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principles | PURPOSE | perspective

II: Serve Others First

“Life’s most important question is: What are you doing for others?”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1955, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted a contest to find a motto that in “a few words would express some or all the ideals to which the Los Angeles police service is dedicated.” Officer Joseph S. Dorobek submitted the winning entry and by 1963, “to protect and to serve” was on every LAPD squad car. In 1960, the Chicago Police Department adopted the motto, “We Serve and Protect.” Since that time one variation or another has been taken up by police departments around the world. Is there a meaningful difference between the two? Is one more correct than the other? Which ideal should get top billing, serve or protect? Who has it right, Los Angeles (protect/serve) or Chicago (serve/protect)?

What if you were challenged to create a short personal motto like this? The Ten Ancient Principles points to the one that should make your list, #2 is Serve Others First. As cops we have this one covered, right? Even if we do it grudgingly sometimes, it is our job after all. Apart from the job maybe we make donations to a few worthy causes, help a neighbor out, or do a little volunteer work because it is the right thing to do. Stuff like this makes us feel good and sets a good example, but lets not get carried away. Serving others may be important but it cuts against the “survival of the fittest” grain in our human nature. To serve others, to give sacrificially, to consistently put the needs of others before our own does not bring any advantage in society. Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Life, puts it this way…

“The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position. If you can demand service from others, you’ve arrived. In our self-serving culture with its me-first mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept.”

It is the me-first mentality that keeps us from acting like a servant. I recognized this in myself early on. The idea of becoming a police officer came to me in high school. I discovered a criminal justice class that met at the local community college three times a week. Taking this class would mean that two school days each week would be over for me at noon. I had never heard of such a thing and probably would have taken Basket Weaving 101 to get that schedule. It was my completely selfish desire to get out of school on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon that was the first step toward the career I have spent my entire adult life in. Not a shining moment of servant-hood and it is honestly a struggle that has never gone away.

We are all selfish to some degree, but we don’t want to talk about it. We don’t really need to talk about it in those terms since the world tells us that taking care of ourselves is a reward for success – or even a right we earn for the sacrifices we make to serve and protect. This line of thinking has been used to justify a great deal of bad and selfish behavior. To find a life of significance you have to stare down your selfishness and displace it with humility. Servanthood requires the same  humility that achieved ancient consensus as the foundation for wisdom and virtue.

“You are going to give your life for something. What will it be – a career, a sport, a hobby, fame, wealth? None of these will have lasting significance. Service is the pathway to real significance.” 
Rick Warren

Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me…whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Serving others is serving God, ignoring them is ignoring God. This matters and it is a principal worth building character on. So what is standing in your way? Career, sports, a hobby, fame, wealth, power, prestige, position? For the answer, look to where you spend your time and money.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:21

Is it time to make a change?


Add a Comment
  1. Nice work. I love the Rick Warren quotes.

  2. I’m enjoying your blog. I particularly liked the story about getting out of high school early twice a week. My career was born from a decision about what to buy with my first credit card. Funny how those things work out.

  3. Thanks Mitch, but you have piqued my interest…what was that first credit card purchase?

  4. Thanks Cathy, I do some of my best work when I am quoting other people.

  5. I bought a camera — completely on the spur of the moment and for no other reason than I had a credit card and wanted to use it.

    That seemingly random decision brought my whole life into focus. I had been floundering in college — going through the motions but clueless about what I wanted to do with my life.

    I bought the camera, found I loved photography, enrolled in a photojournalism class the next semester, graudated with a journalism degree two years later and have been working in the publishing field ever since.

  6. The greatest Leader who ever lived said, “I came not to be served, but TO serve.” And, “he who would be greatest among you must become the servant of all…”

    Sheriff Ray

  7. The greatest leader who ever lived said, “I came not to BE served, but TO serve.” And, “he who would be greatest among you must be the servant of all.”

    Servant leadership is the most powerful, and the most rare, leadership paradigm.

    To use a sports metaphor, leaders serve as coaches, referees, score keepers, cheerleaders, and team players. But perhaps their most important role is that of water boy — the one who takes care of the needs of the team…

    If you take care of your people, they will take care of you…

    Sheriff Ray Nash
    Police Dynamics Institute

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