At the core of SERVE’s ethos is the idea of solidarity; that is the belief that all human beings are connected and therefore must act accordingly. SERVE believes that the only thing that separates people in Ireland from people in southern Africa, Asia, South America or anywhere else in the developing world is merely geographic distance and nothing more.
Languages and cultures may vary but a deep understanding of the human experience, whatever the context, is common to all people. This experience is common to all because we are all involved in the whole affair of humanity.
To quote John Donne’s famous remark:
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
What John Donne was saying is that no human being can live in absolute solitude and be fully human. The human experience is one of relationships. The relationship with our family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and passers-by make up the everyday events that ultimately fill our lives. No man is an island because the events that culminate in a man’s life are rarely if ever solitary. Donne progresses to say that when one of those many interactions stops, our lives are the lesser for it. We are diminished as individuals because our relationship with the external world has diminished. Implicit is a relationship with mankind as a whole and a recognition that we are in need of one another.
Furthermore, SERVE has had this belief reinforced each year by learning first-hand from the experience of the Volunteer Programme. Irish volunteers have witnessed themselves being welcomed and participating in the communities where our partners operate. They have seen how easy it is to make links with people and even communicate where there are language barriers.
Because we are all connected the question of ethics arises. Implicit in the concept of solidarity is the belief that at base we hold more in common than in difference and that we all benefit from the Common Good. As we all benefit from the Common Good it is our duty, all our duty, to uphold the Common Good. And more than that, this principle leads us to the corollary that our dignity and individual worth is born from a humanity that is common and shared. Any attack on the dignity of another is an attack on the shared humanity that gives rise to that dignity. Ultimately an attack on the dignity of the poor is an intimate and insidious attack on the dignity of humanity itself. Our response to this attack, our unwillingness to accept it and our insistence that each person’s dignity and human rights be fully restored is the essence of solidarity:
“Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable.” (Aurora Levins Morales)
At no other time in history has our interconnectedness and our dependence on other people right across the globe ever been more intense or more expansive. The age of globalisation and economic globalism means that our economies, the production of our wealth and material livelihood, are no longer regional or national but instead intricately linked with almost all other economies. The production of goods and the rendering of services requires cooperation with people on separate continents. As we become ever more closely linked to people in such a visceral and tangible way as the trade of goods like food and clothing, as our global community gets smaller and more immediate our responsibility to one another increases and becomes ever more certain. Not least of all does our responsibility to the marginalized and vulnerable increase; to protect them from the worst excesses of the global capitalist system.
SERVE’s ethos of solidarity impacts directly on how the organization operates. Working with the most marginalized and vulnerable can no longer be envisaged as optional. It cannot be understood as charity, rather it is an issue of justice; it is an obligation. A recognition of our shared humanity and intrinsic equality means that SERVE cannot operate according to a power relationship which places the poor at the whim of the wealthy. Instead SERVE strives to work in partnership with the communities of the developing world:
“Unlike solidarity, which is horizontal and takes place between equals, charity is top-down, humiliating those who receive it and never challenging the implicit power relations.” (Eduardo Galeano)
The SERVE Volunteer Programme places Irish volunteers in communities where they not only work with, but take the lead from, SERVE’s project partners. At its best solidarity is defined by the impetus that urges volunteers to give up their time and effort to work with SERVE’s partner communities. And SERVE is at its best when it grows and strengthens that sense of solidarity among the volunteers.
‘Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortune of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the Common Good, that is to say, the good of each individual because we are all really responsible for all.’ (John Paul II)
A philosophy of service is at the heart of SERVE’s work. This ethos of service is one of giving freely of one’s time, talents and effort to help others. Without that spirit of service SERVE’s volunteer programme could not possibly function.
SERVE is only one organisation or initiative among many who have benefited from the spirit of service. Indeed this ethos has played a massive role in the development and betterment of Irish society whether it is in community organisations, parents groups, the GAA, the ICA, the Special Olympics, the Scouts, the FAI and a multitude of other organisations.
SERVE invites everyone to engage in this ethos and dedicate themselves to the poor of the earth. It is through that service that volunteers are able to express their solidarity with the most marginalised and vulnerable of the world.
Throughout history key figures have advocated a philosophy of service and an approach to life that places other’s first. This ethos also contends that human beings are not only good when they serve, but that they are at their best and their most brilliant. It is in this tradition that SERVE positions itself:
“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
(Martin Luther King Jr.)
“Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and will make, not only our own happiness, but that of the world at large.”
(Mohandas K. Gandhi)
“It is only by putting on the chains of service that man is able to accomplish his destiny on earth.”
(Michael Grant Ignatieff MP, Canadian House of Commons)
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
“To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.”
“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth”
(N. Eldon Tanner)
“No one is more alone than the selfish. But if you give your life out of love for others, as I [Christ] give mine for all, you will reap a great harvest.”
(Archbishop Oscar Romero)