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The ethics of giving service

  • 09 October 2013

In a contemporary society where the focus lies amid a whirlpool of egocentricity, self-gain and self-improvement, one must question where the true motive for giving service lies, and as a result what defines ethical service giving. Service giving in the interest of personal gain has become an increasingly popular outlook on assisting the needy in contemporary society. Conversely, Immanuel Kant might have approached the issue through the paradigm of the ethic of duty, quoting 'duty for duty's sake'. While the 'ethic of duty' is the ethic of the social gospel movements, Kant believed that religion was only valuable as it caused one to lead a good moral life. Thus it is possible to argue that the habit of giving true service lies in the 'ethic of love', which is more in line with Christian humanist values than the former.

'Determining Volunteer Motivations — A Key to Success', a study conducted by Michigan State University, sought to determine the motivations of volunteers, producing eight categorised sources of motivation. In a disparate study, when questioned as to their motivations for participation in international volunteer projects, an overwhelming majority of respondents' motivations lay within the categories of 'to achieve personal growth and enhanced self-esteem, to gain professional experience' and, finally, 'to give something back'. A shifted purpose becomes evident within contemporary volunteering. More frequently individuals seek to involve themselves in volunteer opportunities because of the personal gain, rather than the fundamental 'to help others'.

An article in the May 1988 issue of American Health magazine described a study in Michigan that showed that regular volunteer work increases life expectancy. Adam Jamal and Harvey McKinnon's 'The Power of Giving' discusses how 'giving back enriches us all', explaining the individual benefits of volunteering in terms of self-fulfilment and assisting others. While the study balances both interests, many modern day investigations do not, pushing motivations to the self-centred end of the spectrum, where volunteers now expect to receive new friendships, improved health and a feeling of security from service giving. Author Hugh Mackay explored this concept in The Good Life, stating, 'as soon as you start wondering if you are going to benefit from being ... kind at some cost to yourself, the whole idea ... has slipped from your grasp'. Mackay explains that giving only in order to receive is not ethical service giving, promoting the close study of what defines ethical volunteering and what ethics apply