Several weeks ago, I wrote a column about the ways in which a great teacher can change lives. Since then, I’ve seen countless instances of just how true it is. Most recently, I received an e-mail from a friend, a lifetime classroom teacher in the Denver Public Schools, who signed his note simply, “Teacher-Servant”.
What a title: Teacher-Servant. How countercultural. How bracing. How refreshing!
In today’s self-involved society, it’s practically axiomatic that “service” is servile — humble in the lesser sense of the word. We are taught to be above, to move ahead, to claim what is rightfully ours. If something — or someone — is in the way, we are told to overcome it.
It’s such a rare person who ennobles the virtue of serving others. Yet when we see it in practice, we immediately recognize the spark of truth: here is someone living a fully actualized life, a life that needs no further justification. We instantly admire it.
What is service? Very simply, it is putting the needs of another ahead of one’s own. A servant forgoes pleasure, or gain, so that another person may enjoy the advantage.
This makes no sense in our culture. We’ve come to believe that the only way one would serve another is for compensation. What’s in it for me? Nothing? Then why do it?
Yet my friend has framed his life’s labor as an errand of service. What’s more, he is a servant to children, the least among us. And with that ethic, this life-long teacher reminded me of the most important of life’s lessons.
We are never happier than when we give something to someone else. No possession or accomplishment can approximate that feeling. Beginning with the people closest to us, we all have at our disposal the ability to lessen the burdens of others, to set them free, to help them find joy. It can be as simple as being kind to a stranger. Or, giving a child some of our precious time.
My friend, a retired teacher, took me back into his classroom this week. His words are the precept, and his life’s work is the example.
What a powerful lesson!
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book, “The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care).”