Five reasons to serve others
When you serve, you discover that often the most important things you have to offer are not things at all, says the founder of Servicespace.org
At the height of the dot-com boom in 1999, a few tech-savvy friends and I walked into a homeless shelter to give without any strings attached. Our motivation? We just wanted to serve, and quickly discovered that such a practice of selfless giving is something that we all have access to, no matter who we are or what we do.Skip to next paragraph
EcoZoom: a model for selling clean cookstoves in Africa
Partnering with the poor: four powerful programs that fight poverty
How a small California town curbed a teen suicide epidemic—by talking about it
Grow Appalachia: a better food system for America
Harrison, Ark., works to scrub away a 'whites only' label
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Our trip to the homeless shelter led to us building a website for them at no charge. That experiment in giving blossomed into an organization called ServiceSpace, which went on to develop and gift websites to thousands of small nonprofits.
But the ripples didn't stop there. ServiceSpace has now evolved into a remarkable incubator for dozens of projects, including an online good news portal, "Smile Cards," that spread kindness, and a gift-economy restaurant in Berkeley and rickshaw in India – all touching millions of people.
It's not just what we do that matters, but the inner impetus behind our action that really counts.
While the external impact of these projects is tremendous, what is most striking is the fact that ServiceSpace doesn't fund-raise, has no staff, and remains 100 percent volunteer-run. Everyone involved is driven simply by the volition to grow in service.
In a world dominated by financial incentives that appeal to a consumption mindset, ServiceSpace is a counterculture invitation to engage in small acts of generosity, continually shifting towards a mindset of inspired contribution.
It's a beautiful fact that in practicing kindness, we can't help but deepen our understanding of how inner and outer change are fundamentally intertwined.
Here are five reasons to serve that we've discovered through our own journey.
1. Serve to discover abundance: the radical shift from 'me' to 'we.'
When you serve, you discover that often the most important things you have to offer are not things at all. You start to uncover the full range of resources at your disposal – your time, presence, attention – and recognize that the ability to give stems from a state of mind and heart, a place much deeper than the material. Inspired by the possibilities this opens up in every moment, you begin to discover humble opportunities to serve – everywhere.
This process begins a shift from a me-orientation to a we-orientation. You start to look at people and situations with an eye for what you can offer them, and not vice versa. You break the tiresome tyranny of questions like "What's in it for me?" The mindset shifts from consumption to contribution. Paradoxically, when serving in this way, you are no longer operating from a space of scarcity. Your cup fills and overflows.
2. Serve to express gratitude.
When you acknowledge the fullness of your life, you can manifest a heart of service in any situation. In that sense, service doesn't start when we have something to give – it blossoms naturally when we have nothing left to take. And that is a powerful place to be.
We begin to play our part – first, by becoming conscious of the offerings we receive, then by feeling gratitude for them, and finally by continuing to pay forward our gifts with a heart of joy.
Yes, external change is required for the world to progress, but when coupled with inner transformation, it can affect the world in a radically different way.
"We can do no great things – only small things with great love," maintained Mother Teresa, a woman who made a difference in the lives of millions. It's a matter of what we focus on. In other words, it's not just what we do that matters, but the inner impetus behind our action that really counts.