When we serve we must give ourselves. This is not handing over one’s instrumentality to be used by another, but giving a free and self-possessed ‘yes’ to the beggar, our neighbor, our friends without our personal ends being rejected.
I was going to pick up an internet cord for a friend, and had a couple extra hours to spare. Wanting to open a bank account for a group I’m leading at school, but needing another person to open the account, I called my friend. She answered and I stumbled for the words to ask her to come with me. One fear I have in asking people to help me is that they will surrender their instrumentality over to me without accounting for their personal ends. The fear arises from unpleasant memories of doing this to myself. Psychological musings aside, it turned out she had the time open, and so came along. When I dropped her off, I thanked her for coming with me. She had made a gift of herself to me for two hours rolling coins and learning about opening a bank account.
I was struck by the time I spent with her. I never perceived annoyance or impatience. She served me. She served me not as a mere instrument, but as a person. This service overflowed from a respect she had for her own personhood. For her, this moment of service wasn’t a moment of limiting herself as a mere instrument for my use, but acknowledgment of her freedom and self-determination. She made a gift of herself. This gift arose out of a personal choice namely, “I will help Emma because I have the time and it is good to give my time to this.” It was clear she wasn’t merely reacting to my request, but responding. I was touched by her response because it was filled with freedom. This freedom I perceived in the time I spent with her.
In Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla defines the verb ‘to use’, “to employ some object of action as a means to an end” (25). We hear about women being objectified in pornography and marriages becoming stagnant when the spouse is only a mere instrument for convenience (ie. husbands paying bills, and wives raising children and then they reconvene for gratifying sex). With these experiences, we want to run away from the instrumentality of the person all together. We see the damage of instrumentalizing people, but we can’t live the radical opposite. This only leaves us frustrated.
Man’s instrumentality is given for the individual, not the other. Man plays his own violin. When he gives his violin to anyone but God, the music is poor. Rachel engaged her instrumentality as she sat with the bank teller opening the account, but she was playing her own violin. When we reach into another’s instrumentality and try to ‘play’ it ourselves, we violate the person at a deep level. We can and should ask one another for help, but they must chose to respond. In this way, man is not only an instrument for another, but is also working toward his unique personal ends through the giving of himself. Wojtyla explains, “whenever a person is the object of your activity, remember that you may not treat that person as only the means to an end, as an instrument, but must allow for the fact that he or she, too, has, or at least should have, distinct personal ends” (28).
Service requires a gift of self. The experience of genuine self giving is what we all want. For example, I wanted to get to know a freshman living on my wing. I would knock on her door and invite her to run to Kroger or have a meal with me. We were walking to the cafeteria, and she said, “If you ever have the thought, ‘she’s is probably lonely. I should go be with her.’ Don’t come. Don’t come out of pity.” She didn’t want to be a mere object to someone’s desire to grow in charity, but to receive my genuine friendship. This is not to say that noticing a lonely friend and reaching out can’t be an authentic act of self-giving service, but what I was struck by was her underlying desire. She didn’t want to be merely a means to an end. She has personal ends just as I do. She wanted to go forward to these personal ends with me, and not be merely the object of my ends.
My friend was a means to my end of opening the account, but she left the experience with awareness that she was more than a means. As she got out of the car and I thanked her for coming she said, “i’m happy I got to pick up some things along the way.” It struck me that she did not identify the moment of being my instrument as the most significant part of our time together. Though her personal ends are deeply wrapped up in her selfless service of coming to the bank with me, her saying this reminded me that we are more than instruments for one another. Friendship is really a higher value, and friendship never disregards one’s personal ends. We are made to help each other, but in this service we must not lose sight of our distinct personal ends, nor ignore them for another man’s sake. Only God is worthy of that abandonment, but that’s another post.