Helping, Fixing or Serving


Remen, Rachel Naomi




Written in 1999, Remen's short essay clearly distinguishes between the verbs ‘help,' ‘fix,' and ‘serve.' Remen argues that helping and fixing is the “work of the ego” whereas serving is the “work of the soul.” While one can help or fix from a distance, Remen believes that “we cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected.” These ideas elicit powerful questions about what is or is not service and whether service is or needs to be as profoundly deep and personal as Remen suggests. Is Remen's a good working definition of service? Is serving distinct from helping or fixing? Why or why not?

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Connection and RelationshipHealth and HealingJustice and EqualityLove and CompassionMotives and ValuesRoles and BoundariesServing and Volunteering

Big Questions

How does healing occur? What makes it possible?Should we love the people we serve?Should we keep a distance from the people we serve?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What distinctions does Remen make between fixing, helping, and serving?
  2. What does she mean by “My pain is the source of my compassion my woundedness is the key to my empathy.” Why and how are pain and woundedness important?
  3. What does she mean by “wholeness”? How do you know when you are whole or not whole?
  4. Why does the woman with Crohn's disease feel connected to the woman who is serving her?
  5. Should we keep a distance from the people we serve?
  6. Remen says, “Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others.” Has this been your experience? How do you make sure your service is “equal”?
  7. Have you ever been torn between “what is most professional” and “what best serves”? Which did you choose and why?
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