the years, but one thing that has not is my admiration for her commitment to her role as Queen. I can think of no finer example of a person who has lived a life of service to others. Hers was a less traveled, less popular road but she was always guided by her commitment to service. Her life is a challenge to all of us to work toward a life of service.
Why should I, or anyone, live a life dedicated to service? What’s in it for me? What will I get out of it?
These questions strike at the very reason why service is so important. Service gets ‘me’ out of the way. When I came into recovery I was told very early on; ‘service will keep you sober.’ Whether it was putting out books, washing coffee mugs or even sharing at meetings, I was being of service. I was getting out of my ‘self’ and into a collective understanding of things. My addiction was a result of an overactive Ego. I wasn’t much, as the saying goes, but I was all I ever thought about. When I was helping others I stopped, even just for a moment, thinking about me, my situation, my problems. I was thinking about the people around me.
No man is an island.
No one, absolutely no one, can live alone. We by our very nature need a mother and father and we need care for the first years of our lives. Even the hermit who lives is a cave relies on others. How long would one survive alone? Robinson Crusoe had Friday and Tom Hanks in Cast Away had Wilson. We all need someone because despite how much one might detest others, we are social creatures. I want to do more than simply survive in this life; I want to thrive. I can’t do so without others and other’s need me as well. It’s a two-way street. Together we can go further, arrive at better decisions and become much more than we ever could alone.
Service to others, to individuals or to the community helps me to learn my strengths and my weaknesses. I can learn and teach when I am of service. It is more than helping or doing for others. It is being there when they need a hand yes, but it is also allowing others to help me too. I have said before that while the saying is, “It takes a village to raise a child,” it also takes a village to maintain an adult and help them to thrive.
Service serves humility
Humility is often confused with humiliation. I was taught early on that humility was stating what is; the truth without exaggeration nor denigration. Humility keeps my ego tamed. Every time I find myself angry, resentful or fearful, I can always trace it back to my Ego and the desire to have things my way and not the way they are. I believe that service helps to keep me humble and reminds me that life it not all about what I want. I meet my own needs by helping to meet the needs of the community as a whole.
I also believe that service helps me to develop self-appreciation, a facet of humility. In helping someone with a project, teaching others or allowing them to teach me a new skill, in offering an honest opinion, or receiving criticism, I can learn to love, honour and value myself. In this way, service to others is also service to me: the community of which I am a part, will continue to learn, grow and develop.
Queen Elizabeth is but one model of service that we can find in our world today. We don’t have to go far in own communities to name others who are as committed and duty bound to serving others: a teacher who puts in extra hours tutoring or coaching, the nurse who also volunteers at a local hospice, the members of Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Each may have their own reasons for doing their work, but the result is the same: a community that is a little bit better off than it would be without their service. It’s a road that we all should walk down. As the Beatles have been reminding us for almost 60 years now, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Together we can trudge that road of happy destiny.
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I just finished Michael Singer’s latest book, Living Untethered. This is his long awaited follow-up to his other books, The Untethered Soul and The Surrender Experiment. I was struck by one of his conclusions about the purpose of life. It is not to find happiness, to live in peace or to have all your needs met. Nor is our life’s purpose to gain fame, fortune and recognition. It is to be of Service. I encourage you to seek out his books.