What qualification should one possess to involve oneself in the world of social work? This is a common question asked in the many interactions that I have with young people. Many of them feel that they need to be either a doctor or a teacher or a professional social worker before they can get involved in the service of others. While formal qualifications and training do add to the competence of people engaged in this kind of work, I would like to mention the qualities that Swami Vivekananda saw as a basic requirement of people wanting to work for others.
Swami Vivekananda felt that unless one knew how to swim, one should not attempt to jump into the ocean. I have seen many people begin to engage in social service activities with a lot of enthusiasm, only to crumble at the first sign of a problem. Swamiji has said “Purity, Patience and Perseverance are three qualities that every social worker needs to have”. This is not only extremely relevant but a very practical mantra. In a world filled with corruption and negativism, purity in thought, word and deed helps build strength of character and one can stand out like an oasis.
Social service is also a very stressful activity and it is easy for one to give up in frustration. It is during these circumstances that the virtue of patience pays off. The tendency of most people is to keep searching for motives and they tend to look at those doing selfless service with a lot of suspicion. One needs enormous patience to accept people as they are and continue to do what one is doing with no desire for name, fame or any other tangible return. Gandhi also talks about the need for enormous patience. In his remarks on ‘Social Service and Reform’, he mentions that since it is the social worker who goes in search of people to serve, he needs to cultivate enormous patience to not get demotivated by the non-responsiveness of society towards the acts of service that he does.
Finally one needs to understand that any social change is a gradual process. In these days of instant gratification, one should have enormous perseverance to sustain the attempts and energy at bringing about this change. Surmounting a societal problem requires enormous will power and Vivekananda maintained that perseverance will always conquer.
Having these qualities of purity, patience and perseverance not only helps a social worker serve society better, but also enables him to mature spiritually. Swami Vivekananda always saw selfless service to mankind as an opportunity for self-purification and a means to attain salvation.