My friend Jorge brought up an idea that astonished me yet makes perfect sense. He thinks that civil servants who go beyond the call of duty should receive special honor and be rewarded in a manner similar to that accorded to similar individuals in the military. At the same time these awards would, in no way, diminish the honors given to brave members of the military.
The public has a love/hate relationship with civil servants. Much of the hate has come about as a result of the bureaucrats’ behavior, but a good share of it has been fostered by public indoctrination from politicians and political commentators.
Our negative opinions are usually formed around unhappy encounters with “bad apples” of the human variety. When we get satisfactory service from public servants, we might believe that such good public servants are anomalies. Is this view of civil servants really accurate and true?
The category of civil servants is a very broad one. They include such workers as fire fighters to teachers to F.B.I. agents to Social Security clerks, to U.S.D.A. inspectors. The vast majority of people filling these positions are honorable and aim to do their best. Everyday bureaucrats are also our fellow citizens.
Jorge’s comments and suggestion caused me to ponder the civil servants I have known and some that I have loved. One of the most maligned departments of government is the U.S. Postal Service. I am at a loss as to why they have become such whipping boys. I have never been unhappy with mail delivery. If there have been any problems, they were quickly resolved to my satisfaction. Yet I can count these minor quibbles with the fingers of one hand.
I have friends who have worked as Postal Service employees. They are truly fine people who are dedicated to their jobs. One of those postal workers lives across the street from me. Chuck has been a letter carrier for a couple of decades. He has become somewhat lame due to the amount of miles he has walked during his career. These days, he spends his workday as a clerk at the regional postal distribution center. When I go to the post office to buy stamps or to mail a package, often times it is Chuck who conducts the transaction.
Last year, I readied myself for the transition from paying into Social Security and Medicare to becoming a recipient later this year. The Social Security Administration employees were courteous, helpful, and caring. I was treated respectfully throughout the interview process. Later on, I had a couple of questions, they were handled promptly and satisfactorily.
Jorge reminded me that I grew up in a household that was headed by a public servant. I smiled when he remembered that my father was a civil engineer who had been employed by the state highway department. Dad was a perfectionist when it came to “his” road projects. Every detail had to be up to or exceed highway construction standards. He wanted the best roads possible for the public to drive on. After all, “his” roads would be also be used by friends, family, and himself.
Dad was quite proud of the fact that Nebraska was the very first state to complete its share of the national mainline Interstate Highway System. Dad was one of the design and project engineers/supervisors who worked on Interstate 80. People who drive westward from Omaha to Wyoming or Colorado or from those states eastward towards Omaha, never knew my dad, but they benefit from his work during their journeys.
Although dad was a traditional Republican, he understood that the best public servants must approach their jobs in ways that differ from private business and the corporate world. Civil servants must have a long-term vision. Their goal is not profit, their duty is service to democracy and the general good of the nation’s citizens. This is a good point to remember during these times when public service is being severely denigrated by powerful individuals.
I still maintain that the vast majority of public servants are hard-working, honorable people, doing good jobs.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes movie maker James Cameron. “I like the evening in India, the one magic moment when the Sun sits on the rim of the world, and the hush descends, and ten-thousand civil servants drift homeward on a river of bicycles, brooding on the Lord Krishna and the cost of living.”