“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi
The word service has many meanings; the one I want to highlight is when the term service is used to describe an act of altruistic activity, which someone does for another, without the desire of reward. This is when the notion of service becomes a value – a principle that guides our thinking and behaviour.
This week I have observed how service is so important as a cornerstone of a civil society.
It was the start of the new school year, here in the UK, and I was invited to talk to the staff of a Primary School on their training day. The school has a budget deficit, so the newly appointed Head asked me to come pro bono, which I cheerfully agreed. The occasion was a truly uplifting experience, sharing my thinking with such an enthusiastic and committed staff. I came away feeling that they had given me as much as I had given them, in terms of sharing goodwill and a passion for providing the best possible education for children. I felt good because I had been of service.
Later in the week I decided to go shopping for a new computer. Ten years ago, I bought a laptop computer and recently it has been showing its age! My computer has accompanied me on my journeys abroad and has been a great tool, especially when I am giving presentations about Values-based Education, or needing to stay in touch with friends and colleagues through emails.
I made an appointment to return to the Apple store in Leicester, UK, where I had bought it and was met by Tom. He asked me what I had come to buy? I explained passionately that this time I wanted a bigger 16” computer – a total upgrade that would serve all my communication needs. He listened patiently to me and then asked me a few questions about what programs I use on my computer. He showed me the top of the range computer, which, yes, was all singing and dancing. At this point, sensing my excitement, he could have made a sale as I was completely hooked! He then asked me if he could show me a new 13”? He then exhibited a computer that did all the things that I would want and more! Why did I want to pay an extra £1000? His logic made sense and I came away with a great computer and £1000 still in my bank account.
I reflected on Tom’s behaviour, realising that he had given me great service. The customer’s needs came first, not making as much money as possible. You will recall that the world’s economy nearly collapsed a few years ago, when bankers put making profit before the needs of their customers – they forgot the value of service.
On the same day, I took a package into the post office. It contained a t-shirt, with a shark motif, a birthday present for my grandson Benjamin. The counter assistant looked at my package and suggested that I would save money if it were folded to be no more than A4 in size. He proceeded to fold and secure the end of the package with sticky tape. He needn’t have offered to do this and save me money but he obviously believed in giving good customer service.
The two events made me reflect on the importance of service and how it oils the wheels of good relationships and trust I society. Some years ago, travelling in India, I discovered that service, serva in Sanskrit, means a desire to uplift those around you by serving from your heart.
In my professional work I have often witnessed such qualities in families and community volunteers. Research shows that volunteerism lifts the spirits of both the helper and the helped, creating an atmosphere of solidarity – one of humanity’s original survival strategies.
One of the aims of this year’s G20 summit is focussed on looking for ways to encourage more people in all countries to volunteer – to be of service for others. I sense that if this aim succeeds, then the level of general wellbeing will improve and people will find a greater sense of happiness and fulfilment in their lives.