When it comes to formulating a principle around voluntary service, we could do much worse than turning to the Mahatma for some guidance. From the moment he “hit his stride” in South Africa he gave himself in voluntary service to those around him. Even when he was receiving payment as a lawyer in his early days, he was voluntarily serving the struggle in which he participated, and when the community pressed him to stay on when he was getting ready to return to India he said all he wanted from them was enough work so he could support himself. And most of that legal work, needless to say, was defending oppressed Indians. There’s something to be said for holding up the ideal of voluntary service when we engage in it: why would we, who are learning to use nonviolence, do anything half-heartedly? If we are doing something we feel we are forced to do, if it’s a form of involuntary service, is it not our duty, as well as in our highest interest, to resist and refuse to do it? It both degrades us and those to whom the service is offered to engage in service without our full hearts. Nonviolence ultimately offers us the essence of freedom, and what we find at its core is not never-ending bliss but an ever-growing awareness of the sacred nature of our duties. What could give us a higher sense of meaning?
In one short sentence, Gandhi almost whispers in our ears the key to living in complete freedom: all that we do is a form of service, and if we are not willing participants in it, then perhaps the situation calls for nonviolent resistance!
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The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org