Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why

Reversing Service
Ælflæd of Duckford

Officers have a duty to serve. Service to the group means service to the members of the group. While we commonly serve royalty, upper level officers, and ranking peers, sometimes we should turn right around and see who all this is ultimately serving and try to apply a little of that service more directly.

Kings and queens can spend a few hours seeing what they can do to make upcoming tasks of their officers easier, or consider ways to acknowledge and reward the efforts of princes and barons under them (I'm not talking about awards). Kingdom officers could find something funny or interesting or useful to send to local officers. A thank-you note to the most helpful of them would be appreciated. If all your reports are done, see if there's anything you could do, physically or verbally, to assist one of the local officers. Let their needs and desires govern your actions for a change, rather than the other way around.

Royal peers who are used to being pampered might offer a shady place to a newcomer, or ask some young hungry-looking unattached folk if they'd like to share a warm meal.

A knight who's accustomed to having his squires cart his armor to and from the field might do something special to make his squire's day easier, and right in front of other people, too. As nice as it is to be served by others, it's that much more meaningful to be served by higher-ranking people than oneself. It creates a memory in the recipient, and exercises the giver's thoughtfulness and humility.

Sometimes it can be a service just to accept another's offer of assistance graciously. Don't always say "no thank you" when people offer to carry your things, or to do something for you. It is as easy and more gracious to say, "Yes, thank you." I have turned down offers of service because I thought I could do something faster myself, or I was grouchy and didn't want the helper to know it. When someone wants to be of service, though, it is sometimes the duty of a higher-ranking person to accept the service nobly, even if it is a little inconvenient.

If you've ever once been rebuffed when you tried to help someone, please don't hold it as a personal slight. Let me offer some possible reasons that a person might say "No, thanks, I can get it" (or whatever):

  • in a bad mood
  • not feeling very medieval at the moment
  • too impatient to explain where he's going
  • too harried to think well enough to decide if he needs help (happens to autocrats all the time)
  • has a hard time delegating
  • not headed directly to one place but stopping along the way [1]
  • don't want guests in camp (camp not ready, or someone unhappy there)
  • force of habit (turns down carry-out at grocery store)
  • feels like being alone for some private reason

I'm as guilty of this as anyone has ever been. I think it is my duty to accept help when I can, in order to allow others to demonstrate their courtesy, their regard for me as a lady, or their respect for my rank. When I can't accept help it's a fault in myself, and not in the volunteer. If someone is willing to go that far out of his or her way to physically aid me, noblesse oblige demands that I fake a good mood and postpone my privacy. If privacy and my personal comfort are all that important I should've stayed home and watched Henry V.


[1] Sometimes that's the most fun and educational for the helper. If you can say "I need to make a stop, do you mind?" It may happen that someone who had nothing else to do gets to see a more experienced member in action. Won't he be impressed if your stop is to do something important, or to talk with the queen, and he gets to see up close, and be seen doing something kind and useful? Don't deprive people of these privileges. Share. The whole day will go better for everyone.

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