Winter in Michigan can be rough, especially if you are trying to ascend to the top of an ice-covered slanted driveway to get up to your hotel lobby in time to make it to your dinner meeting. Thankfully, this was not me, rather it was a woman who vented her icy frustration at the hotel clerk as soon as she finally made it inside the hotel lobby.
Me? Well, I was simply enjoying the nice fireplace in the lobby soaking in the sights of this beautiful, family-owned hotel in Ann Arbor. The yelling and venting from the frustrated woman was killing the ambiance of the place, or so I thought.
The clerk at the front desk did not flinch, despite the barrage of passive aggressive insults and accusations. In fact, the clerk not only absorbed the woman’s anger and frustration, she calmly assured the customer she would handle salting the driveway to make sure no additional customers had to slip and slide their way up the sloped walk.
Out of a backroom, I saw an older man (who turned out to be the owner of the hotel) walk past the clerk with a bucket of salt. He must have mentioned to her that he was going to take care of salting the drive, and then he calmly did so.
Now, you probably think I’m going to talk about how wonderful it is that the owner of a nice hotel is willing to do menial tasks such as salting a drive. You probably think I’m going to point out how exceptional the clerk at the front desk was in handling the angry customer. The fact is, these types of things happen every day in cities all over the world by a diverse array of people. It is not special, and that is what makes it exceptional.
What struck me about watching this exchange was how normal it seemed. Each person in the scene played their part. They played the part they were given without deliberating, arguing, or calling undue attention to themselves. They saw something that needed to get done, and they did it. Period.
What I witnessed was simply service.
Instead of drawing your attention to many different types of examples of service, I invite you to look at yourself. I know that’s what I did after seeing this scene. I invite you to ask yourself how often you’re in a state of simply service.
You see, there are many types of service we can perform. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll talk about only two. The first is simply service. That’s it — simply service. The second is selfish service; this type of service is all about the person doing it and nobody else.
Selfish service can be sneaky. You may start something from a place of simply service, but before you know it, you’ve converted it into selfish service. Here are some ways service can be tarnished into the selfish variety.
Let’s say the clerk who was absorbing the customer’s anger and frustration felt put upon or inconvenienced after the problem was handled. Oops, now her service is selfish service because she made it about herself. What if she decided to email her colleagues and tell them all about how wonderfully she handled this irate customer? Bummer, again, now her service is ruined.
How does taking simply service and turning it into selfish service ruin things? It ruins things because of the friction it causes inside of yourself which spills over into friction between you and everybody around you. Need a couple more examples?
The owner of the hotel was performing simply service. He saw a thing that needed done and he found himself doing it. He could have ruined his simply service. He could have used his actions to prove a point to all the employees about how everybody should work as hard as he does, and good things will come their way. He could have complained about how somebody should have salted the drive hours before the incident and the customer would never have been frustrated in the first place. He could have even used his good deeds as a story to inspire the team. Any one of those things would have tarnished the service.
Simply service is a wonderful feeling. You do a thing because it needs done, then you mentally put the thing down and forget about it. Flowing through service without the mental luggage attached to it will make you feel lighter, more peaceful, and will be contagious to all of those around you. However, the moment your mind grabs onto this, you’re sunk. Smile. Relax. It’s simply service.
There is value in simplicity. There is creativity in simplicity. There are complex answers waiting to be discovered the moment you disburden yourself through simplicity. Your service is a gift you give to yourself — the gift of simply service.