In the year 1900, here in the United States, 40% of the population were farmers. Now that number is closer to 1%. Instead, today, 80% of workers are employed in the “service industry.” That is a tremendous shift in a very short time — an interesting topic but not for this discussion. Instead, I ask the question, what is service?  

Everyone knows what service is right? Nearly all citizens in the entire country work in the service industry. Therefore we could assume most have had a job in that capacity at one time or another.

It is doubtful, however, that any of us looked up the definition of service before trying to provide it. Or maybe, because of your great understanding of the word and deep contemplation of its meaning, you give the highest service level achievable. Probably not.  

Words can be so confusing! There are so many. Look at the trouble our President has with words. Obviously, etymology is not a prerequisite for the highest office in the land. So why then should we bother ourselves with such insignificant details, like the meanings of words? We usually have at least a general understanding of what words mean. But, is it possible that our understanding of most words is just the tip of the iceberg?

I write, so I use the dictionary a lot, far more than the average person. On average, I would say a minimum of five times per day. But, I don’t care if it’s the Betty Crocker Cookbook; if you look at anything so religiously, you are going to see hidden things. Most people look up a word read the quick definition, and then boom, knowledgable! But do you ever keep scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the entry? That’s where you might find the Latin root of the word, the history, different usages, etc.  It’s some pretty exciting stuff, serious word porn.  

If you follow my blog, then you know my roots are in nature and the environment. Everything that flows through me is fed through my roots. I believe words are no different. They have roots that lead somewhere too. Knowing what those roots are, and where they lead, can help us to understand what is built on top, and maybe how to better embody those words.  

Some words are ancient; the foundation that the word was built upon can be extremely different from the meaning that rises above the surface today. Some words may have been translated through multiple languages before gracing us with their modern definition. Which finally brings us to the word that I had in mind. Service.  

Service. One of the neat things when breaking down a word is that you can often hear the root if you listen carefully. The word in question just so happens to be an oversimplified version of this phenomenon, total coincidence. Service clearly sounds like Serve us. I wonder what the definition and further inspection will tell us. First, let us look at the tip of the iceberg.

Service – “The action of helping or doing work for someone.” 

This sounds exactly like the service I’d get most places in Boston. Like the grocery store or the gas station.  The job gets done I guess, but that’s it. Nothing more, usually less. Maybe the problem is that these individuals didn’t understand what service means. It was a language problem, not a caring problem. Or perhaps we know what service means when we demand it, but forget entirely when it is our turn to serve others.  

What about the roots of the word? Maybe that will give us a better understanding of what the word service actually means.  

ServiceLatin – Servus/Servitium – Slave/Slavery

And don’t forget Servitude, how could we forget that? Everyone loves slavery, maybe that’s why almost the entire country signed up to be slaves as employees in the service industry. So now we can see that service is slavery. How does one provide the best service possible, Servitude? Maybe a good time to remind everyone that our U.S. economy is made up of about 80% of service industry businesses. Hmmm. 

Servitude – “The state of being a slave or completely subject to someone more powerful.” 

It sounds a lot like working in the service industry for me! I wish I had known I was shooting for “subject.” I keep thinking I am equal with the people I am servicing. Apparently, that is the entire problem. Subject, you know, like “you down there, I am speaking to you from up here.”    

Slavery – “The excessive dependence on or devotion to something.

Wow, the implications of really knowing this single word are staggering. If the depth of a single word can have such a transformative power on our view of the world, what more is implied by the thousands of other words that we use daily? 

Maybe you have heard the term civil servant or public servant? Did you know that the President is a Public Servant? If the word service boils down to the meaning slave, then I think we can be reasonably sure what is implied by the word servant.  

It means to serve, to serve who? Us, the American people. Our laws, their governance, their governers, and the greatness of this nation depends on words like this. Both knowing what these words mean, and further holding individuals and institutions to that definition.  

Your Congresswoman, your Congressman, they are public servants. Teachers, Highway Workers, Judges, and again the President are all public servants. Virtually anyone who receives compensation from the government is a public servant or an extension of such.

A significant problem, I believe, is language. We are not holding individuals and institutions to the titles they have attached to themselves. Not everyone can be a servant.  Remember, a little over one hundred years ago almost half of the country was more or less self-sufficient. Can we really go from self-sufficiency to servitude in one or two generations?  

Not everyone has what it takes to swallow their desire to be selfish, and instead be selfless. Maybe not every minute of the day, but when one wears the hat of a public servant, it is essential that they know what that means.  

When a Firefighter or a Police Officer, a Judge, a Civil Engineer, or School Bus Driver puts on their uniform, they need to know what service means and thank God so many of them do.  

We need to remind all organizations and individuals who are public servants what they indeed signed up to be. Slaves to the greater good. Servitude to an ideal or a goal that is far greater than any individual. It means so much more than just a platform or a paycheck.  

Slavery is serving. It is the relinquishment of self, the substitution of self, the forfeiture of self. 95% of us will experience slavery in one form or another. For some of us, it will be voluntary, and for others, it will not. Voluntary Servitude is called service. Involuntary slavery is called bondage.  

No person should find themselves in bondage. But we should all be slaves to something, or to say, we should all give service to something. Whether that be our family, church, community, seeking justice, or feeding the needy, being a slave to something is right.

But lets be very clear, great service means the relinquishment of self. Maybe being a public servant is not for you, because it’s not for everyone. Can you forget about you for a moment? If you can not, please, step aside and make room for someone who can.           

Aaron C.

Photo Jacob Morch 

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