Over the past two weeks, I’ve been involved in two very different service opportunities. The first was a week-long Boy Scout summer camp. This involved 6 long, hot days full of manual labor and mentoring of young men in an outdoor setting.
The second was a one-night charity catfish fry to benefit a local food bank. Here, volunteers came together to host an event lasting only a couple of hours. In this case, there was a shorter, intense spurt of activity.
While these two service opportunities were very different in nature, I couldn’t help but notice that they were staffed by the same three types of people.
1. The “Look at me!” service provider. These are the people with ulterior motives attached to their volunteerism. They make a big show of participating, but in hindsight, don’t appear to have contributed very much. They disappear when the hard work needs to be done, but are all too eager to accept the flashy, spotlight-centric assignments. When all is said and done, they brag about how much they contributed to the success of the effort.
2. The “Why me?” service provider. These are the reluctant volunteers. They show up either to escape other responsibilities or because it would look bad if they didn’t. They aren’t really vested in the outcome, yet manage to find plenty to complain about. Even after the time to serve has past, they’ll continue to gripe about the imposition that was caused or find fault in the performance of others.
3. The “It’s up to me.” service provider. These are the committed few. They believe in the purpose behind the cause and willingly shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility. Their motivation is the betterment of those on the receiving end of their service. They take care of things because they see a need and have the skills to meet it. They do so without expectation of fanfare or even recognition.
I’d like to say that I always fall into the third category. But I’d be lying.
Serving is, by definition, a giving of oneself. To serve others, you have to put them first and yourself second. That just doesn’t come naturally to most people. It doesn’t come naturally to me. So, sadly, I can look back on occasions when I’ve served in order to bring attention to myself. I can identify times when I have been a reluctant servant. And I am ashamed.
People like Colonel John Paul Stapp, Bapurao Tajne, and fighter pilots Marc Sasseville and Heather Penney remind me what it means to serve. These people didn’t look for glory or act out of a sense of obligation. They saw an opportunity and said “It’s up to me.” And they inspire through their acts of selfless service.
What if more people said that? What if I said it more often? Imagine the impact a single individual can have on the life of another simply by deciding to act.
Internal Service Month may not be a recognized holiday, but then it really shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t need some official call to focus on serving each other. I should just do it.
Because it’s up to me.