Commitment. Community. Hardship. People. Relationships. Empowerment. Effective. Selfless. Engage. Purpose. Complicated. Understanding. Values. Working. Stewardship. Giving. Helping.
These are some of the words a group of Oregonians answered when asked: What one word comes to mind when you hear the word service?
The diverse choice of words indicate the breadth and complexity of what it means to serve.
If you live in a city, you can walk down the street and see homeless people struggling to find shelter or begging for food. We see regular pleas for help on social media and receive countless solicitations for financial donations to support organizations committed to ending the plight of the marginalized and downtrodden. We’re surrounded by sad images, hard realities and sometimes overwhelming expectations to answer the call to help solve complex issues. There are more than 1.7 million non-governmental organizations in the United States and social enterprises actively working to remedy or alleviate the many ills in society. The needs are monumental.
A lot of people seek to out opportunities to serve or dedicate their lives to service. Some people volunteer, others make financial donations or donate skills and services. Some people invest in meaningful careers to devote their time to a cause. People are called to serve because it is a religious belief. Some people serve because their moral conscience and sense of responsibility is activated. Others serve to feel good or better about themselves. An altruistic act is rarely truly selfless because we benefit so much when we are kind to others.
Service is also important. It brings us closer together. It connects us. It deepens our understanding of people and issues. It builds character. It strengthens society. It builds compassion and nurtures empathy. It provides perspective. And more importantly.
How do we know the type of service that people need or want?
What if someone doesn’t know how to articulate what they need?
Think about a time when you stepped up to serve and with hindsight, it may not have been the correct or wisest move to intervene to try and serve to ‘save’ a person.
It is easy to assume when we serve that it is the right thing to do. It is easy to judge. It is easy to choose on behalf of someone, especially if they’re vulnerable, undernourished, unable to think straight. It is easy to tell people what they “should” do. It is natural for many people to want to solve and tell people what they need. It is equally worth stepping back to think about the needs of others before we assume our role in service to save someone (whether for a day, week, year or lifetime). As one participant shared, an act of doing good is not about completion. Another participant reminded us that impact doesn’t tell the whole story.
Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project is a reflective and invigorating experience to open the mind, exercise listening and expand thoughts. Something we could all benefit from doing more often.