The last few blogs have focused on conflict, how and why the brain makes conflict inevitable. We then looked at two strategies for resolving upsets: asking good questions and taking responsibility for seeking solutions. Now we look at one more strategy relating to the inevitable differences that arise between two people: Service. We define service as doing what is right to help another without expecting anything in return. This is a very challenging and difficult way to go through the world. It means looking for how to help others even when they are making your life difficult. This is the hero’s journey.
If you look at iconic films like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, the themes are consistent. An ordinary person is called to a higher purpose and rises to the occasion, in spite of doubts and frustrations, and ultimately does what needs to be done. The ancient hero is Japanese stories and films is the samurai. The samurai is the Japanese word for “to serve.” To serve is to fulfill our highest potential, to give, to help someone who may not deserve our kindness or even be aware of it. The examples are as trivial as letting someone into your lane in traffic, or putting your reading material down and giving the flight attendant your undivided attention, and as profound as being a good parent, making sacrifices the child will never appreciate. Many others have spoken of the value of service to the human spirit.
You cannot live a perfect day without doing
something for someone who cannot repay
Life’s most persistent and urgent question
is: What are you doing for others?
Martin Luther King
Let no one ever come to you without
leaving better and happier.
Why is serving others so satisfying? Why do we donate money to help others we do not know and never will? Why do we volunteer time for Habitat for Humanity, Rotary, Kiwanis, and countless other organizations? Why do we help friends and family and strangers? The answer is in part biological. With our new brain scans, we now know there are two pleasure centers in the brain. One is the pleasure center, the nucleus acccumbens, which lights up when we are enjoying a good meal or alcohol or sex. And the second pleasure center, the posterior superior temporal sulcus lights up when we are being of service.
But you know being of service is not easy. People will take advantage of kindness or ignore it. You can give to people who will abuse your compassion and generosity. You can love a romantic partner or a child and have the relationship go sour anyway. So how can we stay in service in spite of betrayals and disappointments? Being cynical, guarded, and defensive is easy. Staying in a loving state of mind is hard, sometimes very hard. In next month’s blog, we will look at strategies for living a life of service.