Do-goodism or True Service?

Posted: 2/27/2012

by Vie Thorgren

When dealing with volunteering and serving others, it's helpful to draw a distinction between do-goodism and true service. I define do-goodism as proceeding from an attitude of "I have and you don't. Because I have and you don't, I choose to give you a little bit of what I have." This makes the do-gooder generous, and the responsibility of the recipient is to be grateful. The do-gooder controls all aspects of the interaction and wants a particular outcome. When things unfold according to the expectations of the do-gooder, there are positive feelings for him/her. The recipient is beholden and dependent. When things don't unfold according to the expectations of the do-gooder, or when he/she cannot remain in control, feelings of betrayal or fear result. The do-gooder may become angry at "these people" or may experience a type of burnout known as compassion fatigue.

True service honors the dignity of every person and understands that every person has something to give as well as something to receive. True service is participatory. The person who is in need is able to participate in the solutions that are developed. There is a sense of being empowered rather than beholden. The person who chooses to serve another discovers that he/she receives as much as he/she gives. There is an energizing impact on both physical and emotional health. The capacity to give deepens along with a willingness to include and invite others to discover the same freedom. The person who has been served discovers his/her strength and is typically motivated to pass on to others the benefits he/she has received.

The attitude and the orientation that we bring to our care for others can either wear us out or set us free. Compassion that flows from an attitude of true service never wears us out.


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