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The Virtues of Government Service: #12 – Public Service

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give!”

Winston Churchill

Public service is a service rendered in the public interest. As a government employee, public interest work can allow you to achieve greater goals beyond earning a paycheck. For example, you can work to advance amazing technologies, effect societal change, support important public causes or provide equal access to justice for needy individuals and organizations. Over the course of a career, you can do all these things and make a lasting contribution to the country and even the world.

Service and Power

As a government employee or elected official, your commitment is to serve others – i.e. the “public interest”. Your role is, at many times, that of a leader. To execute your job, you have certain powers conveyed to you. The power invested in a single individual can truly make a difference in the lives of many. Accordingly, these powers must be safeguarded, managed carefully and not abused. With this mindset, government service can be highly rewarding.

Service is a Mindset

Service is giving to others, or to a larger purpose. You serve with a giving attitude, without selfishness and self-interest. You do what is needed with commitment, love, and excellence. You serve those in need and help others who are serving. This virtue is not simply to serve the wishes and desires of others. If you love and care for someone, then you serve their real needs. The highest meaning of service is to serve a greater purpose.

 Service to Self

Concern for the well-being of others doesn’t imply disrespect or disregard for yourself. In fact, some people argue that there is no such thing as true selflessness. Even Mother Teresa and Gandhi had self-regard and self-interest. Being altruistic is the way to go for anything that’s meant to have lasting value. Gandhi famously said;

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Service with a Smile – Two Stories

Story 1: I don’t know if Lincoln was the kindest president, but he certainly was among the ablest to poke fun at himself and take criticism – both of which are characteristics that imply kindness and a notable lack of arrogance. The most famous example of Lincoln poking fun at himself came in one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, during which Lincoln made fun of his own homely appearance. Lincoln said at the debate, “My opponent has called me ‘two-faced.’ Honestly, if I had two faces, would I be showing you this one?”

Story 2: Another President known for his thoughtfulness was William McKinley. He became the third American president to be assassinated, following Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and James A. Garfield in 1881. McKinley was followed by a journalist who, at every opportunity, trashed him. One day, noticing that the man was ill, McKinley shared his carriage with the journalist and then gave him his coat. McKinley’s second Secretary of War, Elihu Root, said that McKinley was more thoughtful of others than any other man he ever knew. Typical of McKinley is the story that, immediately after being shot, McKinley’s first action was to tell the crowd to stop beating the shooter.

“Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

Practical Ways to Improve, Today

If you’re reading this, you probably understand and value the importance of being “connected”.  There are many more than three levels of connectedness. I’ll focus on the big three. These are: 1. Connected to self; and, 2. Connectedness to team/work/organization, and 3. Connectedness to a higher purpose — the world and beyond.

  1. Get more tuned in to your emotional intelligence –
    1. Awareness – being cognizant of your surroundings. Try this exercise. Focus on your physical surroundings.  This does one simple thing – it takes you out of your head, out of the critical, out of the negative. You’re not thinking about an unpleasant individual from last night or 10 years ago or what somebody did or failed to do.  Let go of thoughts about how someone disrespected you or didn’t appreciate you to the degree that you deserved. Put that aside. Appreciate the now. So, at least for a moment, you’re thinking about the light coming from the lamp or the sun.
    2. You’re not alone. I recently read about the quarterback from the Super Bowl winning Philadelphia Eagles, Nick Foles, who said; “I think the big thing that helped me was knowing that I didn’t have to be Superman. I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me. And all I had to do was just go play as hard as I could, and play for one another, and play for those guys.”
    3. Bottom line: Connect to yourself. Try to listen to the inner voice in yourself.  If it gets negative, squelch it! The human brain is wired to be negative. In pre-historic times, this was essential to survival. In today’s times, the tendency toward negativity can be limiting and even lethal – at least as far as your career is concerned.
  2. Be more tuned-in to social issues – 
    1. Now that you’ve got a handle on yourself, how can you spread the knowledge and benefits to others?
    2. Self-awareness is the foundation for understanding the conscious use of self in the development of effective helping others.
    3. You can be or become an instrument of change in any field you hope to help.
  3. The world & beyond
    1. Tap into the metaphysical or spiritual world. You can connect the dots. Connect yourself to your higher values and you’ll never second guess yourself again.
    2. Seek knowledge about how “everything” is connected. Remember that the flap of a butterfly’s wings can create a tsunami.
    3. Finally, remember…

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”

– Albert Schweitzer


Rick Pfautz is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Juana Williams

Love this article! Fabulous! One request: please learn how to correctly enumerate an outline. I like this so much, it is going up on my office wall.