A Question for Our Nation: What Does It Mean to Serve?

‘Servant leadership extends beyond traditional business settings and equally applies to law enforcement and military leadership.’
A Question for Our Nation: What Does It Mean to Serve?
Jackson Leonard, the eight-year-old son of a US Marine, salutes as motorcyclists in the Rolling to Remember ride pass near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on May 29, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
Ayman Kafel
Battlefields Staff
12/1/2023
Updated:
12/1/2023
0:00

Commentary

What does it mean to serve? What does it mean to be in the service of others? Is it something in us to serve? Is it a nature vs. nurture debate? Is it about a self-fulling prophecy? Is it some ego trait? Is it genuine? In contemplating the essence of service, I find myself engulfed in profound introspection, diving into its meaning and implications.

From the earliest days of my youth, this need to serve others has resided in the very core of my being. Its origins, however, have long fascinated me, leading me to question whether it is an inherent aspect of my character or a product of my upbringing. Does it stem from the interplay between nature and nurture, a debate that has captivated the minds of philosophers and scholars throughout the ages? Alternatively, could it be a manifestation of some deep-seated ego trait or a self-fulfilling prophecy uniquely woven into the tapestry of my existence?

To understand service, one must journey through the annals of my personal history. It is a narrative marked by the tumultuous ravages of two brutal civil wars, each leaving an indelible imprint upon my soul. The first chapter unfolds in Lebanon, where the chilling presence of militias traversing our village and the resounding artillery striking the mountainside remain etched in my memory. These formidable experiences laid the groundwork for understanding the profound suffering that afflicts humanity in times of conflict.

Indeed, it is in Liberia that the narrative gathers momentum. Swept up in dire circumstances, my family and I faced imminent danger as Charles Taylor’s forces descended upon Monrovia. Barely afforded hours to escape, we braved the tumultuous storm of chaos and uncertainty, carrying with us the weight of survival and the fervent wish to protect those dear to us.

From adversity emerged a profound empathy and a desire to be of service to my fellow human beings. The circumstances of life, steeped in tragedy and resilience, shaped my perspective on the inherent value of service. It became a beacon of hope amidst a world fraught with suffering, an avenue through which one could extend a helping hand to those burdened by misfortune.

Yet, within the depths of my reflection, I find myself grappling with the notion of authenticity. Is my inclination to serve purely genuine, or does it owe its existence to the circumstances of my past? Is there an inherent aspect of my being, inscribed within the very fabric of my DNA, that propels me towards acts of service? Could my soul retain vestiges of a past life as a valiant warrior, wherein the duty to protect and assist others runs like a current through the annals of time?

I was re-reading “Warrior Mindset,” written by Dr. Michael J. Asken, Loren W. Christensen, and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. The following concept, called drive theory, got me to think more about the idea of being of service. “Drive theory; its relationship to performance is shown here. Drive theory says that when arousal is low, performance will also be low or poor. It says when arousal is high, performance will be high or good. In short, the higher your arousal is, the better your performance. It suggests that arousal can never be too high and that more is better. This may be akin to football linemen who pound each other’s pads and bang helmets to get fired up.”

The concept of drive theory relates arousal level to performance. According to drive theory, performance will also be low or poor when arousal is low. On the other hand, when arousal is high, performance will be high or good.

Let’s adapt the example to responding to an active shooter or a burning building. In these high-stakes situations, the concept of drive theory can still be applied to the idea of being of service to others.

When individuals are in emergency response situations, such as responding to an active shooter or a burning building, the importance of arousal levels becomes even more pronounced. In these intense scenarios, higher arousal levels can lead to heightened focus, increased physical and mental preparedness, and enhanced performance in effectively mitigating the crisis and assisting those in need.

Applying drive theory to these situations suggests that individuals motivated and energized to serve and protect others will experience increased arousal. This heightened state of arousal can be beneficial in several ways. It can sharpen their senses, increase their reaction speed, and enable them to make quick decisions under pressure. This, in turn, can contribute to more efficient and effective responses to the emergency, potentially saving lives and minimizing harm.

New recruits raise their hands as they take an oath outside the Times Square Military Recruiting Station in New York on Nov. 10, 2017. (Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images)
New recruits raise their hands as they take an oath outside the Times Square Military Recruiting Station in New York on Nov. 10, 2017. (Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images)

As a leader, I am a servant leader to those under my command. Robert Greenleaf published his essay “The Servant as Leader” in 1970, effectively coining the term “servant leader.” In the realm of law enforcement and the military, a servant leader prioritizes actively involving team members in the daily decision-making processes of the organization, as opposed to a more authoritative and traditional leader. Servant leadership skills are essential in fostering strong connections and collaboration among colleagues, whether in management or at the employee level. This approach helps establish an efficient and synergistic operation within the law enforcement or military unit.

Servant leadership extends beyond traditional business settings and equally applies to law enforcement and military leadership. It encompasses a range of qualities that are crucial for effective leadership in these domains. Some key characteristics of servant leaders in law enforcement and military contexts include:

  • Strong decision-making skills: Servant leaders prioritize the needs of their team members while leveraging their knowledge and experience to make informed decisions that benefit the organization, even if they are difficult or unpopular. They are quick to provide critical feedback when necessary.
  • Emotional intelligence: Empathy and understanding are still important attributes in law enforcement and military leadership. Servant leaders actively listen to others, consider their perspectives, and take their experiences into account.
  • Building a sense of community: Cultivating a sense of unity and camaraderie among colleagues is vital in shared team environments. Servant leaders create opportunities for non-work-related discussions, organize social events, and foster effective communication channels to facilitate a strong community within their units, promoting engagement and mental stimulation among team members.
  • Self-awareness: Effective servant leaders in law enforcement and military leadership recognize the impact of their behavior on others. They manage their emotions and actions, particularly during critical moments, to establish trust and foster openness within their teams.
  • Foresight: Servant leaders draw from past experiences to anticipate future challenges and opportunities. They possess the ability to think ahead and envision likely outcomes and consequences of potential actions. They can also rely on their instincts, informed by their accumulated knowledge, when making decisions.
  • Commitment to others: The servant leadership model emphasizes the bottom line and team members’ professional development and well-being. In law enforcement and military settings, leaders focus on improving the abilities of their team, as greater efficiency leads to better overall outcomes. They support personal growth by assigning additional responsibilities to those seeking to enhance their skills and achieve their goals.

The call to serve is something that only some have. Some pretend to have it, and those who genuinely have it. I see it daily in the first responder community, military, and other professions. I once worked with a man who claimed (there is a reason I wrote the word claim) to be a team player and care. The reality is that he wasn’t and he didn’t. I based this solely on his actions, not his words. When the job got tough, he withered. He did things that went against what it meant to serve. It was more about his ego than the betterment of others.

City workers and first responders of Los Angeles gather in front of Los Angeles City Hall in protest of the city's required vaccine mandates on Nov. 8, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
City workers and first responders of Los Angeles gather in front of Los Angeles City Hall in protest of the city's required vaccine mandates on Nov. 8, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Throughout my life, I have come across some truly genuine human beings and those who pretend to be genuine. Those who pretend to be genuine are the most difficult to read, but to the very few, they stand out.

Questions linger in my thoughts as I reflect on my past; however, one truth remains irrefutable—the intrinsic fulfillment found in service. Far exceeding superficial motives, it delves deep into genuine compassion. Through service, we forge connections with our fellow beings, transcending the chasms that often divide us. To serve is to acknowledge the interwoven nature of our lives, to step forward willingly, and to extend a hand to those beset by hardship.

Like an ancient epic, this tale reminds me of the timeless wisdom imparted by the stoic philosophers of yore. They beckoned us to embrace the virtues of benevolence and selflessness, revealing that true fulfillment lies not in the pursuit of personal gain but in the service of others. While the origins of our innermost motivations may dwell in the realm of mystery, the profound value of service remains steadfast.

My question to you is, what does service mean to you? Are you genuine or are you driven by your own ego?

This article was originally published in The Havok Journal.

Ayman Kafel is the founder and owner of Hybrid Wolf Blue Line Strategies, LLC, a veteran-owned training and consulting company for law enforcement officers and agencies. He combines his military and law enforcement experience to bring much-needed cutting-edge training to the law enforcement profession. Mr. Kafel is not only an active police officer but also an Army combat veteran who was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. He became a police officer in 2007 after 8 years of service in the Army. To reach Ayman, feel free to email him at [email protected].