Working for the welfare of others, commonly known as community service, is an essential ingredient in keeping my life fulfilled and in bringing me lasting peace of mind. I learned over the years that the reward of community service is not derived from its content or quantity, but from the intention behind the action itself. I believe that compassion is the defining power behind the hands that serve. Community service has the ability to inspire, energize and nurture us deeply.
In the last few years, I have spent much time and effort in serving the elderly at several nursing homes, as a friendly companion. Each person has a unique and extraordinary story to tell and yet, everyone has had some measure of loss, failing health, transitions, fear, and helplessness. When I walk into the resident’s room, I am fully committed to the need of our time together – and nothing else matters to me but the welfare of the person sitting in front of me. I find no act more meaningful than the complete dedication of myself to the demands of the present moment for the benefit of someone else in need, whose heart is wide open to receive sincere friendship. These shared moments have left in my heart and mind a long-lasting sense of inter-connectedness – and fulfillment.
I believe that one’s effort to serve the community is an attempt to experience at some level, a sense of unity in a world of diversity. I found that the satisfaction experienced when I am connected to the effort of reaching out to another in distress is more meaningful than any other activity I have ever undertaken. The term compassion means “feeling with another.” I believe that the temporary sacrifice of one’s selfish nature for the betterment of the whole is at the core of community service. It is said that compassion is a human quality inherent in all, and when it is cultivated and shared on a large social scale, it could change the world.
Several leaders around the world have emphatically stressed that service to the community is an essential element to the survival of society. Research suggests that compassion taps into a higher order of human experience and functioning, endowing the individual and the community to grow and thrive. It also suggests that community service has a healing effect on the individual who reaches out in compassion
1) One of the more articulate proponents of community service is author and teacher Ram Dass. In his masterful book, Compassion in Action: setting out on the path of service, Dass addresses eloquently and poignantly the effects community service on both the recipient and the individual who serves. American born and a Harvard graduate, he was deeply influenced by Eastern philosophies and has integrated them to modern, Western psychology. His writing is compelling to the reader because he describes with humility his own journey into the multi-layered aspects of community service, pointing to its traps as well as its rewards. I found it entertaining as well as soul-stirring. This is one of the richest books on the topic I have found – and it is a short read!
2) In Twelve Steps To A Compassionate Life, Karen Armstrong takes the reader one step at a time to access the inherent tendency to participate in some form to the upliftment of the world. Armstrong combines research and personal insight to make a moving case for community service.
3) Reading the Dalai Lama is always a joy-filled experience to me because of his straightforward simplicity. In How to Expand Love, the Lama speaks of loving friendships as a base from which to expand compassion in ever-widening circles. He addresses the world’s dire need for compassion in the form of community service to save the world. He masterfully leads the reader into the deeper aspirations that bind us all together.
I include below inspiring books on individuals whose service to mankind have uplifted nations, nurtured and encouraged compassion in action for generations to come.
4 & 5) For an elevating and awakening read, I recommend either of the biographies of Gandhi:
4) Mahatma Gandhi, by Vincent Sheean This biography is short and concise, and speaks directly to the character of this timeless leader; the author says that Gandhi embodied power through his immense compassion, ideas, emotions, and beliefs, concentrated together to create change.
5) Gandhi’s Passion, by Stanley Wolfpert. The second book is also a rich compilation of Gandhi’s work and his service and sacrifice to his nation. Gandhi exemplified the spirit of love and compassion which fueled a non-violent revolution to liberate and unify a nation. He so yearned for the freedom from oppression in his native land of India, that with his intense determination together with peaceful means, he succeeded in terminating its British occupation. Though only temporarily, Gandhi was also able to unite Muslims and Hindus for a common goal.
6) I also recommend the masterful movie, Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley.
7) In the same category of inspiring personalities dedicating their lives to the freedom and welfare of their fellow citizens – Conversations With Myself, by Nelson Mandela speaks of the driving force of an individual whose selfless service to mankind can change the world.
8) Another stirring example of selfless service in a grand scale is personified by Mother Theresa. Her intense longing to unite with Christ in path of Love was expressed in her uncompromising dedication to the welfare of the poor and the forlorn of Calcutta. What is striking about reading her own letters in Come, Be My Light, by Mother Teresa is the intensity of compassion she embodies to bring the light into the darkest corners of the earth.
9) Still related to Mother Teresa is Mary Poplin’s, Finding Calcutta (What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service). In this book, the author shares with the reader the insight and inspiration she has gained by observing Mother Teresa in action. She extrapolates her own discoveries and the inner transformation that community service has had on her life. I loved the ongoing theme in her book, which was that community service is not a job description or a place to go, but rather, it is a state of mind, insight and vision. She calls upon the reader to find his or her own “Calcutta” by asking the reader to reflect on his own inner calling to serve. She says, “not everybody can go to Calcutta. But all of us can find our own place of service and calling. Come, answer the call to find your Calcutta.”
10) In a different format, Eboo Patel, a American born Muslim of Indian descent speaks from the perspective of a wise youth today, and the need for this new generation to find unity in diversity by means of social action. He cites and describes recent terrorist attacks and contextualizes it within the greater “sickness” of isolationism in the world. Patel’s writing is dynamic, to the point, and reaches to the compassion of all to incite new vision and new understanding in the culminating social tensions around the world.
Karen Pasternak is the library assistant