30 Days to a Better Man Day 20: Perform Service

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 19, 2009 · 29 comments

in Blog, Featured

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When we think about moments that epitomize manliness, we often think of the captain going down with the ship, the men who allow the women and children to go first, the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to shield his brothers from the blow, the old man who attempts to save a drowning child and perishes himself in the waves. The common denominator in such scenarios is this: sacrifice. Sacrifice is arguably the manliest of virtues. It is the ability to give up our desires, sometimes even our lives, to aid and benefit someone else.

While most of us will never be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, there is one sacrifice every man is both capable of making and should be making: the sacrifice of his time and resources in service to others.

Even men who don’t consider themselves materialistic, can be absolutely greedy with their time. But while holding tightly to our time and resources seems in the moment to protect our happiness, in the long run, this selfishness cankers our souls. The more tightly we hold to things, the less we enjoy them. Selfishness makes us needlessly bitter and contemptible, never feeling like we have enough, always worried that someone is going to take away our stuff. In not sharing of our time, talents, and resources, we end up feeling empty, not full. Service should thus be a part of every man’s life, lest he along with Ebenezer Scrooge should despair, “Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! Such was I!”

Our Obligation to Serve

Everybody knows that life isn’t fair. Some of us have a lot and some of us have a little. We can throw up our hands at this disparity, or we can do as much as we can to add balance to the universe. If you are lucky enough to have more talents and resources than someone else, then show your gratitude for these things by putting some back in the pot. Where much is given much is required.

Part of the warrior’s code that every soldier lives by is the maxim, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” Thus, in the heat of battle, when someone cries out, “Man down!” the troops mobilize to get their fallen comrade to safety. A medic or another soldier will brave the hail of bullets to save their comrade.

There are a lot of men down these days. They’re wounded on the battlefield of life, not with bullets but with poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness. As part of the brotherhood of man, we have an obligation not to leave our comrades behind. As the saying goes, “The public service we render is the rent we pay for our place on earth.”

The Benefits of Service

Of course the greatest benefit of service, is the help that those in need receive from you. Service can transform lives, communities, and nations. But giving service is one of the greatest paradoxes of life. For although it seems as if we sacrifice in giving away our time and resources, we actually get a whole host of benefits in return. In giving, we get. It’s a mystery, but it’s absolutely true. Serving can transform your life in the following ways:

Makes you happy. One of the first words a child learns is “mine.” And we often navigate life with this simple philosophy: “What in it for me?” But as mentioned above, such selfishness does not bring us contentment or peace. It’s giving, not getting, they brings us real happiness. I’ll admit that when I’m asked to do a service project or when I’m waking up at 7 in the morning on a Saturday to go help somebody, I don’t always feel very happy. Often, I grumble about it. But every single time I’ve manned up and gone and done the service, I’ve felt happy and satisfied afterward. Every single time. Service just makes you feel good about yourself and about life.

Puts your problems in perspective. We often think that our problems our huge. And they feel huge because we have nothing to compare them to except our own life experiences. But when we serve those less fortunate then us, we come to see how good we have it. Our problems start to seem relatively small. And our gratitude for all the good things we have in life increases exponentially.

Breaks down prejudice. It’s easy to paint people we’ve never had any contact with broad strokes, to think we have them all figured out. Immigrants, poor people, criminals and so on-we think we know their story. We often formulate our opinions on such people without ever having talked to a single one of them. But when we work one on one with people different than us, we come to really love them and know them, and our compassion and empathy grows. We don’t see them as stereotypes, but as flesh and blood people, people whose problems are often far more complicated than we could have previously imagined.

Helps you find yourself. A lot of people talk, and agonize over, “finding themselves.” They want to find their authentic selves, who they really are. To this end, many traipse through Europe or go to grad school. There’s nothing wrong with such pursuits, but there’s no better way to get to the core of who you are than serving others. It will peel back the layers of your artifice and reveal what you’re really made of and what you really value. I can’t explain in words why it has this effect, but it does. I think it’s like the saying, “The watched pot never boils.” The more time you spend thinking about who you are, the more elusive the answer gets. As soon as you turn your focus to others, your true self is revealed.

How to Find Service Opportunities

One of the reasons many of us don’t serve more is not because we don’t have the desire, but simply because we don’t know how to get involved. We don’t know where to jump in. Here are some suggestions on finding a place to volunteer:

Volunteer with a Preexisting Organization

There are lots of established organizations out there that are always looking for volunteers. All you have to do is sign up. You might want to check out these:

Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America

The Red Cross

Habitat for Humanity

Boys Scouts of America

Meals on Wheels

Check a Website

There are several websites out there that  simplify the process of finding a service opportunity. You simply enter your location to view a list of positions that organizations need filled by a volunteer.

Volunteer Match

Serve Net

Serve.gov. Our task today also coincides with President Obama’s  “United We Serve” project, a nationwide effort to get all Americans to do some service this summer to help our country’s renewal and recovery.

Call an Organization

If you already know an area where you’d like to serve, than call up an organization and asks about volunteer opportunities. For example, if you’d like to work in education, call up a school. If you want to help the sick, call a hospital. Other possibilities include prisons, churches, retirement homes and charitable organizations. Or you might try to combine an old passion with your desire to serve by signing up to be a volunteer firefighter.

Join a Fraternal Organization

While we often think of fraternal organizations like the Masons and Shriners in conjunction with their ceremonies and rituals or as those guys who ride around on three-wheelers in parades, one of the main functions of lodges today it to perform community service. Joining an organization like the Masons will provide you with great service opportunities so you don’t have to go hunting them down.

Start Your Own Project

All that’s needed to start a service project is to identify a need in your community and then fill it. For example, Buzz started a project in his town of Montpelier, Vermont to bring firewood to the needy. Energy costs are sky high these days, and many people in places like Vermont can’t afford to heat their home electrically in the winter. They therefore use a wood burning stove to keep warm, but groups like the elderly and the sick aren’t able to go gather the wood they need. Buzz chops down trees (legally), splits the wood, and then delivers it to those who need it. Any man can do something similar. And it doesn’t have to be  on a big scale either. If there’s a little old lady down the street, why not ask  if you can mow her lawn or run some errands for her?

Today’s task: Commit to do some service. You obviously don’t have to do the service in the next 24 hours. Your task is simply to find a project or opportunity you’d like to volunteer for and sign up if you can. Or come up with a project that you’re going to create yourelf. Let us know what you decide to do in the Community.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jcard21 June 20, 2009 at 4:20 am

I don’t agree with this article at all.

Charity, service, whatever you want to call it, is filled with just as much selfishness, which has a negative connotaion. Instead, use the word self-interest.

ALL human action is based on self-interest, even charity and service to others.

The “benefits” received may not be monetary, but makes the giver “feel good” … self-interest! This is not to be taken lightly. Food addicts, drug addicts, adrenaline junkies, food pantry volunteers all get the benefits of feeling good after their fix. In the case of charity and service, there is also the accolades given to “those who serve”. Newspaper articles praise their generosity. People pat them on the back, saying “What a good deed you performed.”

I had a discussion with a relative on this very subject. she was complaining about the money she gives to her church. I asked her why she felt she had to donate money to a church she no longer attends (she’s almost 90); I asked if she was trying to buy her way into heaven, which she denied. She finally admitted it made her “feel good” … self-interest!

To reiterate: ALL human action is based on self-interest.

2 jcard21 June 20, 2009 at 4:28 am

I forgot one other point…

Every human action is a trade FOR something they value MORE, giving up something they value LESS.

This is true when you buy things.

This is true when you donate your time.

This is true when you give up your seat on a life raft to your wife and kids (you value their lifes more than your own).

A calculation is performed each and every time: What do I value more?

Just something to think about…

3 Brett June 20, 2009 at 5:20 am

jcard21-

I’m not exactly sure what you’re disagreeing with in this post. I readily admit in the post that the server derives a benefit from serving others. In fact, all the benefits I listed are self-interests: feel good, broaden your perspective, etc.

So again, what do you disagree with in this post?

I’ll agree with you. People serve not just to be altruistic, but out of self interest. Whether it’s to feel good about themselves, makes sure they get into heaven, etc.

I still think service is good. I get my self-interest fulfilled, and someone who’s hungry gets food, someone who doesn’t have a father gets a mentor, and someone who needs blood gets a transfusion.

It’s a win-win situation.

4 Andrew Barbour June 20, 2009 at 6:01 am

Sure. People do it because it feels good or because it’s in their own self interest.

It’s still a good thing to do, though. While yeah, it may be no skin of the back of the charitable individual, most people will look at him/her and say, “Gosh, I wish I could shape my values like that.” We respect them because they’re good role models. They do something that most of us can’t–place a higher value on helping others than their own money.

Over-analyzing the motivations for charity is like deriding creative works like films or fiction novels because they’re not real. Who cares? It makes people happy, so what’s wrong with it.

5 cl June 20, 2009 at 6:23 am

Isn’t it immoral to use someone else’s misery to make yourself feel better?

6 Brett June 20, 2009 at 6:27 am

@cl-

You should never do service just to make yourself feel better. The happiness you get from it is a byproduct of the service. It’s not the reason to do it-it’s the result of it.

7 cl June 20, 2009 at 6:43 am

@Brett

Yes but what is the reason? To become a better man? As jcard21 pointed out, all human actions are based on self-interest.

8 Brett June 20, 2009 at 6:51 am

The reason is to help people. When it’s early in the morning on a Saturday and I have to get up for a service project, self-interest would keep me in bed because I really don’t want to go. But I go because someone needs help. And yeah, I feel good afterwards, but that’s not what drove me to it. I don’t get out of bed thinking, “I’ll feel so happy afterward!” Even if self-interest is what subconciously drove me to it, so what? You didn’t answer the question I posedt to jcard21 above….if my self-interest benefits me and another person, then who cares? Why does it matter what the motivation is behind it if both people benefit and people who need help get help?

9 Michael June 20, 2009 at 6:56 am

If people serve out of self-interest, then why do 95% of people do no service at all?

Anyone who equates the fix of working in a food pantry with that of a drug addict, has very very clearly never worked in a food pantry.

10 cl June 20, 2009 at 7:03 am

I didn’t mean to come off as rude (kinda seems like it). If I did, i apologize. All I wanted was to have an open-minded conversation about the fallacies of altruism. Not here to change your mind, just get a different perspective for myself.

As for your question; shouldn’t motivation always matter?

11 Frank June 20, 2009 at 7:04 am

Brett-

When will you start banning ass clowns like jcard and cl? They don’t add anything to the discussion and are only using the comments to make themselves feel psuedo-philosophical. They make the experience at AoM unpleasant. Throw down the hammer! Get rid of these people!

12 Brucifer June 20, 2009 at 7:09 am

Chaps, I consult professionally in the nonprofit sector. Therefore, allow me to post a few caveats to the article.

Despite their warm-fuzzy missions, some charities can be as big an organizational cesspool as you might find in the for-profit sector.

Some charities, even (or sometimes especially) the high-profile ones, can be just horrible in the way they involve and treat their volunteers.

If your initial contact is not courteous and professional or if you get the slightest hint that they don’t have their act together, vote with your feet … pronto. A good rule of thumb is the more offhandedly they involve you, the less rewarding it will be.

Remember that “volunteer” is a pay category, not a job description. This cuts both ways. You should have a particular idea of what type of JOB you want to volunteer to do. Likewise, if the charity tries to force-fit you into just any old work that they happen to need at the moment, vote with your feet … pronto.

Do your homework. In addition to websites like Volunteer Match and Serve Net, most communities of any size have local volunteer referral agencies that act much like a job matching service, only for non-paid volunteer positions. Local United Ways or community foundations can point you to ones in your area.

Be advised that some volunteer jobs, especially those that work one-on-one with vulnerable populations, will require you to through considerable interviewing, training and even criminal background checks before you will be allowed to do anything. And typically, because they have invested all that effort in you, they will require you to commit to volunteering for a certain length of months.

Also, mowing an old lady’s lawn is one thing. But if you want to start your own project on a larger scale, do your homework thoroughly about what you *think* is a community need. I’ve seen far to many people get a “good idea” in their heads and start to do it without realizing there is already a charity in town charged with doing that very sort of thing. Sometimes, all’s they need is some more volunteer manpower to pull it off better. Duplication of effort benefits no one.

That said, once one has done the proper research, there is nothing wrong with starting your own project if you think it can fill an unmet need, or else do things smarter, better, faster. Some of the best charities in the world started out in that manner. Yet also be advised that going after funding and donations for what is little more than your own ego-centered pet project will probably be met with failure.

Finally, appreciate that community needs are 365 days a year. Typically, far too many people want to just serve during “the holidays” to get their halos polished before going to Christmas dinner. Then they disappear for the rest of the year. Bah Humbug!

13 James W. Russell June 20, 2009 at 7:10 am

Great ethics discussion/experiment.

@ Michael It’s b/c it’s not in their self interest.

@ Brett Do you not fulfill some sort of morality interest by doing service? Interests are innumerable. Doing right for the sake of right is fulfillment of the belief that righteousness prevails. This not an discussion of service so be careful not to equate it. Your frustration will subvert your self interest. :)

14 James W. Russell June 20, 2009 at 7:12 am

@ Brucifer Just look at ACORN

15 Frank June 20, 2009 at 7:13 am

cl-

If people worried about motivation, shit wouldn’t get done.

“Hey! there’s a man bleeding to death in the street. Let’s go help him!”

“Wait a minute. What’s our motivation in helping him? Are we doing this so we don’t feel guilty? So I can feel like a hero and impress women? Because I genuinely love my neighbor?”

Meanwhile, man dies.

Yeah, figuring out my motivation did a lot of good.

16 Adrian Piazza June 20, 2009 at 7:14 am

jcard21 must be an “Atlas Shrugged” fan. Not all human interaction is self-serving this is a tenet of Objectivist philosophy. I do not subscribe. Motivation is usually personal and multifaceted. America and the West usually understood charity as a moral obligation. Christian Charity is based upon Jesus serving sacrificially for humankind and therefore his followers serve Him by serving others. The list of benefits does not motivate but does describe the effects volunteers witness in their lives. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. Even if you don’t die you can serve.

17 Brett June 20, 2009 at 7:25 am

@Cl-

I was about to make some comments similar to what Frank just said. You’ve asked some questions but you haven’t given any answers. If you think motivation is important, then explain why. To me motivation is not important because:

1) There’s no way to untangle my self-interest from my altruism. I know I’ve had moment of altruism and I know I’ve had moments of self-interest. And I think I’m self-aware enough to know the difference. To say that altruism absolutely does not exist is a bit of cynicism that I do not subscribe to. At the end of the day discerning your true motivation is an impossible task that eats up time you could be doing something actually beneficial.

2) The people who are served by me don’t give a rat’s ass what my motivation is. If they’re hungry or need tutoring or need mentorship, they don’t care whether I’m serving them out of pure altruism or whether I’m serving my self-interest in doing so. They just want help.

The question of motivation is only important to philosophers, not the man on the street. And frankly, I think those who get hung up on it are looking for a way to justify their laziness.

@Brucifer-

Many thanks for the realistic advice.

18 Seth Q. June 20, 2009 at 7:29 am

Yeah it sounds like cl and jcard are a bunch of ayn rand fan boys. Ayn Rand was a narcissist and her followers tend to be narcissists as well. So actually thinking about others is probably psychologically impossible for them. They’re stuck in their own little world that revolves just around them.

19 Jason Y June 20, 2009 at 7:35 am

Heb. 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

20 Randy June 20, 2009 at 7:47 am

I just want to add a quick point. I started volunteering early on in my college career – all for the wrong reasons. The reasons for doing service seem to be, as both the article and many posters mention, 1) it makes you feel good, 2) having service looks good on resumes. The problem with coming into service thinking that you are “changing” something, or helping someone that needs helped, is you are putting yourself above the problem.

I now work in a non-profit clinic. The problems of health care are consuming the news daily – I won’t spend time addressing them here. What I will mention, however, is that the danger of being above the problem is that your perspective is skewed and you isolate those you are trying to serve. Service is a two way street. While you are working to help others, successful service allows the opportunity to destroy barriers between social classes. Brett alludes to this in his article, but it’s important to understand that breaking down social barriers includes both lifting others up, and lowering yourself.

I will conclude with one final point. A life of service is nothing without a form of spirituality. When your heart is broken, you need something to heal it. While I pursue my service from the life of a devout Christian, it’s not to say that meditation, Buddhism, or any other kind of spirituality (not even necessarily a religion) has potential virtue to those living a life of service. If curious, research the life of Oscar Romero, or the writings of Ignacio Ellacuria.

21 Dave June 20, 2009 at 7:49 am

I happen to believe that there are selfless people who help others out of love for God and/or neighbor. Part of becoming a mature person is to accept that the world does not revolve around you. Serving others is a good way of learning this lesson.

22 Darrell June 20, 2009 at 8:06 am

Good article.

Our philosophy will dictate our actions. If you come from a Christian world view then that is the meta-narrative which guides what you do.

Loving your Neighbor as yourself is part of the greatest commandment. We should do it because it’s the right thing to do. Protecting the weak and giving generously of our time, talent, and treasure is not a self-serving action. In fact, from the Christian perspective doing these things solely out of a hope for reward ruins the entire process.

That’s not an incompatible idea with personal responsibility or individual freedom.

A great book that I’d recommend is Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas. In it, the author explores the idea of anonymous and selfless giving. It’s well worth a read.

23 Jason Y June 20, 2009 at 8:43 am

@Darrell
You said, “Our philosophy will dictate our actions.” That’s not to say that our actions line up perfectly with our creeds, correct? Many debates over, e.g., the importance of doctrine in a church are confused by failure to recognize the difference between doctrine _on paper_ and actions. Actions reveal our _real_ beliefs, which might or might not line up with ideals we say we hold to. But I digress.

24 Randy Hauer June 20, 2009 at 9:13 am

It seems to be that one of the great truths in life is “you always get what you give.”

If you give (volunteer or serve) out of self interest alone then you are not truly serving or volunteering. In other words, if you are giving to get something out of it, then you aren’t truly giving.

I’m not saying that there is any such thing as true altruism…but I am saying that authentic service is more like a self-expression, a generosity of spirit than just some kind of watered down emotional potlatch ritual.

Service implies a stand for something bigger than yourself…if you are serving simply “to become a better man” you won’t . If you truly serve you might become a better man, but that judgment won’t be your call to make.

jcard21′s posts arguing for self interested motivation has some truth in it (derived from Ayn Rand such as it is). I’m sure many people operate this way. Clearly he wouldn’t have posted if it wasn’t so for him.

25 Jake June 20, 2009 at 9:36 am

So where would I fall? Yesterday, after a full day of work in the Florida heat, I saw (and had to drive around) a stalled vehicle in the turn lane on the way home. I didn’t even think twice that the right thing to do was to see if they needed help. I parked my car and went back and pushed the car safely to the side of the road without asking for anything, even thanks in return.

I certainly didn’t get any rush out of doing the right thing, but it was what I felt had to be done.

26 Christatos Aristad June 20, 2009 at 10:49 am

To reinforce the argument in favor of charity allow to reference some relatively modern literature. Camus would say that as human beings we are all members of a Solidarity of Men against death. Even as an existentialist, he believed that the responsibility of every man as to stand alongside his fellow man and join together in the preservation of life in opposition to unjust and unnatural death and suffering. This can be seen in the judgment in the Strange, the release in the Guest, and the growth of hope in the Plague. Now if an Existentialist can reject the idea of self interest, despite the sophist concepts underlying the idea that permeates the philosophy, how can we choose otherwise?

Furthermore, the suggestion that every human action is selfish is so absurd as to be laughable. It is not only lacking in generosity it is asicienttific. Altruism is a well defined natural phenomenon and instinct that defies self interest, and exists in mammal as low as rabbits in the individual.

I recognize that was somewhat unkind, and I apologize for the tone, but I grow a little ungentlemanly when people make these kinds of specious and sweeping arguments in opposition to something as simple and positive as charity. There is simply no excuse for arguing against helping other people. No real gentleman can make such an argument.

27 Cardo June 21, 2009 at 4:16 am

Volunteering service to another by means of fraternal organizations, service clubs, community groups, church organizations or just by doing it of your own free will of course carries the side result of feeling good about yourself and I can see where some would do it out of the NEED for self-interest. I.e. the need to do something to get that pat on the back or chance to say “see what I did, now tell me what a good person I am.” This by no means a valid reason for doing so. Performing Service for your fellow man should have been part of your upbringing as taught by your parents, mentors, teachers and clergy. As for Frank and Jake’s comments, duty to respond to the aid of others should have been included in your rearing as well.

I admit that I do get satisfaction out of the many things I do both as a volunteer and as a passerby in life that takes the time to help others, but by no means is this the reason I do it. My satisfaction comes from knowing that my one step or action when multiplied by all the people that are doing the same, help make this a better place to live in and raise my kids.

The actions I perform are the actions I saw my Father perform, the things that made a real man and a real father. I do my best to emulate his actions to try to live as a good man and a good father for my children. I have been brought up and have joined an organization where part of our obligations includes this duty to our fellow man, to the length of my abilities and to the point of no injury to myself. By helping others, I hope to pass these values onto my daughters so that there are three more people helping others.

As for not joining a large group out of fear that they are corrupt, treat the volunteers wrongly or not joining and those worried about duplication or services. There are many people that, out of lack of knowledge, fear of asking or just too much pride to ask for help, need people that are just willing to strike out on their own and offer help.

By helping your fellow man, there is no reason you should not be able to sit back at the end of the day and feel good about the way you choose to live your life.

28 Jerry July 31, 2009 at 10:37 am

I have taught Lutheran Confirmation classes to teenage youth for more years that I care to remember. We have our base course of instruction but each teacher has a little lee way as to what “extras” are taught. My “extra” has been teaching “service before self”.

In teaching “Service before self” I explain that we are all Gods children and it is our duty to help our fellow man. At the end of every lesson I challenge the youth with the following challenge.
PART 1

1. Go out into the world (our community or where ever) and do a kindness by helping someone.
2. Don’t get caught. By Don’t get caught I simply mean that the youth should do a kindness anonymously. The youth should do something like clear the sidewalk of snow for a neighbor or the like. The goal is to silently encourage others to help others…sort of a “force multiplier” if you will.
3. Do not tell anyone about this kindness you performed. There should only be three people initially that know the kindness was performed. God, You, and the person you performed the kindness for. Any “advertisement of the kindness” should be done by the person receiving the kindness. they will probably tell others that someone anonymously helped them.

Part 2

1. Find someone that needs help, a lifting up so to speak. Find out what they need help with and then help them if you are able. DO NOT accept payment (that would simply miss the whole point of the exercise)
2. Join a service group that actually performs a service.

Over the past several years I could not tell you how many youth took me up on my challenge but I suspect the vast majority did because I noticed that almost all had a change in attitude and a better understanding of what John 15:13 is all about.

All this talk of getting a “good feeling” from service is interesting. It seems to me that if you go into the performing of a service just for the “good feeling” then you have missed the mark. If you go into the performing of a service just for the “plain goodness” or honor involved then you have hit the mark dead on.

Just my .02 I could be wrong and your mileage may vary

29 P.D. January 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm

I’m a bit disgusted that anyone is disagreeing with this at all. Yes, people get satisfaction from serving others. You act like that is wrong. Frankly, it’s people with that attitude who are harming society. Service to others is good. People do it because they want to serve. They feel good afterwards because they DID what they know to be RIGHT. I would think substancially less of a man who refuses to serve or scorns others who do for the very reasons you’ve all just given. Okay, sure. Sometimes people serve because they want to feel good, but why do they feel good about it? Because they know it is the morally right thing to do.

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