The Privilege to Serve

Once upon a time, I would be frustrated by the lack of gratitude some service participants would show after we worked our butts off to get them housed and created an intensive support plan. Other times, I would wonder why my frontline staff failed to show thanks for all I did for them to make their lives easier. More than once I would want to quit what I was doing because neither my boss nor the elected powers that be seemed to appreciate all that we did.

My life changed the day I came to the realization that it is a privilege to serve. Before, I thought people should feel privileged to be served. And I was dead wrong. It was all about me. It was selfish. It was misguided.

The privilege to serve means each and every day I must provide my utmost attention to each interaction and situation where I may impact another person’s life.

The privilege to serve means that I don’t get to have outward bad days or make excuses for hard work. I need to find solutions. I cannot blame other people for barriers.

The privilege to serve means I have to treat each person as an individual with unique needs and talents.

The privilege to serve means I have to see the strengths and goodness in everyone.

The privilege to serve means I don’t do this work to be thanked, nor do I do it for money. I do it because of the value of service.

The privilege to serve means I cannot blame people for things beyond their ability to control or influence.

The privilege to serve means I have to accept the awesome responsibility to have a positive impact on the lives of others, while still respecting their uniqueness.

The privilege to serve means each person I encounter is not worse than I am, they are just different, and the more I respect that difference the more I can positively enter into an effective rapport with her/him.

The privilege to serve means each staff person is an asset to be nurtured and supported, not the means to an end.

The privilege to serve means I have to keep getting better and better and better. Some days this means making colossal mistakes to learn from. Other days this means burying myself in academic literature. Other days this means attending training. And other days still this means debriefing and learning from experiences to date.

The privilege to serve means learning how to listen and embracing the awkward silences awaiting for the other person to speak.

The privilege to serve means I must always find a position of empathy, not sympathy, and to never provide advice.

The privilege to serve means I cannot give up on people even when they use coarse language, reject offers of services, miss appointments, or act in a manner inconsistent with being supported and housed long-term.

The privilege to serve means I have to call bullshit when I hear it and not sit idly by while people serve in a manner not grounded in evidence of data. This isn’t a difference in ideology. If I take service seriously, I do not “agree to disagree” when the other person is flat out wrong.

The privilege to serve means I have to see everything from the viewpoint of the person I aim to serve.

The privilege to serve means I have to let go of things outside of my control and accept that there will always be some actions and decisions that are different than how I would have done the same thing.

The privilege to serve means I have to be active. I am not waiting for others to come to me. I have to be committed to engaging with them.

The privilege to serve means I will always be pressured – from on top and below. Service comes with pressures and demands. I need to take care of myself in order to manage those pressures. I need to communicate my needs within the context of those pressures and demands.

The privilege to serve means I have to be hopeful. I need to be present in the moment and planning for the future – and never stuck in the past.

The privilege to serve means that I will present options and choices to others, along with data and information to make informed decisions. Service does not mean I know best for others.

The privilege to serve comes with respecting that I am in a person’s life – a client, a staff member, a boss – and that I have to be responsible for what I say and do during the moments in that other person’s life.

The privilege to serve means I have to be committed with my whole being to have steadfast fixity of purpose to end homelessness and increase housing options, making each community more socially just and more inclusive.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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