The Me Generation never quite grasped that the ultimate purpose of life is to be of service to others.
We were too busy looking out for No. 1. Our mantra was: what’s in it for me. That philosophy proved to be a short cut to a wasteland that prompted many to pray for something more, something more that a new house, a new car, a new TV, a new relationship.
We forgot the old truth that the more we give, the more we get. We can’t give billions like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, or use fame like Bono or Oprah Winfrey, but we can give ourselves.
Jesus said the widow who donated two mites to the temple gave more than the rich because it was all she had.
When society “evolved” into more complexity, we lost our simple sense of connection, of belonging to a bigger whole.
People used to belong to the community. They operated on the principle of the greater good, up to the point that, in some societies, the old wandered off to die when they could no longer contribute.
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can,” said George Bernard Shaw. “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die.”
Motivational guru Wayne Dyer said he spent hours in mediation before a lecture repeating one phrase: “How may I serve?”
At some point, whether it is after one drink too many, seeing our kids leave home, or during some personal catastrophe, we ask, again, why we’re here.
The answer is different for all of us, but we know it isn’t to see who gets the fastest car, has the biggest bank account or goes on the most exotic vacation. He who has the most toys doesn’t win.
The answer will inevitably be about service and making the world a better place.
We find we don’t want to emulate the sports hero who signed a multi-million deal or the celluloid celebrity who checked into rehab, again. We want to be more like the people who influenced us: people who move the world forward and help raise the consciousness of the planet.
We want to be like the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Mahatma Gandhi….
While we lack their stature and spiritual development, we can change the world on a smaller scale, one act of service at a time. It could be shovelling the driveway for a neighbour, helping someone get her car out of a ditch, or going door to door for the cancer society.
We’re too old to be boy scouts, but we can still practise their philosophy.
We can become committed community volunteers, the oil that makes society run. “Hands that help are holier than lips that pray,” said Sathya Sai Baba.
One act of kindness can change someone’s life and start a butterfly effect that improves the world. A guaranteed way to lift ourselves out of any foul mood or depression is to help another.
During biblical times, Roman law required a Jew to carry a soldier’s belonging for one mile; Jesus took it one step further and suggested that when something is demanded of us, we go the extra mile, to give more than is asked.
No human law requires us to help others, or to go the first mile, but the law of attraction gives back what we put out. When we say yes to the universe, it echoes back that refrain.
“He is great who confers the most benefits," Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in On Compensation. “He is base —and that is the one base thing in the universe — to receive favours and render none.”
Giving and being of service helps us grow toward what Karlfried Graf Durckheim, a German psychotherapist and spiritual master, called being transparent to transcendence, aligning ourselves with the flow of life.
It doesn’t end by giving — whether it’s a loonie to a panhandler or $1,000 to the food bank — but it’s a good place to start.
“You will gain far more than you give,” said D. Hamilton Simon-Jones, director of Community Service at Tulane University. “You will be taught about courage, perseverance, culture and strength. You will be taught about power, politics and society.
"You will be taught about yourself — your limits, your faith, your outlook, your needs, and if you are fortunate, you will be taught about where your passions lie, you will think about who you are and why you live the way you do.”
Leo Tolstoy died before Simon-Jones was born, but he proved the validity of that statement. Tolstoy had more than most of us even fantasize about. He was rich, he was famous and was regarded as the greatest novelist of his time. He had such an influence on Gandhi that he chose non-violence as the way to free India from the English.
But even with everything, Tolstoy plunged into a mid-life crisis that lasted years — which he chronicled in A Confession — and contemplated suicide just about every day. He finally found solace by converting to a life of spirituality and rendering service to others.
“The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people,” he wrote.
If we go into the silence and ask ourselves what our purpose is, the answer is more likely a reminder that we are all connected and that by helping others, we help humanity evolve.
Norman MacEwan put service into a poetic perspective. “Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.