Re-Defining Service

By: Trishla Jain

February 24, 2014

While attending the Interfaith Youth Core’s (IFYC) Interfaith Leadership Institute in Atlanta, Georgia this past weekend, I began to reflect on my own interfaith journey after participating in our “Tackling Challenging Conversations” workshop. I had always assumed that my interfaith journey started when I arrived at Georgetown, and I had never looked further into my past. However, this reflection was different, and I tried to remember the first time I had ever engaged in interfaith service. I realized then that my interfaith journey started while I was in high school, with my participation in service projects. Community service was a fundamental part of my high school experience, and since everyone was required to do at least fifteen hours a year, I began volunteering on Thursday nights at a local hospital and on Wednesdays at a local senior assisted living facility.
My motivation for service did not come solely from my school requirements, but it was also rooted in my Hindu faith and the concept of dharma. In the Mahabharata, it is acknowledged that dharma is a difficult concept to define, but one facet of the idea is that dharma is anything that helps to lift up human beings so anything that helps the welfare of humans. The notion that service is a way to help lift people up is one that always spoke to me.

I realized that my service had an interfaith nature when I remembered of the conversations I had while serving. When I would chat with the other volunteers as we were piling blankets, pillows, and towels on the linen cart, or cutting flowers to put into vases and place on tables, I would realize just how different we all were. We came from various backgrounds, and we were quite a diverse group, whether that was ethnically, geographically, politically, culturally, linguistically, or religiously. All of these differences informed our individual belief systems, but they did not prevent us from forming relationships with one another or working together to serve others.

The people that I served with all came together to do something for others because we all believed that it was important to work towards a more socially just world. This is one value that we all shared and it informed the way that we lived our lives. Furthermore, while doing service with these people, not only was I able to engage with them about the similarities between our belief systems and way of looking at the world, but also the differences. I learned as much from the other people with whom I volunteered as I learned from the people I served.

Nevertheless, I have always struggled to find a definition of interfaith that captured the word’s entire meaning to me. However, while attending the Interfaith Leadership Institute, I found a definition that comes close. During that “Tackling Challenging Conversations” workshop, my friend David was role-playing a situation when he shared that to him, interfaith cooperation is a group of people with different belief systems uniting around common values, including service.

That definition had many different components, and each one spoke to a different part of the interfaith experiences that I have had throughout my own life. I know that anyone who hears this definition will be left with a more nuanced understanding of interfaith cooperation, and maybe they will even realize, like I did, that they have been engaging in interfaith cooperation and service throughout their entire lives.

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Re-Defining Service