I’ve worked with kids and youth since I was a teenager. Little kids. Big kids. Teens. Rich and poor. Reluctant and voracious readers. All colors. All attitudes.

But they all love to serve.

Some really get into hard physical labor. Digging old bricks and rocks out of stubborn soil and hauling them across the lot into a pile was a heavenly experience for one group of middle schoolers. Others get a kick out of performing, as the Empowered Souls showed when they shared their musical gifts with residents at a local nursing home last month. Some like to cook. Some enjoy the stark before-and-after of a neighborhood cleanup. I’ve got shy kids who like to make gifts and deliver them anonymously, and gregarious ones who like to talk with others and hear their life story. 20-month-old toddlers love to set the table for their friends and wipe it down with a damp towel after the meal. We all serve.

So why do we run under the assumption that greed is the baseline for all human affairs?

Sure, selfishness might be natural. Babies are inherently self-centered, and there’s no moral judgment involved in that statement. Learning to understand that there is a world outside of yourself is a skill, and one that takes time. But if selfishness is inherent, so is compassion. See one toddler bringing their favorite toy to another child who is in tears, in order to comfort her. Altruism and ego exist in all of us. So why assume we have to cater to the latter?

Service gives meaning to skills. But the meaning must come before the learning, not afterwards. Nobody wants to put forth effort in a vacuum.

Instead of starting with book learning, why not start with service, and then proceed? Put meaning in its proper place, at the center of life.

It might feel awkward at first, going into service with little theory under our belts. But it’s probably less awkward than attempting to shift into action when the meaning until then has existed only in the mind.