Selfless Service (Part I)

I just had the remarkable experience of addressing about 1,500 people at the 31st Annual National Credit Union Director’s Convention at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. This is a gathering of credit union leadership nationally and while it is fresh on my mind, I wanted to make a couple of observations.

First of all, I thought many times during the preparation of the speech, and again while presenting it, how extraordinary it is that a group such as this would dedicate a full session of their conference to the theme of “service.” Just knowing that and preparing for the session made me feel hopeful about the experience.

 Of course Operation Kids knows first hand that credit unions are a special part of the community. One of our largest and longest standing donors and partners is America First Credit Union in Salt Lake City. They believed in the vision of Operation Kids as a financial partner when other institutions did not, and we thank them.

I sensed a significant responsibility with this group of Directors. Since they committed the time to discuss service, I was most anxious to deliver a message with meaning and useful perspective on the topic. I found myself addressing the concept of “service” at a very basic level.

 Here was my premise:

Like many things in our lives today, the concept of service has become unnecessarily complicated by language and perceptions. The basic tenets of service and selflessness have never changed and never will. Service is a relatively simple concept. It is a “natural” tendency and can be expressed in simple acts. We already know how to serve others. But it becomes more complicated by analysis and political correctness and social mores and even our rationalizations and sometimes insecurity; these are among the things that often keep us from the most basic, effective and heartfelt acts of service.

Often the scope and scale of problems facing kids today is overwhelming. We try and quantify with statistics but in the process de-personalize the issue. It has been said that the death of one person is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic. This too can keep us from effective service.  

As caring human beings, there are basically three headings under which we may help one another. There may be countless ways to execute that help, but virtually all giving falls into one of these categories: time, treasure or talent. And based on those categories, we ALL have something to give, and all of it, is important. But where do we give? How do we give?   

We recently lost a great comedic mind in George Carlin. He very often reached through his humor, profound truth. To quote excerpts from one such profound statement:

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.  We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We  drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive  too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little,  watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too little, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not, life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. 

We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things. We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.  We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less.  We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, but we communicate less and less. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes.

This sets an important tone because when we talk about service, bigger is not always better. Different is not always necessary, the drama of the gift is not the important part.

Very often the simplest of acts, the briefest of words, the smallest of gifts, can be all the difference to a human being in need.

You have no doubt heard about Michelangelo’s very unique approach to sculpting; he truly believed that he was not creating an image, but that he was freeing that image from the stone that encased it. He believed that the figure was already inside and only hidden from sight. His job was not to create something from nothing, but rather he believed that he was blessed with a gift to free the image trapped in stone; he would go to stone quarries personally because of this gift for he and he alone, he believed, could see what was waiting to be freed from each piece of stone.

What a remarkable perspective. What if we looked at the children in our lives…that way? What if, instead of working to “create” children who would not be an embarrassment to us, or who could someday support us…we looked at the soul within that was waiting to be freed from the layers of inexperience and insecurity? How differently would you treat a child with this perspective?

There are certain trends in today’s society that are at the root of so many diverse issues, they bear special focus. Back in January, I wrote a blog and shared a story that brought to mind some uncomfortable realities, from Forgotten Fundamentals, the most recent book of a Board member and friend, Dan Clark. I related this story as part of my speech,

No one can measure how many kids in our communities are lonely, who feel nameless, but all you have to do is look around at school, at your church, at a sporting event, and I would bet you can see a few.

Research tells us that children, ALL children need certain things in their young lives in order to succeed. Of the many things kids need in life, all Kids need connections. Data suggests that every young person needs to receive the support of and engage in meaningful conversation with SIX non-parent adults every week.

 Experts say that a young person needs these 6 adult connections, in addition to their parents, to develop a sense of belonging; a sense of community and worth. This means parents, even good ones, may not be enough. That means that there must be others in the lives of children who provide a positive model, who interact with them; who CARE about them. This means that interaction with aunts & uncles, teachers and coaches and grandparents, may be more important than we ever realized.

 But an experiment such as the one in Texas that Dan wrote about about shows an alarming trend: too many kids are not making the connections! They are not feeling connected to the world and their communities.

 “So what” you may say. So, what happens if a child does not complete these circles and make these connections? In November, I blogged about a story another Board member, Jack Calhoun, related about a youth incarcerated at a youth facility in Massachusetts (see “What is in a Name?”) Sadly, lots of things happen without these critical connections. Jack’s story of the youth’s sentiment of being better off being wanted for murder than not at all is an extreme example, but very, very real.

Perhaps General Colin Powell said it best when he stated:

All children need a laptop. Not a computer, but a human laptop. Moms, dads, grannies and grandpas, aunts, uncles-someone to hold them, read to them, teach them. Loved ones who will embrace them and pass on the experience, rituals and knowledge of a hundred previous generations. Loved ones who will pass on to the next generation their expectations of them, their hopes, and their dreams.

 Do you want to serve? In part two, I issue my challenge to be ONE OF SIX.

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1 Comment

Filed under Initiative: Thought Leadership

One response to “Selfless Service (Part I)

  1. Pingback: One of Six « A Voice for Children

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