Saving vs. Serving

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The Tragedy of Saving

Sometimes, we tend to unconsciously want to save others. I have seen it happen many times, even with some of the best leaders our there. They want to protect their teams. They want to prevent them from getting hurt, having their feelings hurt, or going through uncomfortable experiences.

So they don’t tell them the truth, or they beat around the bush.

They don’t notice it, but they are trying to protect them or even worse, to save them.

Saving is deeply engrained in the western psyche, because of the Christic archetype that lives in the collective unconscious. Saving people is glorified by society: every year, there are award ceremonies for national heroes who saved other people in glorious acts. These heroes are even more glorified if they risked of their own life !

This is a second archetype that is deeply ingrained in the culture’s unconscious: the Martyr. (Hint: the martyr is also part of the Sacrificial version of the Christic archetype.)

If you are trying to save someone, and suffer doing so, you are even more glorified by society. France has a big issue with this archetype, so people more or less consciously create suffering conditions for themselves to gain pity, social approval, acceptance or even worse: social glory. There is a common belief that if you don’t suffer, you must not be doing it right, or you must be cheating the system in a way.

Since this issue is a systemic one, most people don’t notice it (fishes don’t know that they are swimming in water). The whole society swims in an ocean of suffering, where this suffering is glorified. In France for instance, a lot of the streets hold the names of martyrs and war heroes (98% of names are male, but that would be for another conversation…).

People are waiting for somebody else (usually the State) to save them (what a convenient role to play for Statesmen/women). This situation leads to a political class who is expected to play a Mother and Father role to a society that places itself in the role of an unsatisfied child role. (It is interesting to note that France is dubbed la “Mère-Patrie”: the Mother-Nation where Patrie has the latin radical of Pater which means “Father”.) When the parents don’t do a good job, the children throw a tantrum (that is going on strike). This analysis comes from the field of Transactional Analysis (T.A.) which aims at looking at relationships from three different ego perspectives:

-A parent-like perspective

-A child-like perspective

-An adult-like perspective.

A healthy society would need to interact from adults-to-adults (especially between politicians and ordinary citizens), rather than parent-to-child interactions.

Don’t get me wrong, in France like in other countries, there are social problems that need the State’s attention. And there are people who sacrificed their lives during World War I and World War II. Most of them did not see another way. Most of those who sent them to war did not have to fire a single shot (nor receive one). Wouldn’t the “war heroes” want us to have learned from their sacrifice? Wouldn’t they want us to live a peaceful and fulfilled life? Wouldn’t they have sacrificed themselves so that we didn’t have to suffer and go through what they went through? Wouldn’t they want us to celebrate life and create a better world instead of staying stuck in the past by calling all the streets with names of Generals and War Heroes and living in a morosity transfixed in trying to remember? (In France, there is something called the Devoir de Mémoire: the “Duty to Remember”.)

What could be an alternative to that posture of trying to save others?

The Power of Serving

First, we might need to stop believing that anyone needs to be saved.

What if everybody was OK just as they are?

What if it was OK for others to suffer, to make mistakes, and to choose for themselves?

What if we started first by putting the oxygen masks on ourselves: being our own “saviors”? That means that we are the only ones we need to “save”, that is to realize that we don’t need any salvation. We simply need to take care of ourselves. Simple but not easy.

“You are the only one you are looking for.”

Once we have put the oxygen mask on ourselves, then we can turn to others to offer support and help.

Trying to save someone places you in the position of the Savior in the Drama Triangle. That sets you up for an unconscious relationship:

Even then, you might want to question:

Did they ask for our help? Or are we trying to impose our help?

If I see that I can help, I can offer my help, and let the other decide and tell me explicitly whether they accept it or not.

Once we develop this healthy relationship to help, we can wake up every morning asking this question:

“Who can I serve today?”

By serving somebody else, we can help them grow.

Service is based on several core principles:

  • Serving, but not Pleasing.
  • Listening before we Speak.
  • Being Mindful of our Intention (why am I trying to help them?).
  • Speaking the Truth with Compassion and knowing when to say nothing.
  • Let them do the work.

What is your biggest insight from this article?

What can you do about it?

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