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Public Service—Our Immediate Vocation

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

By Lisa Saye
December 7, 2019

Remember Wishes, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Wall Mural. Photo and Photo Title by Lisa Saye

December Remember                                                                 

Decembers take their own good time getting here. I think that the world collectively wills it to be so. We try to hold on to those last few days of the year, those last few moments in a number—hoping we can make up for a year of neglect, one of laziness or a year of just too much fun.

For public servants, Decembers are not only slow, they are slow-motion rewind. Ask a public servant what December means to them and many will tell you that it is a time to reflect on the value that they hoped they were able to add to a citizen’s life in the preceding 330 plus days. Reflection is too weak of a word to describe the personal analysis they employ in assessing the year’s finest moments. Within their yearly recollection of memories, public servants savor high-five moments when programs came in under budget. They boast of standing-room-only attendance at information sessions and marvel at their luck when the number of complaints for the month decreases by a half of a percent. All of this is cause for celebration so, Geaux Team!

But, which memories do public servants in places like Haiti or Afghanistan choose to recall? Which programs, projects or goals stand out in a year, which for both countries, has been highlighted by protests, violence and incivility? What is a December like for Haitian or Afghan public servants? One can imagine the answers and whatever one cannot imagine a quick Internet search will confirm within seconds. I would like to believe that Haitian or Afghan public servants recall high-five moments where programs came in under budget, that they boast of standing-room-only attendance at information sessions and that they marvel at their luck when the number of complaints for the month decreases by a half of a percent. Any of these accomplishments in places where incremental victories matter mean a lot toward normalizing public service delivery. And, any public servant, be they Haitian, Afghan, Brazilian or Briton, knows when it is time to remember and when it is time to celebrate.

I Remember Peace                                                                      

One can almost hear December melodies of peace and goodwill, even without the music. December choirs are ready to sing, December snow has fallen and many of December’s flights have been booked. Sadly, the harmonies of peace are too often reserved for the last month of the year. Perhaps it has become a habit. Perhaps it is because in December we dream to dream again. We are so polite to each other and for each other, avoiding what we know is true, avoiding the conversation we know we need to have.

Mankind belongs to an unfortunate category of being that tends to select memory that confirms and reaffirms our beliefs or our opinions of ourselves. Memory is essential and remembering is constructive. Any time that we, as public servants, are afraid of remembering those times when we failed to deliver good public service, we knowingly participate in creating a negative dynamic that the public begins to use to describe us. The same energy we use to dismantle inaccurate descriptions of our citizens is the same energy we should use to avoid creating negative ones about our own level of service.

I, like many of you reading this, did not attend elementary school, high school or university within blast walls. I wouldn’t call the absence of blast walls in my life fortunate. I would describe it more along the lines of timing. But, for the grace of God, I go. Speaking for myself, if I were given the opportunity to teach and instruct students under those circumstances, I would rise, each day, to the occasion. Within those walls, public service is deliberate because violence cannot prevail and good service is expected. Within those walls, public service as a vocation becomes real in a place where fragility is visual, structural and breathtaking.  

Whether we are public servants in the north, south, east or west, we must remember that there is no peace and no celebration in the passage of or implementation of disinterested draconian policies designed to restrict and intimidate people. As public servants, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our immediate vocation and our mission is to help those we serve navigate beyond insidious comments, stereotypes and environments.

Our eyes, our human camera lenses, record all that is good, bad or indifferent. The human retina contains rods and cones, but only the cones enable us to see color. If our eyes help us to record our memories along every spectrum of indiscriminate color, which colors, then, must our eyes behold that would enable us to see Peace?

Dedicated to the PeaceMakers and Innovators in PAD 110, AUAF, Fall 2019

The ‘Remember Wishes’ image was taken by Lisa Saye in Siem Reap, Cambodia.


Author: Lisa Saye is Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities and Associate Professor of Public Administration at American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. She also serves as the Faculty Adviser for the Model United Nations (MUN) Club. 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 served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. 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.

One Response to Public Service—Our Immediate Vocation

  1. Amalia Reply

    December 9, 2019 at 8:52 am

    This is timely and well said. Thank you for your insight, candor, concern and for sharing.

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