Motivations for Service

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Before this year, I was never a person who was extremely keen on service, on voluntarily offering my help to the people in need in our society. I saw the need to, and while I did take part in community involvement programmes such as volunteering at various organizations like MDAS and MINDS, I must say that I forced myself to do these things. I had to consciously push myself out of my comfort zone to interact with the beneficiaries and it didn't come naturally to me at all. I found myself in mostly awkward and extremely uncomfortable situations and I didn't enjoy most of my time spent.

This year, after joining Interact and Habitat for Humanity, I've grown to love service and to me, it's really meaningful and it makes me so happy. For Interact, I tutor at a children's home weekly and somehow, even though it's after a long day at school, I rarely feel lethargic and it just provides me with such a sense of fulfillment. Those who know me personally will know that I actually do not like children at all, but I do find myself loving the ones I tutor and interact with - not that they are incredibly adorable but perhaps I've formed a bond with several of them and it makes them a lot more endearing.

Habitat for Humanity and other home improvement projects I embark on undeniably takes a lot more work and effort but it does make the experience a lot more satisfying. Entering the homes of the elderly who are too frail to clean up after themselves do break my heart a little - seeing hoarding cases where they cling on to every possession they and see it as a reflection of their own value and wealth, dust gathering on every possible surface, and perhaps the most heart wrenching ones of old photographs of their children who don't even bother visiting them or providing for them financially. I must admit, I've always liked old people more than young kids for that matter - they are (mostly) more mature and have a wealth of experience just waiting to be shared. And it's just so nice to have conversations with them - apparently my mum thinks that my mandarin and dialect linguistic abilities have improved exponentially this year. 

It sounds all fine and dandy on the surface - I seem to be enjoying myself and doing good. Somehow, I don't know, but I question my motivations on service, on why I serve, a lot. Do I truly do it from the goodness of my heart? I somehow feel like that's the case because I don't actually care about CIP hours or recognition and I rarely post things on social media regarding my service unless it's to spread a message and honestly I don't exactly care if people know about the things I volunteer for. However, while I can rule all that out, I recently heard something that got me thinking. 

At a panel called "Heart of Darkness: When 'Do Not Harm' Hurts" which I attended during the Singapore Writers Festival, one of the panelists mentioned that "people who help others actually have a problem that they would want to atone for in their lives". And that since they can't seem to solve the problems/ the sins they have committed, they decide to help and serve others in bid to build up their own good karma and make themselves feel better, to counter balance the evils that they might be committing. It struck me as rather relevant in my own life. While I am confused about this notion, and I am still thinking about whether I'm truly that kind of person, so far, everything's been pointing towards that. 

I've always held the belief that I'm not actually a good person (or not as good as I appear/ make myself out to be) and while I don't think I've committed any great sin or crime, I don't think I've been the best I can be and I've had instances where I clearly display selfishness, lack of management in my own impulsivity, and just not being very nice towards others. I don't actively think about these things and probably do it subconsciously, but I've realized that it's actually so much easier to direct my energy into doing good/ serving others to make myself feel good, rather than trying hard to improve myself. 

And that scares me, to realize that I might be that sort of person. Then again, it leads me to the philosophical issue of intention versus action - I'm doing good anyway, yes? What difference does it make if I'm still benefiting others? It's going to be an uphill task trying to figure myself and all these things out, and I suppose the best case scenario I should be striving for would be trying to improve all my shortcomings and just being a better person and at the same time, helping others because it'll bring others joy. There shouldn't be any contradictions within me and no doubt, it won't be an easy journey trying to understand myself but I somehow feel that this is something worthwhile to spend a moment thinking about and that's exactly what I hope people would take away from this.

On a sidenote, and although this may contradict with some parts of what I wrote above regarding how I don't publicize service, I would like to encourage everyone to use the hashtag #NationofKindness in your social media posts :-) This isn't about superficially trying to prove to others what a kind person you may be but it actually leads to a concrete difference being made in the lives of others. With every hashtag used, an F&N Goodie Bag will be donated to a needy family, in collaboration with the Singapore Kindness Movement, and that's always nice in my opinion.

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