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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Those of us who are warm and dry and safe and well-fed must show up for those who are cold and wet and endangered and hungry. That’s a rule of life. Every ethical and religious and spiritual tradition in the world agrees on that rule.

— Elizabeth Gilbert

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

— Emily Dickinson

Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man’s business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked; ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.

Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death.

— Eugene V. Debs

To stir the masses, to appeal to their higher, better selves, to set them thinking for themselves, and to hold ever before them the ideal of mutual kindness and good will, based upon mutual interests, is to render real service to the cause of humanity.

— Eugene V. Debs

To care for anyone else enough to make their problems one’s own, is ever the beginning of one’s real ethical development.

— Felix Adler

Ethical religion can be real only to those who are engaged in ceaseless efforts at moral improvement. By moving upward we acquire faith in an upward movement, without limit.

— Felix Adler

We shall grow in the attempt to help others to grow. Every human being is valuable…. Neither individualism, nor altruism is the satisfying life. People grow and develop in proportion as they help others grow and develop…. The attempt to actualize the potential in others, unfolds resources dormant in ourselves. This dedication to self and others harmonizes the ever conflicting claims of individualism and altruism. The good of oneself, and the good of others, emerge together.

— Felix Adler

Pay mind to your own life, your own health, and wholeness. A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death.

— Frederick Buechner

Purpose is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s needs.

— Frederick Buechner

I do not know what the spirit of a philosopher could more wish to be than a good dancer. For the dance is his ideal, also his fine art, finally also the only kind of piety he knows, his ‘divine service.’

— Friedrich Nietzsche

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?

— George Eliot

It is good to be helpful and kindly, but don’t give yourself to be melted into candle grease for the benefit of the tallow trade.

— George Eliot

If you’re not reaching back to help anyone then you’re not building a legacy.

— Germany Kent

Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness.

— Harold Kushner

Many persons have no idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.

— Helen Keller

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

— Hillel the Elder

Be ashamed to die until you have have won some victory for humanity.

— Horace Mann

The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.

— Hubert H. Humphrey

Life’s unfairness is not irrevocable; we can help balance the scales for others, if not always for ourselves.

— Hubert H. Humphrey

Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves.

— James M. Barrie

There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.

— Jan Schakowsky

I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.

— Jana Stanfield

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.

— John F. Kennedy

Let every dawn be to you as the beginning of life, and every setting sun be to you as its close. Then let every one of these short lives leave its sure record of some kindly thing done for others — some goodly strength or knowledge gained for yourselves.

— John Ruskin

There is no wealth but life — life including all its powers of joy, of love, of admiration. That country is richest, which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest who has the widest helpful influence over the lives of others.

— John Ruskin

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

— John Wesley

To love what you do and feel that it matters — how could anything be more fun?

— Katharine Graham

For us, booting up might correspond to the Celtic woman kindling the embers of the fire or stirring the oatmeal to start the day. Pausing to reflect on the computer’s potential, being grateful for its powers, using its capabilities to serve others — can these actions not be filled with grace?

— Kathy Coffey

By the choices and acts of our lives, we create the person that we are and the faces that we wear. By the choices and acts of our lives we give to the world wherein our lives are lived, hoping that our neighbors will find our contributions to be of worth, and hoping that the world will be a little more gracious for our time in it.

— Kenneth Patton (adapted)

I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.

— Kurt Vonnegut
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