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Public Service: Compassion’s Most Visible Protest

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

By Lisa Saye
April 17, 2023

@A-wayFrom HOME, 2023, Photo and Title by Lisa Saye

No wound is appealing and optics are rarely final results. If we are not careful, the idea of democracy will become the rusty remains of past courage we read about in a book we eventually lose. Public service is where democracy comes to reload and replenish itself. In a democracy, peace is the most valuable element in the system of public service.

A rejection of inequality is normal behavior for a people who live in a country that was built from a protest. Real is still real—political convulsions aside. We tend to apply any new thought or twist as revolutionary. It is almost an automatic response to things we do not see or hear everyday. To be sure, every new thing is not revolutionary, but good public service should always be—must always be.

The environments of democracy are fragile and must be protected. General observations will not do here. Democracy is a comment. It is self-evident. It is not a satellite or a tree-house. It must be a fully-structured administration of strategies to move life, to improve life and to protect the lives of its citizens. Public questions are healthy. They assist in identifying gaps in service or help to identify new public goods or new aspects of existing ones.

Different environments can be enjoyed in degrees, but public service cannot. Public service is not the search for meaning because service is the meaning. Service is the event of conditions—life’s way back home. Public service is an extension of the tradition of correcting administrative defects and of reexamining power dynamics encountered by citizens often from just living from day to day. Data analysis is a search for patterns in measured observations. Public service is a mission within countless observations. It is not random. It is unmanicured, deliberate, purposeful and always much-needed. Public service is not a riddle we must solve, it is the things we do as administrators.

To say that one era owns the purity of new ideas or the discovery of discovery is arrogant. Each era gets it as wrong as the next era. What we must challenge ourselves to do is to commit to finding the best and most equitable way to serve the public. Doing so will limit residual generational mistrust and stamp out some of the corruption that entitlement creates. The idea of public service is a model that will survive our inputs, our outputs and everything we get wrong.

It is often understandable for us to return to the theories of yesterday when trying to tackle issues in the present. Doing so is comforting and the rehearsed narrative is successfully familiar. But, we have everything we need in the here and now. We only have to have the courage and conviction to stand up, to lead and to serve. Politics should not be determined. Politics should be active. Theories of yesterday cannot insulate us from the missteps of the present. Those theories are indeed foundational, but the evidence we need is before us every day in the form of citizen needs, public goods and justice.

I heard someone remark that today’s customer service lacks the critique needed for improvement. The day that public service receives a similar description is one I hope we never see. Public administrators have to move beyond gadgetry that tests the memory and not the will. Memorization will get us nowhere because eventually we will forget the words. This Time calls for architects, but so has every other time before it.

For some reason, I find this article one of the most difficult to write. I suppose it is because our moral arguments around public service are becoming less and less useful and more and more aimless. We ought to want to serve as instruments of change and our desires to do so should be exact. Yet month after month and year after year, we give ourselves permission to shrug.

In less than one hundred words I have to close an article whose lead graphic is a homeless camp in a national park. I captioned the photo, A-way-From-HOME. Public service as a way forward should work to severely limit any opportunity to find photos like these. In a structure of freedom as the one we have in the United States, this and more is possible. School is out and school is in. Let’s apply what we have learned about changing environments to all of the environments we need to change. Democracy is always homesick, but compassion is always free.

The @A-wayFrom-HOME, 2023 image was taken and titled by Lisa Saye.

Author: Dr. Lisa Saye is Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at Free WheelChair Mission in Irvine, California. She served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. She served as Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities and as Associate Professor of Public Administration at American University Afghanistan. Dr. Saye can be reached by email at [email protected].

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