The ABC’s of Professionalism
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
— Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), English author, poet.
What is Service?
The types of service typical of a professional include basic kindness and courtesy, just simple acts that make people smile. Beyond these, service also includes the sharing of valuables such as: money, goods, time, energy, attention, knowledge, wisdom and creativity. In keeping with the theme of professionalism, it would be convenient to refer to service as “professional service.” However, this pair of words has already been applied to favors that are transactional in nature. You’ll see what I mean shortly. The special type of service I wish to define for professionalism is one which comes from deep within the heart. To eliminate any further confusion between this and “professional service,” let’s call it “service with a soul.”
“Service… Giving what you don’t have to give. Giving when you don’t need to give. Giving because you want to give.” — Damien Hess
“After the verb ‘To Love’ … ‘To Help’ is the most beautiful verb in the world.” — Bertha Von Suttner
Service with a soul presupposes two concepts known as responsibility and discernment. Sharing with people what they need can differ significantly from irresponsibly giving them what they desire. Giving a drink to a drunk comes to mind as an example of the latter.
“Philanthropic humility is necessary if a giver is to do more good than harm, but it is not sufficient – philanthropic prudence is also needed.” — Marvin Olasky
Who Shall Serve? Whom Shall They Serve?
For purposes of efficiency, it is appropriate to dispense with the first question by simply answering, “Anyone who can must.” Likewise, the second question could be answered, “Anyone who is in need.” But, this begs the question. The following passage from the Good Book offers a deeper understanding of serving, one that explains the “who” and “whom” in service with a soul.
Jesus said, “‘… for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”
— Bible, Matthew 25:35-40
The results of serving reach beyond the front-line participants. From this Bible passage one can imagine a ripple effect that touches many others on its way back to God. Imagine the far-reaching impact each of us has when we practice service with a soul.
“In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.” — Flora Edwards
There are circumstances demanding that one be the server and different situations where it is necessary or appropriate for that same person to be served. Professionalism applies to both.
“The simplest and shortest ethical precept is to be served by others as little as possible, and to serve others as much as possible.” — Leo Tolstoy
Anyone who can serve, must serve. Always serve with grace and be served with gratitude.
“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.” — Martin Luther King, Jr
“Learn and grow all you can; serve and befriend all you can; enrich and inspire all you can.” — William Arthur Ward
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” — Albert Schweitzer
When Should We Serve?
Service with a soul is intended to be a lifelong endeavor, an everyday deal, and the appropriate response to needs whenever they appear. It’s disheartening to hear an adult say, “I’ve paid my dues, let someone else take over.” Other reasons for not serving are just as selfish and not befitting of a professional.
“Faithful servants never retire. You can retire from your career, but you will never retire from serving God.” — Rick Warren
“Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us daily.” — Sally Koch
“How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside me, what can it be?” — Vincent Van Gogh
Where Should We Serve?
It doesn’t take much thought to realize that the Dr. Seuss story “Green Eggs and Ham” is about the value of trying new things and how it leads to discovery and personal growth. Discovering service with a soul could be your green eggs and ham.
I like to serve my fellow man!
I do! I like him, Sam-I-am!
And I would serve him in a boat.
And I would serve him on a goat…
And I will serve him in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a plane.
And in a car. And in a tree.
That would be good, so good, you see!
So I will serve him in the jail.
And I will serve him on a trail.
And I will serve him at a show.
And I will serve him in the snow.
And I will serve him here and there.
Say! I will serve him ANYWHERE!
— Clancy Cross, with sincere apologies to the late Dr. Seuss (i.e. Theodor Geisel).
Service with a soul has no geographical limitations.
Why Should We Serve?
To a professional, “why” and “how” are the most important aspects of serving because they are the purpose and methods behind who, what, when and where. Service with a soul is not just an action. First and foremost it is about the attitude behind the action. Service with a soul is not only noble, it’s healthy and emotionally fulfilling.
“We shall serve for the joy of serving, prosperity shall flow to us and through us in unending streams of plenty.” — Charles Fillmore
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” — Albert Schweitzer
Serving helps create order, which is the rationality behind our duty to serve. But at its core, serving is both emotional and spiritual, especially service with a soul.
“The only way you can serve God is by serving other people.” — Rick Warren
“Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” — Bible, Matthew 20:26-28
How Should We Serve?
Serving in a way that reflects our “why” has a couple of important trademarks. Consider “favor,” which is another name for service. If given with “strings attached,” favors resemble transactions more than services. Whether or not a favor is returned, if the giver harbors any expectations, the favor becomes a transaction. Business services as well as business favors are transactions.
“You can’t have a perfect day without doing something for someone who’ll never be able to repay you.” — John Wooden
Another type of service transaction is performing an act expecting praise for the act. Like the previous example, whether or not the praise is forthcoming, the expectation of it makes it a transaction.
“He who confers a favor should at once forget it, if he is not to show a sordid ungenerous spirit. To remind a man of a kindness conferred and to talk of it, is little different from reproach.” — Demosthenes (384 BC – 322 BC)
Expecting third-party recognition for a good deed is also transactional in nature. The way to keep the service from becoming so requires the act to be performed in secret. Work behind the scenes – don’t talk about what you did. If the secret is inadvertently discovered, the professional will graciously accept the unexpected compliments or awards and humbly share the credit.
“But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” — Bible, Matthew 6:3-4
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” — Bible, Matthew 6:5
There is no intent to demean transactional services nor is there any implication that such services are not based on noble intentions. Simply that its reward is built into the transaction whereas the reward for service with a soul is nothing more than the good feeling that comes from doing the right thing. Serving from the heart makes it easy to serve generously and with a smile.
“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” — Bible, 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
“The fragrance always remains on the hand that gives the rose.” — Gandhi
On the receiving side of service, a professional expresses gratitude with words and deeds in such a way that it does not imply an “I owe you” mentality. That would disrespect the giver and cheapen the favor. Keeping a mental “favors balance sheet” (tit for tat) is a transactional mindset. Simply remember and do something nice out of love and respect for the person. There’s an even better option sometimes called “paying it forward.”
“If you can’t return a favor, pass it on” — Louise Brown
By now it must be obvious that service with a soul is extremely personal. Still, consider the need to delegate certain matters while guarding against making this a cop-out. Delegation can easily turn into abdication. As previously noted, Truman called it “passing the buck.” Professionals keep it personal.
“Serving God is doing good to man, but praying is thought an easier service and therefore more generally chosen.” — Benjamin Franklin
Start with prayer, remembering that YOU may be God’s answer to someone else’s prayer. If so, don’t hesitate.
“From now on, any definition of a successful life must include serving others.” — George H.W. Bush, 41st U.S. President.
© Copyright December 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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