Service & Activism: Sides of a Coin

Hannah Rose, Student
Sunday, October 25, 2009

I believe that service and movements for social change are two manifestations of the same thing, which is ones quest to live in integrity. While service often addresses individual problems, a social movement identifies a larger pattern of problems or ideally a root cause of many problems, names a specific goal to be accomplished, and often offers a methodology for accomplishing that goal.

It could be argued that not all of the work that goes into a social movement is service, but I think that sit-ins and protests are as much service as building houses for low income families. Instead of helping only one family at a time to be able to afford to purchase a house, a social movement  encompasses a range of strategies to address the broader problem and its root causes, for example, protesting unfair laws that create housing inequities, as well as helping to solve individual or “symptom” problems. Many social movements do involve service work on a more individual basis, but it ultimately aims to help many people efficiently by addressing the problem at its root.

Power in service work and social movements works in very similar ways. In both cases, the people involved are involved because they are passionate about the work being done and drawn to the cause in one way or another. This gives service work and social movements potency, for everyone involved is knowledgeable and helps to facilitate organization, rather than one or two people taking the bulk of the strain. The organizer of the local soup kitchen may seem very different from Gandhi, but they are ultimately filling the same role, on different scales.

Service work is in many ways an expression of my values. Kahil Gibran says that “Work is love made visible”. Service is a way for me to express my love for my fellow human beings, and to make meaningful connections. Service is seen by many people to be an act of selflessness, but in my experience it is impossible and unnecessary to do anything completely selflessly. We engage in service when we recognize that our own well being and happiness is intimately related to that of the people surrounding us. And we become part of a social movement when we identify the interconnectedness of issues across the world, and realize that neither our problems nor our struggles for solutions exist in isolation, but are held by people across the world.

I believe in living life in service. I strive to serve my friends, humanity and myself with my every action. My search for integrity drives me to serve every day of my life, whether it be to listen to a friend in pain, or to install a toilet, or to participate in a march or engage in direct action. I believe that each can be equally fulfilling and joyful, and can meet my needs in comparable ways. Each seeks to bring joy into the world, and to remove impediments to joy across the world.

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