To Serve is a Lifestyle

Jan 17, 2013
Tess Volunteering

Today’s post is written by Tess Pajaron, who is part of Open Colleges. As an advocate to systematic instruction and teaching, she can also be found working behind InformED, a blog about e-learning and education. In her spare time, she loves to travel and read about life, instruction and psychology.

The desire to live a serving and giving lifestyle is not something we are born with. Humans are selfish by nature and the instinct to put our own needs above those of another is decidedly strong.

I know this because I started out with a rather different outlook on life than the one I have today.

I was born into your typical middle class family, my parents were hardworking and, undoubtedly, well-meaning. However, volunteering and giving back to the community was not something that we ever talked much about.

As I grew older and became more aware of my environment, I pretty much held the view that it was every man for himself. I figured that because there were so many problems, it was pointless to even try to tackle them. I would take care of myself and let others do the same.

It wasn’t until college that this viewpoint was challenged by one of my close friends. She couldn’t understand how I could shut out the emotions, happiness and problems of those around me when there was something I could do to make a difference, even in just one person’s life.

At first I held out, insisting that we make our own success and that we cannot rely on the kindness or compassion of others to survive.

One day, my friend finally convinced me to accompany her to a charity event she was involved in. It was a sports event for underprivileged youths. My job was simple enough; fill plastic cups with watered down lemonade and pass them out as the various groups of kids returned from their activities.

As I watched those kids gratefully accept the drink with their cheeks flushed from their exertions on this simple day that had given them a short respite from the harsh realities of their everyday lives, I began to realize just how short sighted my views were.

It’s easy to preach about self-sufficiency and making your own success when you are born into a life where such things are made easy for you. However, had I been born into a similar situation as any one of those kids, my story would probably have played out quite differently.

Since that day, my attitudes have changed significantly, but that’s not to say it has been easy. A serving attitude is not something you can have on the side, as a hobby when you’ve had your own needs met, or an obligation that must be fulfilled to keep up appearances.

It is a choice you must make every single day, to reach out to others and give beyond what is comfortable for you. It is a lifestyle, and in order to live such a lifestyle, your attitude must change.

You must become passionate about serving others, and have enough humility to see that without any help from others, you would not be in the position you are today. We are all dependent on each other in some way, and evidence suggests that the human race would have been unable to survive had it not been for some element of charity and social reciprocity.

The good news is that this compassionate attitude is teachable; you can learn a different way of being, and you can bring your children up to cherish these same values. I recently came across a very interesting study depicted in an infographic, which shows just how important a role education plays in our society.

The study found that college students are twice as likely to volunteer as those who do not enroll. And, in countries where the average years of schooling were over 15, students were far more likely to volunteer than students in countries where the average years of schooling were under 10.

Clearly, compassion is something that we learn with time and experience; the seed is planted at home when we are still young, it is nurtured throughout our school years and then comes into fruition during our careers.

My advice to anyone who is looking to change their attitude and live a more meaningful lifestyle would just be to get out there and start doing something – anything, even if it’s small and seemingly insignificant in the face of all the evil and injustice in this world.

Even if you are only able to help one person, it will be worth it, and the mark you leave on this earth will be a positive one.

Hopefully, my story has inspired you in some way, and if you’re interested in researching this topic a bit more I would like to suggest some of the following articles for further reading:

Find other youth volunteering resources on As we head into Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, help foster service as a lifestyle with your family and community and find ways to serve here or sign up for America’s Sunday Suppers.