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Government and the Space Between Us

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
August 9, 2020

©Light Breaks. Chicago, Illinois, Photo by Lisa Saye, 2020

This is a dedication. This is a writing, a set of lines and a few paragraphs dedicated to finding meaning in an atmosphere of pain and absurdity. The coronavirus pandemic has made quiet places out of normal noise. It has set art, society and reason on its head. The condition of government, unemployment and the economy bears a firm witness to the flaws in planning or rather the flaws in not planning. But more and more, the continued increase in infections and deaths have shown us that we cannot afford to waste time on being the unimpressed and disconnected creatures we were eight months ago. We have to abandon the low frequency that we have operated on in regards to our passive approaches to justice and equality and instead we must put the work into righting our society and its institutions.

If this were a real story, right about now the author would introduce a plot device to move the narrative along. I could not tell you how to go about doing that. I can only encourage the world to revisit the past for some quick answers about a better future. Our problems did not begin with wearing or not wearing masks. Our issues lie within the spaces between us. And it is in those spaces that public administrators do the important work of dividing the limited resources that must go to the neediest among us. In doing so, good public administrators hew out equality and justice in many institutions that are designed to do just the opposite.

Lately, I have read a number of blogs, message boards and protest placards that ask the question why. Why, as a question, has often been dismissed as a three-letter word, but philosophers rejoice when society lets out a collective why. Today’s “why” has arisen out of the injustices, micro-aggressions and protests of a world that demands an end to past thoughts and past actions. Public administrators are paying attention. They are preparing themselves for the day when the light breaks and the doors of government swing open again.

It is always a seasonable hour to look at realistic political possibilities for addressing society’s problems. It does no one any good to build on flawed governmental structures. A move like that is little more than a trap and one that will fail miserably when we begin to really work again. We must avoid all pitfalls because failure can no longer be our self-portrait.

There are enough built spaces to transform the working environments of the majority of the world’s public administrators. What we once thought were vital places for licenses, training and parking have slowly become invaded by dust, stubborn weeds and pine needles. Government has reluctantly become a harmony of small bureaucracies and our homes and our phones have become satellite offices. Some portion of our homes and our phones may continue to serve as bureaucratic geography. And all of that comes with the dinner.

Public administrators have a long affection for the betterment of society. We come to the job with a natural desire to gain the world through service and understanding. We work beyond the limits of our minds, our feelings, our offices and society’s codes. Each of us bring our own level of magnification and consciousness to the policies which we find ourselves fulfilling. Public administrators see what is coming over the horizon and we ready the world for it. How curious the events that change our world and how more curious are those events that don’t?

It is natural for us to wish for the way things once were. We understood the world’s framework and learned to improve ourselves and situations in the public sector. But, what we must think about now is which part of government still needs improving. We cannot retreat from the facts or from the events that brought us here. And, we cannot become wise from foolishness and wandering.

In the past and when wars were over, soldiers would melt down their weapons and return home. They planted fields, they built villages and they spent years watching the sun rise and set. They knew when the fighting was over. It is now time for society to melt its weapons of injustice, indifference and hate. It is time for us to repurpose our institutions and start anew. And when the light does break, we will rise because we have families to love, we have fields to plant, we have homes to build and we still have work to do.

The copyrighted image, Light Breaks, was taken and titled by Lisa Saye in Chicago, Illinois.


Author: Lisa Saye teaches Applied Research Methods for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at DePaul University. Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. On July 9, 2019, Dr. Saye delivered the Pre-Departure Orientation Keynote Address at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois for Fulbrighters leaving for Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Saye earned her Master’s in Human Resource Management at Troy University and her Doctorate in Public Administration at The University of Alabama. She can be reached by email at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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