I was on KPBS radio’s “These Days” program recently to discuss ideas from my new book, written with Gary Morsch, a medical doctor and founder of the humanitarian aid group Heart To Heart International. The book is “The Power of Serving Others,” published this summer by Berrett-Koehler of San Francisco. We write from the premise that people find meaning and significance in our lives by serving others, and that most people are willing to serve others – they just don’t see opportunities or don’t feel that they’re qualified. A brief passage:

Everyone has something to give. Most people are willing to give when they see the need and have the opportunity. Everyone can do something for someone right now.

To write this book we spent time with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, with Black Panthers in exile in Tanzania, with terrorism victims in Kosovo, with hurricane refugees in New Orleans, and with everyday people. The point is that we don’t have to do something spectacular to serve. There are people we encounter every day who could use help that we could offer if we just saw them. And by doing so, we bring meaning to our own lives. On the radio program Gary, also a Colonel with the U.S. Army Reserve, told about working in a combat hospital in northern Iraq recently. A prisoner of war (excuse my misuse of official language – a detainee) was dying from an infection, and Gary arranged a convoy of U.S. soldiers to take him and prisoner to a more advanced hospital in Baghdad. With all of the insurgent attacks and suicide bombers, this was risky, but successful. Gary’s point was that this “enemy” was within Gary’s reach, so that’s who he could serve. Buddha said (not on the program – thousands of years ago) that if someone is shot in the chest with an arrow, we aren’t supposed to admire the craft of the arrow’s construction or the aim of the archer or wonder about the ancestry of the victim – first, pull out the arrow.

Which prompted the following e-mail from a listener:

Let me see if I got that story straight. We try to kill these people, but if we’re unsuccessful, we go to extraordinary measures to save their lives. Why not just skip the first part?

DEAN NELSON

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