In a world where phrases like “everything has a price” or “you gotta give to get” exist, its hard to fathom that sincere selflessness can actually occur on a daily basis.
And yet, I like to believe that this happens when people are truly passionate about community service.
The key components of community service that come to mind are volunteer and common good.
That means that your act, deed, or service is not coerced or purchased – it is freely given. And your act, deed, or service is not primarily about what you will derive from it – but how it will impact the people around you.
I feel that we sometimes allow this “give to get” mantra to influence the purpose and purity of our acts of service and the values and lessons to be derived from being a servant. Whether it is trying to look more well-rounded for that college application, joining your job’s corporate outreach initiatives to get face time for with the boss, or even just doing it because of what it does for your image, being a community servant transforms into everything other than volunteering for the common good.
But I believe the true joy of serving comes when it is selfless, because I feel like those are the moments when you get out of your own way, and allow the experience to transform you. Then, it is not just something you throw out there for people to remember you, but it shapes and defines how you live your life.
I have been consciously giving back to the community (I say ‘consciously’ because doing it at the behest of my parents doesn’t count) since middle school, but it honestly was not until I reached college that I truly understood what it meant to be a community servant and the way I could grow from these opportunities.
Whether I was mentoring or volunteering for site projects at area schools, libraries, clean-up or building sites, the experience helped me understand that the world – and the problems that exist in it – were bigger than those learned in the life I lived. And this process is never finite. So I also have learned that I can never fully embody a perspective broad enough to understand all of the societal conundrums individuals are dealing with on a daily basis.
Service also took me to places, communities, and establishments I honestly could not say I would have ventured to otherwise. The people I meet and the spaces I meet them in gives me an expanded view of the infinite experiences each person in the world embodies and brings to my community, when I take the time to serve with them or meet them through service.
Learning how big the world is humbles my understanding of my own importance. This is not meekness or lack of assertiveness, but an understanding that “the world does not revolve around me”. As a young adult, its easy to pretend that this awareness just materialized in my consciousness one day. But this is a reality I learned from my parents, and that was reinforced through my experiences serving in communities whose problems were bigger than my own, and whose problems were not affected by my achievements or accolades. C.S Lewis said –
True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
-and I can think of no truer summation of how being a community servant puts me in this space.
While service shouldn’t be about expecting a return, its hard to deny that you inherently receive something in return. In addition to character-building life lessons, I also learned and reinforced practical skills. Some are not necessarily relevant to what I do every day now – such as putting vinyl siding onto a house (very fun though,and I’d love to try my hand at it again if anyone is doing home renovations!).
Others are highly relevant and a source of inspiration for continuing to develop new passions – like learning social media and communication and PR techniques to assist organizations like Capital Cause with their branding efforts.
Then there are the numerous soft skills you can develop from working with a team or even as an individual on service projects – effective communication, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and planning. I mean if colleges are on board with service providing practical learning opportunities, there has to be something to it right?
By emotional maturation, I mean empathy and compassion. It is hard to claim being fully empathetic through any experience, because one experience, especially a finite experience, can never equate to experiences someone else has developed by living or seeing it every day. However, it has helped me better understand the communities that I’ve lived in or been surrounded by, or helped me be more sensitive to the issues affecting demographics that do not necessarily look or live like me. And that’s where compassion came in. I didn’t need empathy to care about or value the person, or the experience of serving. Each experience serving has expanded my capacity for experiencing both.
The true value of being a community servant is not the job you can get, the resume you can bolster, or the people you can impress. Living a community servant lifestyle is learning to value a broader life perspective, humility, compassion, and empathy, all while learning new skills and experiences and reinvesting them in your community.