Service…do we need a reason?

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In class this week, the big discussion centered around why we volunteer.  Is it because we want to help others or is it to benefit ourselves in terms of good karma?  Is it the right thing to do or do we volunteer because it makes us feel good?  These rhetorical questions aren’t including court mandated community service of course.

I’m all for service because it’s the right thing to do, and I genuinely believe that people serve because it is the right thing to do.  People have good hearts.  When I serve, I would like to think I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.  Sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I think people serve to help out others in need.  There is a point where people want to make others happy, and to serve others gives people a warm feeling inside.   It’s not about helping others who don’t have the means to help themselves in terms of jobs (homeless), mobility (older folks), and money (non-profits like food banks and churches), it’s about seeing the joy and happiness on the face of those you are helping.  Some people may not show it, but even one happy face and a thank you is enough.

So while helping others, we are working because it makes us feel good.  We work for our own personal feeling.  What does that say about us?  I think it says that we are still looking for some personal gain out of doing something for others.  It’s the what is in it for me right away attitude.  Maybe I’m just tired and spouting nonsense, but does that make any sense?


4 Comments on “Service…do we need a reason?”

  1. Eric, I like you’re comments. You’re right, do we really need a reason? If we do, do we care what the reason is? In the end, the service still does good to the people/companies/etc. we volunteer for, so who cares what the motives are?

    I, too, believe in the greater good of others; I believe all people are inherently good. Right now I’m reading all the C.S. Lewis books (the theology series not the Lion, Witch, Wardrobe – even though those rock!). In the books, The Screwtape Letters and The Problem of Pain, Lewis describes that good was established first and is learned first… so consequently bad/evil is not an opposite to good/kind, but rather the absence of good things. I believe this concept wholeheartedly. As you said, “People have good hearts.”

  2. Eric, I completely agree with you. I like volunteering for the same reasons — I love seeing how people’s lives can be changed even in a tiny way just by me putting effort into a cause. I think everyone’s motivation for volunteering is a little different (and some may be purely selfish), but I agree that most people do it out of the kindness of their hearts. I think it’s normal to expect personal gain from it, to a degree, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. If I feel fulfilled by helping others, I’ll want to help others more — which seems to me like a win-win situation.

    1. I agree Julia that feeling good about helping others is a win-win situation. I know doing community service makes me feel good!

      No matter what the motivation behind volunteering, it helps others which is a good thing.

  3. Eric,

    I am glad you addressed this point – I will also blog on this topic because I think it is an important discussion (and an interesting distinction in cross-cultural perspectives).

    I think service is a self-sustaining cycle that perpetuates itself. We volunteer for some innate reason, respond to the behavior of those we are helping and are therefore compelled to volunteer again. As Julia said (and Covey would agree), it’s a win-win.

    And while I agree with you (and Emily) that most people are inherently good, I also believe that people are motivated by rational self-interest. I wonder if the “because it makes me feel good” rationale can fully account for the majority of motivations, or if something else is in the driver’s seat…


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