The United States of America is not a country in which we strive to find bold, creative ways to not help our citizens, to encourage neighbor to help neighbor, or to prevent our citizens from falling into complete social or economic isolation. At least that should be the description of the United States. Our political rhetoric often suggests, though, the opposite: individualism at the risk of togetherness.
This is the first time in four years that I do not have the honor of serving as president of the Central Florida Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration during this week–Public Service Recognition Week. It is a week celebrated annually and around the country, giving at least a tip of the hat to the thousands of exemplary public servants in government, nonprofit, faith-based and other sectors, thanking them for their sacrifices made in order to place service to others as a priority in their careers and lives. Without that “perch,” I cannot proclaim the value of service on behalf of an organization. However, I can, as a citizen, proclaim the value of service and encourage others to do the same.
The United States should be a nation in which we strive to help each other, forge bonds with our neighbors, invest socially and economically in our communities, and prevent any citizen from falling into the shadows. Saying we should be a nation in which we look after each other does not mean sacrificing individualism to facilitate togetherness (in such a way as togetherness is sometimes sacarificed in the reverse). This is the beauty of the United States: we can be individuals, celebrate our uniqeness and our unique ambitions while celebrating the uniqueness of others, and we can help those who hurt. We can change lives by not ignoring each other but by building relationships with each other.
Recent data (found at http://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov/) tell us that in a vast number of communities around the nation, neighbors do not know neighbors and do not trust neighbors. Take a look at your community. Overall, as a nation, our citizens do not trust each other, do not trust government, and do not trust other big institutions. I tell my students: we can do better. But how…
The answer must begin with the dedicated public servants who we need to recognize this week for their service to others. They already talk the talk and walk the walk and try to create the future about which they dream. As a research question, it would be interesting to see how public servants trust and know their neighbors. My hypothesis would be that they would trust and know their neighbors significantly more than those who are not public servants. It’s worth asking.
For this week, let’s celebrate public service. Let’s work with each other and recommit ourselves to knowing each other and working with each other to strengthen our communities. One life changed due to our volunteerism or other public service can have a multiplying effect on the broader society. So, let’s thank those who are public servants, and for those of you who are not, ask yourself this week and all year: how can I too be a servant to the people?