on Servants

“The government is merely a servant — merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.” Mark_Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist

The online Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines a servant as one who serves others, or performs the duties for the person or the home of a master or personal employer. Yet, in watching politics lately there seems to be little public service and a lot more self-service from our supposedly public servants. Instead of remembering their position as servant to their fellow Americans, they continue to act as if they are the master of us instead. Why is it that even people we are supposed to trust seem to change once they are in positions of power over the public purse and the personal liberty of their fellow citizens?

There are two things that draw people to public service: a desire to serve or a desire for power. The first reveals an attitude of selflessness and the second an attitude of selfishness.  The problem is, oftentimes we the public have a hard time telling the difference, especially after elections are over or appointments are made – the person promised is not always the person delivered. So how can we tell if someone elected or appointed has the heart of a servant or the head of a master? We must learn to pay careful attention to what current and future public servants say and what they have done in order to catch a glimpse of their true attitude. Debates and public forums are an excellent way to get insight into who people are and what their attitude towards the public will be.

The response a public servant makes when the call comes for more public transparency can also reveal a lot about whether that person truly has the attitude of a servant or of a master. Phrases such as “it’s not like the public will get to vote on it” or “if we share that information with the public, it will only confuse them”, shows a dangerous creep towards the arrogance of a master rather than the humility of a servant. I have heard these things said in both local public forums and in political speeches, which is quite telling on how truly disconnected some of those who claim to work for us really are. Instead of the attitudes of servants, I am seeing folks acquiring the attitudes of masters, which is an offensive thing. We cannot allow that to continue.

Attitude is everything, and I think that it is high time we call out those public servants in need of an attitude adjustment. They are not here to rule, they are here to serve, and serving means obedience to those who are their master: in this case, the public. Resistance to transparency, failing to protect public property, the waste of public monies (or treating it as if it their personal pocketbook) and ignoring the primary objective of their office reveals a person who has forgotten whom they were originally called to serve. Not only that, many in public office seem to now believe that the lowest common denominator for ethics and transparency should be their standard, often spending more time consulting with their lawyers than with the public itself. Instead of having the humble attitude of “is this really what the public wants”, we are seeing an attitude of “how much can we legally get away with”. Some public servants even have the nerve to get offended when laws intended to protect the public interfere with what they want to do. Are these really the kinds of people we want in office, whose priority seems to be on how to find legal loopholes in order to further their agenda, while ignoring the will of their employer, namely, us?

I work for a large company, and if I tried to get away with something that did not accomplish my employer’s primary objectives or, worse, kept them in the dark, wasted their funds, or damaged their property in the process of doing so, I would quickly be fired. I was not hired by them to fulfill my own personal agenda – no matter how good I believe it to be – but to fulfill theirs. I may not always agree with their goals, but ultimately that does not matter – they are my employer and it is their desires that I am hired to serve. Our public servants need to remember that they are no different – they work for us as their employer and therefore we should expect them to reflect our will, not their own. If they find that far too difficult, then they are always free to do the same thing I can: quit.

Unless of course, their intention was never truly public service at all, in which case, a different conversation to remind them on just who is sovereign may be in order.

“And what is the state but a servant and a convenience for a large number of people, just like the electric light and the plumbing system? And wouldn’t it be preposterous to claim that men must exist for their plumbing, not the plumbing for the men?” Ayn Rand (1905-1982), a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. Wrote the best-selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged

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