The heroine of My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, captured the sentiment of most of us when she complained: “Words, words, words; I am so sick of words. I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?” She was tired of empty rhetoric, as high sounding as it was. Instead, she wanted to see something real.
Talk is cheap. Promises are a dime a dozen. Most of us have just about had all of the spin-controlled sound-bites it can stand. We’ve heard just about all the hollow rhetoric we can stand. We all know that actions speak louder than words.
That is a universal truth--no less valid in love or politics or religion as in friendship or business or technology. Good intentions are not sufficient in any area of life. There has to be follow through. There has to be substance.
Love is something you do, not just something you feel. Mercy is something that you extend not just something that you intend. Hope is something you must act on not just something you harbor. That is why a posture of servanthood is one of the most powerful inducements to both success and significance in life.
After all, it really is “more blessed to give than to receive.” The sooner we realize that the better off we will be.
It is not surprising then to discover that the idea of servanthood is showing up just about everywhere--even in places you might least expect it. Many business and management consultants for instance, are beginning to see the importance of a life of selfless service as the key to prosperity and progress. Servanthood is a much ballyhooed concept in the burgeoning literature of business success and personal management. We are told for instance, that our dominant industrial economy has been almost completely transformed into a service economy by the advent of the information age. The service factor is the new by-word for success in the crowded global marketplace. Good service guarantees customer loyalty, management efficiency, and employee morale. It provides a competitive edge for companies in an increasingly cut-throat business environment. It is the means toward empowerment, flexibility, and innovation at a time when those qualities are essential for business survival. It prepares ordinary men and women to out-sell, out-manage, out-motivate, and out-negotiate their competition. It enables them to "swim with the sharks without being eaten alive."
According to Jack Eckerd and Chuck Colson, service on the job and in the workplace can mean many things, “Valuing workers. Managing from the trenches. Communicating. Inspiring excellence. Training. Using profits to motivate.”
Virtually all the corporate prognosticators, strategic forecasters, motivational pundits, and management consultants agree--from Tom Peters, John Naisbitt, and Stephen Covey to Richard Foster, Michael Gerber, and Zig Ziglar. They all say that servanthood is an indispensable key to success in business or success in life.
These analysts have begun to grasp the fact that selfless service is essentially a complex combination of common courtesy, customer satisfaction, and the spirit of enterprise. It is simply realizing that the customer is always right and then going the extra mile. It is a principle-centered approach to human relationships and community responsibilities. It is putting first things first. It is the recovery of that positively medieval concept of chivalry.
This resurgent emphasis on servanthood is not just confined to the corporate world these days. It has also reappeared as a stock-in-trade public virtue in the discourse of politics. Candidates now offer themselves for public service rather than to merely run for office. They invoke patriotic images of community service, military service, and civic service as evidence of their suitability to govern the affairs of state. Once in office they initiate various programs for national service. They charge the government bureaucracy with the task of domestic service. And they offer special recognition for citizens who have performed exemplary volunteer service.
Servanthood is the leading edge of a new approach to sports--with the recovery of the concept of team over individual achievement. Likewise, it is the latest trend in academic counseling--where campus spirit is emphasized over and against the old dog-eat-dog world of scholastic competition. Indeed, the notion of selfless service is making its way into a myriad of cultural applications--and none too soon in light of the culture of selfishness our consumerism and materialism have helped to create over the past three or four decades.
This sort of servanthood is defined rather broadly in a series of happy public and private virtues--as an expansive sense of civic-spiritedness, good neighborliness, community-mindedness, big-hearted cooperativeness, open-minded receptiveness, and unbridled patriotism.
Of course the genuine spirit of service inherent in servanthood isn't simply a tactic designed to boost profit margins, to protect market shares, to keep customers happy, or to improve employee relations. It isn't just a strategy designed to inculcate patriotism, strengthen community relations, or attract more investments. It is not merely a technique to pad resumes, garner votes, or patronize constituents. It isn't a style of leadership, a personality bent, or a habit of highly effective people.
Instead, servanthood is a function of mercy. It is a genuine desire to seek the best for others, to put their interests before our own, and to exercise authentic love. Thus, the difference between the ministry of service and the business of service is like the difference between faith in God and faith in faith.