Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Breaking the Bubble: selfish service

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”- Lilla Watson

Watson’s formulation seems to me the general perception of community service: purely selfless, altruistic actions done out of self-sacrifice for the benefit others. I am not above this disillusionment myself; I have also been conditioned to think of the “service mindset” as an ivory tower of goodwill.

I have realized, however, that this is an untenable description of why we (or at least I) do service. Call it a confession, call it what you will, but I need to say it plainly: my motives for service are far from the “perfect” altruism stated above.

Being completely selfless leads to burnout, breakdown and a disconnection of self from the object of one’s labors. In many respects, having personal investment, and yes, even that oft-reviled quality self-interest will make for better volunteers more consistently committed to their cause.

Let me explain this further: I am trying to get at the crux of the quote above by Watson, an Australian aboriginal activist and intellectual. What Watson so aptly observes is that pure charity, especially when one is physically and/or emotionally disconnected from his or her beneficiaries, is not an effective mode of bringing about the good.

Help offered without the personal investment of the benefactor serves to inscribe hegemony and a needy/needed dichotomy. Watson’s quote is a powerful statement against those who would try to “help” her people, to reach down from an ivory tower and pull them into the “civilized” world.

To understand Watson’s quote and the nature of service, we must understand that “pure” service is born out of compassion and relation. What are the motivations behind a relationship? There is common love, common struggle, common encouragement. Serving and understanding each other is a natural extension of respect for one another’s humanity.

To make the world a better place, we don’t have to forgo all semblance of self. We must understand that our “liberation is bound up” with each other.

When we mentor a child, he is more likely to succeed in school, live a happier life and one day exhibit the same compassion and sense of regard to others that was once showed him. This is service in microcosm; to help others, but also to invest yourself in what concerns you.

This brand of service mindset is what makes you feel alive and allows you to exercise your own core values. In doing less, we are not true to ourselves.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *