“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. If you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

~ Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal Australian

If you’re like me, you have a noble picture of the “helping professions”  of medicine, education, social services, mental health, non-profit or humanitarian aid. Selfless individuals who are there to help people in times of need. Leadership is also frequently seen as a helping role where the more knowledgeable and experienced person aids those “beneath” her or him.

The differences between helping, fixing, and serving

While distinguishing between “serving” and “helping” might seem inconsequential on the surface, the effects each produce are often quite dissimilar as can be understood in a writing from author Rachel Naomi Remen, called, “In the Service of Life.” Below is a quote from Ms. Remen’s piece that eloquently speaks to how unique helping, fixing, and serving really are.

“Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength. Serving is also different from fixing. When I fix a person, I perceive them as broken, and their brokenness requires me to act. The bottom line, of course, is that we can fix without serving. And we can help without serving. And we can serve without fixing or helping. I think that I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego and service the work of the soul. These things may look similar if you’re watching from the outside, but the inner experience is different. The outcome is often different too.”

~ Rachel Naomi Remen

My personal experience

I know that at times my actions are not inspired by selfless service. The desires of my ego sometimes motivate my actions. For instance, in my delusions of omnipotence I think I know what someone else needs or what will make their situation better. When I come from these underlying beliefs, I see an unequal relationship–I am powerful, the other person is disempowered. Such judgment is neither good for me and the person I’m seeking to work with, nor is it effective as they don’t gain a true sense of their own power and I overestimate my own.

So, I do my best to keep Remen’s words in mind, both as a coach and as a person, reminding myself that my highest intention is to serve. I intend to be a partner with others, walking side by side, offering my gifts in a natural way, seeking to play my part in creating a journey that uplifts us both and enables us to grow in whatever ways we were meant to grow. When I am guided by service, the results–for me, the other person, and even the wider world–astound and humble me.

Reality check: Are you generally helping, fixing, or serving? What happens when you focus on being of service?