The Five Commitments
Regardless of the type of service you are going to engage in, it’s important to remember that the key to having a good experience is you – your outlook and behavior will determine just how rewarding the experience is.
When Brad embarked on his Thirty Days of Service, he made five commitments to himself that would ultimately guide his entire journey. Combined, these commitments turned into his mantra — be present, check your ego, do what’s asked, be a student and focus on the good – a daily reminder of how best to be of service. In hindsight, Brad realized the five commitments really served as the guideposts that made his experience life-affirming and life-changing. In fact, they are now his guideposts for living each day.
Here are The Five Commitments. Brad hopes you too will give them a try.
The first commitment is to do your best to be present everyday, in every act. Try to shut out what’s going on in your head – forget about your issues, schedule, conflicts, work, where else you could be and everything else racing around in there. Do your best to get lost in the task at hand while putting the rest of the world on pause.
Then, there is the other type of noise to shut out, or more accurately shut off. You guessed it, your personal electronic devices. In today’s world of constant connection, it is difficult for many of us to even think about not having a smart phone in hand at all times. But, give it a try. Whomever or whatever you are serving, deserves your full attention and you deserve the reward you’ll get from it.
Brad said of the commitment to Be Present, “I promised myself I would pay close attention to not only what my task was, but to what was happening around me. I wanted to take in what the other volunteers were doing, how the recipients of the service were responding. To see any visible shifts in people’s attitudes and demeanor. And, because I was very conscious about being present, I was able to catch myself when my mind did wander away or was being judgmental of itself and refocus my attention, thus my energy, to the service at hand. I am not saying it was easy to suddenly turn of the noise, but I became rather effective at it after a while.”
Check Your Ego At The Door
Commitment number two is to check your ego at the door each and every day. Oh, the ego, such a tricky and clever thing. It’s such a complex thing that there are people who devote their lives to the study of it and who seek to teach us how best to manage it. We at Good Citizen will not debate the pros and cons of the ego, but do assert that if not kept in check, the ego is a very ugly beast.
That said, the ego is a very hard thing to control as it’s function is to fill us up and make us feel complete or at least adequate — and, who doesn’t want to feel that? Think about it, the ego feeds on so many things: how much money you make, what your title is, where you work, who you know, who your parents are, what your house looks like, what you drive, what you’ve accomplished, how many degrees you have, what your children do and so much more. The hard truth is that the appetite for an unchecked ego is insatiable, there is never enough. So, when it is constantly being replenished, it is able to remain active and it’s biggest desire is to be seen by everyone.
Everyone has an ego and it is often difficult to put in check. One trick to doing it when serving is to remind yourself of four simple words – “it’s not about me.” Those four words, repeated over and over, can help release self-centeredness. After all, you are there to serve others, it’s about them!
Thinking about the four simple words “it’s not about me,” Brad had the following to say. “Those four words also gave me an interesting opportunity, I got to show up everyday just being Brad. I wasn’t there representing a company, nor was I there as someone’s son, brother, partner, friend or anything else. I wasn’t there to necessarily make new contacts or friends. I was there to serve, plain and simple. So, unless I told someone, no one knew where I lived, what my socioeconomic status was, who my friends were, what “connections” I had or anything else about me. None of those things, the things that feed the ego, mattered. It was a bit uncomfortable for the first few days, as I have gotten used to hiding behind so many things that please the ego in similar situations. But, once I got the hang of it and was able to check it all at the door, I experienced the ultimate sense of freedom.”
Do Whatever Is Asked
We all have things we like and don’t like. If we’re lucky, we make choices that allow us to spend time doing those we enjoy while avoiding those we don’t. Well, commitment three – doing whatever is asked – takes that ability to choose away and puts it in the hands of those being served.
There are three reasons for this commitment. First, organizations are best-equipped to decide what their needs are, thus if you truly want to be of service, follow their lead. Second, since you are going to check your ego at the door, you can’t worry about your comfort zone — after all it isn’t about you. And, third, every act of service contributes to the greater good, therefore no task is too great or too small.
Reflecting on his decision to do whatever was asked, Brad said “This decision was not an easy one for me, as if it were up to me, or my ego, I would have undoubtedly picked activities that were familiar to me, activities I was confident I could do well without fear of discomfort or embarrassment. But, the benefits were far greater than I could have anticipated. Because of that decision, I faced many situations that allowed me to stretch myself and grow.”
Be A Student
Commitment number four, be a student. In life, there are times when we learn and times when we teach, often without even realizing we are doing either. If we’re open to it, we are always taking in new information and learning from it. And, in all likelihood, we end up sharing those lessons with others. Sometimes acquiring new information is active, while at other times it is passive. It can happen at school or work, but just as easily around the kitchen table or on a walk.
While there are many service opportunities that allow you to be a teacher, it’s important to also be a student. Every act of service offers a chance to learn about something, perhaps a cause, a community, other people, yourself or something else. Don’t miss out on the chance to learn and grow.
“In order to give and get the most of my 30 days, I thought the best approach would be to try my best to be a student, to learn about the organizations and why their services are needed. To learn about my community and ultimately myself. To do this meant allowing myself to be curious and ask all sorts of questions — being willing to admit what I didn’t know — while giving up my control and need to be right. It paid off and while I hope I can always teach others, I have to admit that being a student is really fun,” said Brad.
Focus On The Good
Being of service can change the lives of others and will change your life. But, it can also put you in uncomfortable situations, such as seeing hunger up close or disease fighting to take the life of a child. Exposing oneself to such realities can be emotionally difficult, intellectually confusing and simply depressing. However, there is a way to cope that will allow you to continue to serve – focus on the good, commitment number five.
Focusing on the good does not mean ignoring the realities of the situations or somehow not seeing and acknowledging the plight of the world or your fellow man. You should see all of that and hopefully it will motivate you to do more, but it’s not what you should hold onto. While there are many mechanisms you can use to help you focus on the good, here we offer two that are proven effective.
First, see the person not the suffering. If you interact with a child hooked up to life-sustaining machines, look at the child. He or she is the life force that needs your compassion, the machines are just part of the environment. So see the child and simply exist with him or her. If you feed a homeless mother, see the woman, another human being, nothing more, nothing less. Withhold judgment and think of her need for that meal so that she can be strong enough to be the best mother she can be for her child. Once you practice seeing the person, the good, you will find that you are able to better handle these situations. After all, we are all the same, people doing the best we can with what we have.
Second, focusing on the good also means placing your energy on the service, the good, you are providing. Again, that doesn’t mean to ignore the truth of the situation, but you are present as you give of yourself to help. In the example above, when feeding the homeless mother, think about the act you are engaged in. Because of you, she has food, something we all need to survive. And, because you are not judging her, she is being filled up with a sense of worth and dignity. That’s a whole lot of good coming out of your simple act, take that, not the suffering, with you.
Brad is often asked “how do you not take the person’s suffering with you?” To which, he responds, “That is not necessarily my goal, as I want that experience to remain a part of me since that’s what helps me evolve into the best person I can be. But, what I do avoid is taking on their suffering. For example, if I visit with a homebound person dying of a terminal illness, chances are they will leave a positive imprint on my heart, due to the positive energy we shared. That imprint is forever a part of me and will help me to be more empathetic in the future. However, I do not take on their plight. I recognize that it is not my responsibility, nor within my ability, to fix their situation or make this world right for them.”