Who “Deserves” Good Service

Originally published here for the Institute of Organizational Mindfulness.

Charity work is so attractive because of how gratifying it feels to help people who truly need it. The problem with most of the service contexts we face in our professional lives is that we’re not necessarily helping people who seem to “need” it. And sometimes people who don’t even “deserve” it.

It’s good to examine the little divisions our mind makes of the kinds of people that “deserve” good service and the kinds that don’t. For example, do these kinds of people deserve good service?

  • People who act helpless when they’re not.
  • Complainy people.
  • Entitled people.
  • Obnoxious people.
  • Bullies.
  • Divas.
  • Assassins.
  • Dictators.

We’ll help these people anyway, since it’s our job, but we may struggle with it – and that struggle may unnecessarily affect the service we give to everyone. What if that struggle could be lessened and we could get more out of helping the people we’re least inspired to?

Well, let’s ask the question again: Who deserves good service?

In my opinion, the answer is always…

  1. We do. We deserve to be the person we want to be – and not surrender it to something as trivial as someone else’s inconsiderate treatment of us.
  2. Everyone does. Everyone who is being difficult is suffering in some way and whatever unmet needs that are aromatizing as irritating behavior can be attended to. It doesn’t mean you have to, it doesn’t mean you’re even the person to help them with those particular needs, and it doesn’t mean that they will be any happier as a result of your attempts. You just have to be willing to. Because you truly grow when you move away from only really showing for the people who make it easy to be served.

When you’re willing to adapt to people that are outside of your comfort zone, then you’re more likely to find yourself:

  1. Helping the people that truly need some compassion and understanding.
  2. Expanding your capacity for a wider variety of people and challenges. Therefore: growing/evolving.

These principles apply even for those who love serving and seem like “naturals” at it.

When I meet people who seem to truly love serving and helping others, I always want to stress test them. Because I’m always curious about their limitations:

  • You love serving up to what point?
  • When are you no longer loving it? And why?
  • When are you not even willing to do it? And why?

These are powerful questions to ask yourself. Because they may reveal healthy boundaries (basic protection of yourself and others), but they may also reveal unconscious biases or hidden agendas behind why you are even driven to serve at all.

But don’t worry, discovering biases and agendas isn’t a sign that you don’t love service or you’re “fraudulently selfish”. It just means that you’re human. And an awesome kind of human: the kind that is willing to examine and question themselves. One of the core driving principles of Buddhism is that we are all capable of change. And when you discover an unpreferable motive or filter in yourself, sometimes there’s not even a huge shift required to change in a meaningful way. Sometimes no shift is required at all – just an awareness of how and why you do something can bring all the integrity you need to it.