why do you serve?


Swiss longsword, 15th or 16th century
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Naganuma Muneyoshi (1635-1690), was a Japanese neo-Confucian and military scientist of the Koshu or Takeda school. He had this to say about faith and service.

Faith is critical to both culture and warfare. Without faith, humaneness is a mere expedient, courtesy degenerates into flattery, intelligence is decorated with deception, duty serves adventurism, and bravery deteriorates into violence and depredation. None of these are virtues.

If a knight has faith, then in times of peace he can assist the process of civilization, while in times of disturbance he can eliminate what injures the people. Then he is able to be a protector of the nation.

Knights keep their discipline to the death. Those whose aim is justice are best; those whose aim is honor is lesser. The custom of knights in Japan is to be extremely desirous of honor, so there are those who mistakenly think the desire for honor is itself justice. All in all, to carry out justice and thus achieve honor is good, while to perform exploits hoping to get honored is lowly. Even more so is aspiring only to get paid-even if you perform feats in battle, you are not worthy of being considered a knight.

-Naganuma Muneyoshi

The section on faith seems to echo my previous post on fact and faith. A Tokugawa Japanese man’s definition of “faith” is most likely different from any Christian or other Western flavoring of the word, and that kind of supports what I was trying to say in my own post. “Faith”…as much as the atheist may like to pigeonhole it…doesn’t necessarily have to come with a denomination or a fundamentalist worldview.  Faith has to do with believing in the things worth believing in. If you want to believe in a world where honor, courage, justice and love are nothing but chemical reactions in the brain…have at it. I choose to believe otherwise and would rather live out my time on this earth in that sort of world. That doesn’t mean that I reject science by any means. That is the typical rebuttal…”you are a Luddite who still believes in a geocentric universe”…uhhh. No. Just as science is constantly discovering that there is more to existence than we previously thought, I believe that there is more to life and it’s meaning than science can prove.  If the knight chooses to believe in expediency, flattery and deception in order to serve his own self interest, because that is how he thinks the world works, that is due to how he CHOOSES to see the world. What sort of knight would you aspire to be?

The last part, the part about aspiring only to get paid, that sort of spoke to me. It made me think of the reasons people serve, in particular within my chosen profession of law enforcement. I have to be honest, I have a family and I couldn’t do this job for minimum wage. The money and the benefits were a major factor as was the status and “honor” of the profession. However, Muneyoshi said “aspiring ONLY to get paid” and I think that is the key. Money and honor are far from the ONLY reason that I love my work, but there are, unfortunately, some people within the ranks who seem to look at the job as ONLY that…a job. I, like Muneyoshi, believe that they are not worthy of being considered “Knights”.

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8 thoughts on “why do you serve?”

  1. You come to know very quickly, the type who are interested in serving as only a job. Rare are those I’ve seen so far in my short period as an ordinary digger, who have a passion to truly serve. But those who do, are a beacon of light who inspire with their passion, and give you a vision of what it may be like, if you would only believe in yourself, and the bigger picture of what it means to serve your country proudly, and hopefully, with both honour AND justice.

    Thanks for this post Tom. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the origin of our reasons to serve.

  2. People enlist/apply for employment for many reasons. I suppose that as long as they do the job, do it well and apply their best effort, their personal reason for their career choice probably isn’t a big deal.

    However, I think that staying motivated and happy and ultimately making a difference in your career kind of requires a depth of commitment deeper than a paycheck.

    1. I think it’s an evolutionary thing as well. In the beginning of a service job, you may have romanticized, idealistic ideas of how ‘cool’ the job will be and how it will make you more of a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ as you do it. As time goes on it does become more of a ‘just a job’ experience. This can be good because it might mean that the glory hound motivations are being stripped away (it could also be bad if it leads to sloppiness and a lack of professional commitment). Eventually, the ‘reverence’ shifts to ‘what you are doing for someone else’ and ‘doing it right for it’s own sake’ and the desire/motive for individual gain moves farther down the list.

      The sense of personal satisfaction should never go away – but it should not be the prime motivation if it’s going to be selfless service.

  3. “If you want to believe in a world where honor, courage, justice and love are nothing but chemical reactions in the brain…have at it.”
    I don’t think you’ll find this argument from atheists (that you’ve ironically managed to pigeonhole, yourself). Those concepts are ideological principles, definitions that humanity has applied to certain types of action, rather than being natural processes in and of themselves (except for your example of ‘love'; I have heard that argument, though I also feel that it is more than only a chemical process). Tangentially, though, thinking of them that way, as mere definitions, rather than lofty titles, really helps to keep the ego low in the matter. It also reminds me of Norse mythology. In their Armageddon story, the bad guy wins; therefore, we’re ultimately doomed. In that way, we do what is right because it is right, not because we hope to get ‘paid’ for it in the afterlife.
    So if we’re able to take away the grandeur of a thing and still see it as being worthy of pursuit, then it becomes valuable.

    “Just as science is constantly discovering that there is more to existence than we previously thought, I believe that there is more to life and it’s meaning than science can prove.”
    Agreed, through and through.

    1. I have to disagree with your interp of Norse Mythos and it’s role/inspiration. Norse warriors believed that dying gloriously on the battlefield was the path to eternal fame/reward and lead to earthly fame because of extreme acts of bravery/honor/courage/success because the “Skop” (also spelled scop) or Bard would write songs about your individual acts of bravery.

  4. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
    And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

    If not us, if we don’t list and stand, then who will?

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