Self-Interest Versus Service to Others

In the 14 December 2018 Washington Post, Michael Gerson published a column called “Secularism without Humanism.” The point I focused on was that in modern times, self-interest has become the driving force for most Americans.

As noted in recent posts here, I learned very young that helping others was more important than anything I could do for myself. Immediately after graduation from college, I enlisted in the army. Military service taught me that teamwork was far more effective than individual effort. Most important, I learned that putting my life on the line for the good of others offered rewards greater than anything I did for myself. Service to others is the ultimate fulfillment.

My thirteen years on and off in Vietnam made me understand that the greatest good I could do was to help the men fighting by my side. Each of us was willing to sacrifice our life to save the man next to us. I saw men die, but I also was able to save lives. That experience transformed me.

In the years after Vietnam, I became a volunteer. I worked with the homeless, served the dying in a hospice, and cared for AIDS patients. I got into volunteer work to help me cope with my own Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, the consequence of my time on the battlefield and living through the fall of Saigon. I learned that compassion heals.

I still take care of others. I’ve become a pen-pal to another Vietnam vet who is in prison. I exchange several times a day brief notes with a mentally disabled man in Wales. I look after a woman who just turned ninety. The gift of being able to help others is the greatest gift I have been given.

I am blessed to have learned early in life, thanks to my military service and time in Vietnam, that giving to others is what we are put on earth for. My fulfillment is complete.

One thought on “Self-Interest Versus Service to Others”

  1. Thanks for this post Tom. I agree with you completely. Although I have not reached out to those in need as much as you have, I have always found that my greatest joy comes in doing things for others.


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