If you have spent any reasonable amount of time reading on topics related to alternative spirituality online, it’s inevitable that you would come across the topics of “Service to Others” and “Service to Self” as creeds one would/should live by. Both creeds have fairly self-explanatory definitions, but the more interesting issue comes from the reasons as to why one or the other is supported.
Much more often than not, you see “Service to Others” being championed by various new agey sources. There are times when the topic is reduced to simply a slogan – “Serve others goooood, serve self baaaad. Serve others goooood! Serve self baaaad!” It’s almost reminiscent of the sheep from Animal Farm, with their mindless blathering of “Four legs good, two legs bad”.
When you look past the “do it because everyone else says so” aspect and dig deeper as to why “Service to Others” is espoused, you see various different reasons. Karma. Raising your vibrations, whatever it may mean. Attracting the right forces to your life. Avoiding bad spiritual forces/low vibrational energy. Avoiding a bad future reincarnation or getting into a good reincarnation, for some Buddhists. Most of these reasons can be boiled down to two things:
Fear and greed.
You fear retribution from karma, God, some other invisible cosmic force or maybe just other people, hence you serve just to avoid punishment. You want good things in your life, success, happiness, et cetera, so you serve hoping good things will come in return. From time to time, guilt would also accompany the fear based argument for a Service to Others lifestyle – live the way we specify, or you’re wrong.
Blindly following what others are doing is not the best to do in any day and age. I would wager that having fear, greed, or both as the very core of your motivation in your actions in everyday life, and especially actions meant to be related to your spiritual development as a person, is even far worse. Even going by what most new age or any alternate sort of spiritual systems says, fear and greed are both considered low vibrational or just plain bad sorts of emotions. To embrace them without question through the Trojan horse of “Service to Others” and allowing them to dictate how you live your life is dangerous.
This is not to say that there’s no merit in serving others. If one truly see themselves as valuable and worthy, then they would love themselves. If they then look at other people and connect with them, see a little bit of themselves in the other, then they would empathize with others and in turn, want to love and serve those other people as they would love and serve themselves, even just a little. Serving others in this manner, when it comes from love, especially first and foremost love for oneself, is perfectly fine and spiritually healthy in my opinion. Because you truly saw yourself in someone else, serving them becomes a novel and different way for you to love and interact with yourself. Remember that funny theory about how existence is just God/consciousness/whatever split into a countless different pieces and interacting with itself and loving itself in myriad different ways? You can see it as a little like that, if that’s your thing.
Even then though, one is not expected to blindly love and serve everyone they come across, lest one falls into the trap of doing it once again, out of just fear or greed or habit. As an example, a parent would love and serve their own children a lot more than a random stranger they come across on the street, because they would see a lot more of themselves in their own progeny than a stranger. If you somehow truly connect with a stranger and genuinely love them in the empathizing manner as mentioned above, then by all means, serve them as you please. But don’t be forced to serve by fear, greed or peer pressure, of all things.
Since we’re on the topic of self-love, there’s another motivation for serving others that I’d like to mention. Unlike one who is serving others in a healthy, loving manner as described above, there are those who consider themselves as worthless and of no value deep down. Coming from this mindset, they desperately serve others for the sake of acquiring worth for themselves, be it from other people in the form of approval or to appease some impossibly high standard set in their own minds. This too is an unhealthy and dangerous mindset. The feeling of worthlessness present in one’s mind in such situations are akin to black holes that one cannot ever fill completely and permanently. Any acts of kindness or service done with this as motivation is not an act of love, but rather just a futile act to acquire self-worth. In situations like these, it’s far better to deal with and remove the inner issue(s) from which the feelings of worthlessness come from to begin with – to heal oneself properly instead of trying to bury the wounds through approval.