To be of service is to work to help others, to serve. Service recognizes human interconnectedness and our ability to contribute to the lives of others in positive and active ways. Service is an active form of caring, compassion, or love. We call people who work for government “public servants” because their job is to support people, rather than to make a profit or to build a powerbase.

(The word service can also imply work as a servant for pay, a government branch, or a religious observance. Those are not what these quotations describe.)

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The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.

— Abigail Van Buren

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

— Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s, Often attributed to Lilla Watson, who said she was “not comfortable being credited for something that had been born of a collective process” — the attribution here is the one she accepted.

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.

— Albert Schweitzer

Sometimes our inner light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.

— Albert Schweitzer

Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting, and enhancing life and that to destroy, harm, or to hinder life is evil. Affirmation of the world — that is affirmation of the will to live, which appears in phenomenal forms all around me — is only possible for me in that I give myself out for other life.

— Albert Schweitzer

If I have been of service, if I have glimpsed more of the nature and essence of ultimate good, if I am inspired to reach wider horizons of thought and action, if I am at peace with myself, it has been a successful day.

— Alex Noble

I was always ashamed to take. So I gave. It was not a virtue. It was a disguise.

— Anaïs Nin

Most of all, I remember those children in the classrooms and those kids who grabbed me around the knees, and I think of the old people who really need a voice when they’re trapped in wheelchairs in dirty nursing homes. The person in this office really must have a conscience to know that how they direct this government dramatically affects the lives of those people.

— Ann Richards

No one was to be solely in the service of another or to have their value estimated along such lines; instead, each person should seek perfection as an individual by making a contribution to the common life.

— Anna Garlin Spencer

The true purpose of education is to develop the individual’s highest potentialities and to prepare them for a life of service to humanity.

— Anna Garlin Spencer

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

— Anne Frank

… those who can serve best, those who help most, those who sacrifice most, those are the people who will be loved in life and honoured in death, when all questions of colour are swept away and when in a free country free citizens shall meet on equal grounds.

— Annie Besant

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.

— Arthur Ashe

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

— Audre Lorde

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm, as you get older, remember you have another hand: The first is to help yourself, the second is to help others.

— Audrey Hepburn

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.

— Booker T. Washington

There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.

— Booker T. Washington

There were two classes of charitable people: one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.

— Charles Dickens, Bleak House

Human life consists in mutual service. No grief, pain, misfortune, or ‘broken heart,’ is excuse for cutting off one’s life while any power of service remains. But when all usefulness is over, when one is assured of an unavoidable and imminent death, it is the simplest of human rights to choose a quick and easy death in place of a slow and horrible one.

— Charlotte Perkins Gilman, suicide note, August 17, 1935

The Universe will never require you to set yourself on fire to provide heat for others.

— Clyde Lee Dennis

He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it.

— Dante Alighieri

Africans believe in something that is difficult to render in English. We call it ubuntu, botho. It means the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humaneness, gentleness, hospitality, putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.

— Desmond Tutu

In a world where there is so much to be done, I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do.

— Dorothea Dix

There is a call to us, a call of service — that we join with others to try to make things better in this world.

— Dorothy Day

Holy listening — to ‘listen’ another’s being into life, may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.

— Douglas V. Steere

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

— E. B. White

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

— Edward Everett Hale

To look forward and not back,
To look out and not in, and
To lend a hand.

— Edward Everett Hale

Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.

— Eleanor Brownn

When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

— Eleanor Roosevelt
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