Immigration has always played a significant role in the history of the United States. In recent years, the debate has intensified with mostly extreme views on both sides taking up most of the air in the room. Given the ongoing and important dialogue around immigration, I wanted to utilize the forum of the Character Creates Opportunity blog to provide a personal moment of reflection on a principle that was taught to me by two immigrants I know very well.
The timeless, universal, and self-evident principle I learned from two immigrants was SERVICE to a cause greater than my own is the gateway to make a positive impact and reach one’s full potential. In addition, I have seen this principle embodied in the efforts of countless numbers of immigrants I have come to know throughout my 50 years on this planet.
The two immigrants who taught me the principle of service to a cause greater than my own are my mom and dad. My mother came to this country by herself at the age of 18 from Glasgow, Scotland. My father is a second-generation Italian immigrant.
As my mother came to this nation by herself, it was the open door of her sister who came to America a few years earlier and provided her with an initial foothold to get started. It was not a perfect support structure, but it enabled her to get her start on building a new life.
My father’s family made their way initially in a shared apartment with close relatives. They got their start in the fresh produce business starting off with a wagon on a street corner and eventually moved to a modest storefront offering customers access to quality produce to a growing post-WWII population.
Families made sacrifices to ensure their loved ones had a helpful hand to initially find their way. The importance of service to family above oneself has been a recurrent theme throughout the lives of my parents. When the stresses and strains of raising a family, maintaining a marriage, and dealing with financial pressures would typically lead to the break-up of a family, my parents modeled a commitment to a greater cause than themselves and kept our family together.
As my mom worked and journeyed along to make her new life, she met my father in their common place of work at a local bank in Hackensack, NJ.
Work, not as a means to build wealth, but as a means to serve others and provide the resources for a warm home to grow a family has been another recurrent theme throughout the lives of my parents. Whether sweeping floors or working in the corner office, work was viewed as source of strength and self-worth when the barriers of different languages and cultures can sometimes drive feelings of insecurity and shame.
As our family grew together there was always an element of service to our community that helped ensure we collectively lived safely and provided an opportunity for others to achieve their hopes and dreams.
The importance of service to a community and a nation has been a recurrent theme throughout the lives of my parents. Whether it was seeking elected office on our town’s council, teaching in a community college, volunteering in local charities and supporting youth athletics and education, my parents made it a priority to serve the community in which we lived to make it a better place for others to build a better life.
The priorities of family, work, and community based on the principle of service to a cause greater than oneself is what two immigrants taught me.
As I reflect on what I have witnessed in my own life, I have seen the principle of service to a cause greater than oneself displayed in the immigrants who were soldiers in my command in combat during the first Gulf War. In my 25 years in the healthcare marketplace, I see immigrants displaying the same willingness to serve a cause greater than themselves as they help to build businesses, ensure a solid home-life and community for their families, and pursue noble advances in science and technology.
There are several important by-products of the principle of service to a cause greater than ourselves that immigrants have taught me:
- Service to a cause greater than ourselves keeps us humble despite how much outward success we may achieve in the world.
- Service to a cause greater than ourselves provides an inner-peace that is a strong barrier to feelings of depression, negativity, and contempt for life. Science now proves that aspirations like focusing on helping others rewires our brains to more positive pathways that enable us to feel better, live healthier and have a more positive impact on others.
- Service to a cause greater than ourselves fills our hearts and minds with compassion for others and helps us be more empathic to the struggles of others. We become more compelled to help rather than judge, shame, or hurt.
Yes, it is true that there is no simple answer to the complexity of immigration in this modern era. There are people who want to come to this country to do harm and we need to provide for the necessary protection of our citizens. We do not have unlimited resources to fully address every need, so tough choices need to be made. We need a principle-based, respectful, and honest debate to come to the most effective solution.
However, the foundation of this nation has been built on the principle of SERVICE to a cause greater than oneself and that principle is the dominant theme that drives most immigrants to our nation. Unfortunately, that truth is many times lost by all of us who have never known or never taken the time to reflect on the origins of our own family tree that arrived in this land of opportunity.
What two immigrants taught me is that when service to a cause greater than oneself becomes our foundation, we become our best selves and make a positive impact on our world. As we focus on the principle of SERVICE we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to make this world a better place.