the joy of servitude

Slavery is a choice, my hero Kanye told us. This was not a good moment for him.

Slavery is not a choice. But how you choose to serve can be your choice.

In life, you have to serve a master. That can be a boss and a job or it can be customers or consumers. Either way, you have to give of yourself to keep the lights on.

The lights are economic but they’re also spiritual. If you are what you do, and you are to a certain extent, then how you work says a lot about who you are and what you value.

Recently I’ve been considering who I serve. It’s been vague. Serving only yourself, although a Randian pipedream, doesn’t survive contact with the real world. Like Mike Tyson says, it will punch you in the face. Everyone needs to serve somehow.

Changing circumstances have led me to finding different ways to serve. I’ve found entrepreneurs with missions and businesses with big goals. I’m serving them.

I’d like to serve people directly too. I’m working on that.

Tiago. Forte proposes the idea of Servant Hedonism - serving yourself by serving others:

The essence of life is a kind of unattached generosity – the willingness and determination to be of service

He argues that It acknowledges that ‘you have to pay your own way in this world. But you can do so by contributing to others, not taking from them’ and that service not only improves your reputation and creates positive sum interactions with those around you, it makes you feel good. Hence the Hedonism.

As Phoebe discovered in Friends, there is no truly selfless act.

This is not a servitude though, where your happiness is tied to the benefit of others. You need to value what you do and who you are, to express yourself at your highest and best in order to best be of service. To give yourself the best opportunities for your own growth and joy.

When you lose sight of what you need, you actually do a disservice to everyone, most importantly yourself.

Joe Holder, a man whose approach to life I admire, has set up System of Service, a charity that he uses his profile, and that of his famous clients to publicise community service events and charitable giving, part of his mission to democratise wellness.

We’re at a point where we have to think of wellness as a collective endeavour. It’s no longer simply about looking good, but instead, about reconceptualising how we can make our communities and our world better. Invest in yourself, so you can go out in the world and serve. Wellness is not just a buzzword – we look after ourselves so we can look after each other.

Holder wants to teach and use wellness as a means of service - by being well, you’re in better condition to serve others.

This is something I’ve long agreed with. Do you not owe it to yourself and to those around you to be well? To not unnecessarily burden others? Sometimes life will kick you in the nuts and you’ll be unwell; that’s why we created a system to take care of those people. Now, with the amount of people that don’t take care of themselves and a society that encourages systemic unwellness, through workism, the high cost of wellness and the always on always more culture of meal delivery, content platforms and hyper-availability of everything, our care system can’t keep up.

Oddly, for something that seems indulgent and luxurious, wellness is something that can be available very cheaply and is one of the best things you can do to serve yourself and your community. We should pursue it.

Apart from serving, I’ve been considering what else I can give. Having read a lot of Taleb, I’m very much into the concept of ‘skin in the game’. Essentially, if you believe in something you must act. Talk is cheap. Taleb tells us not to listen to those without skin in the game, reserving much of his ire for business school professors, journalists and bankers. He says to ask your wealth manager where they invest their money, not where you should invest yours. That sort of thing.

Therefore I’ve been watching environmental protests, videos of the burning Amazon and have remained quiet, knowing that I’m yet to put my hand in my pocket and do anything about it.

Although cash is not always the best response to a problem, in this case it’s something that shows I have skin in the game. I’ve changed my search engine to Ecosia and am researching which tree planting charity to align myself with.

These are small gestures but the best habitual changes are gradual. I’m going to start to give, to serve my environment in a small way. It’s time.

Ben Mercer