Why we hate “service” and one thing we can do to change that.

woman in red cap and shirt preparing food

One of the problems people have with service has nothing to do with what they receive, rather it has to do with language.

I have written many times about the fact that we all serve, and some people get in a huff about that. They simply hate the idea that they serve. Even when I make it clear by explaining that service is simply helping others. It is as much about making breakfast for the family or grabbing some milk on the way home as it is about what we do at work. Regardless, they still don’t like to think that they are serving as if the thought is somehow demeaning. And it is this mistaken thought that has made service something our society overall dismisses unless we are talking about the military, first responders, hospitals, or charities.

This mistake is largely rooted in the powerful force of language and history. When we speak of service, we often couple it to being “in service of” which immediately suggests servitude or being under the thumb of someone else. This, rightly so, gives service a bad name for most people. Who wants to feel less than someone else?

When you couple that to the images formed through history—slavery, indentured servants, maids, butlers, cooks, downstairs, backroom, etc.—it does not exactly romanticize any thought of service.

But none of this is what service is really about. It is not about being under someone else or anything to do with status, it is about providing value. We need to change the language from “in service of” to “of service to.” This simple shift moves service from something someone more important gets to something that is given to improve life. It dignifies it and clarifies its importance to our lives.

Think about it. Think of all the times others provide value that you need. Even that person behind the counter at the local burger place, they provide value that you must want, or you would not be there.

When we lift service up from being defined as doing the bidding of others to a definition of providing value to others, we can see how necessary it is, be more grateful to those that do it, and find personal pride when we do it ourselves.

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