We Should Be Servants

November 18th, 2008

Categories: Service

We invited Seneca, a writer and retired international banker, to write a guest blog.

The 89 year old George F. Kennan, undoubtedly the keenest mind at work in the United States during the Twentieth Century studying and interpreting its relationship with the rest of the world and especially with Russia, wrote in what was in effect his final testament, his eighteenth and last book, Around the Cragged Hill – Personal and Political Memoir:

“A society wholly devoid of the very institution of domestic service is surely in some ways a deprived society, if only because this situation represents a very poor division of labor. There are people for whom service in or around the home pretty well exhausts their capabilities for contributing to the successful functioning of a society. There are others who have different and rarer capabilities; and it is simply not a rational use of their abilities that they should spend an inordinate amount of time and energy doing things that certain others could no doubt do better, and particularly where these are just about the only things the latter are capable of doing.”

(For the record, Kennan was no conservative. John Forster Dulles expelled him, despite his being a career diplomat, from the Foreign Service for being too liberal after the Russians had declared him, when he was our ambassador in Moscow, persona non grata. President Kennedy reappointed him as an ambassador seven years later.)

I thought of this passage the other day when I spent an hour and a half putting a sliding closet door back on its track, having watched a carpenter do the same job, six years previously, in less than five minutes.

The word, “Servant” has become a pejorative term, with unfortunate consequences.

Lawyers have forgotten that they are, as officers of the court, servants of the law and have a greater responsibility for seeing that justice be done than to their clients.

Doctors have forgotten that they serve their patients, and when insurance administrators, to make more money for their shareholders, impose price controls on doctor’s fees, they increase the number of patients they see in an hour thereby diminishing the quality of care all their patients receive.

Many clergyman, especially a growing number of fanatical ministers, have forgotten that they serve God.

Many, perhaps most, of our political leaders have forgotten that they serve the people, all the people, not just the few responsible for their being in office.


11 Responses to “We Should Be Servants”

  1. Larry Said:

    It took me a month to get the pun in your blog title, but it finally dawned on me.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Thank you for your post. You bring up enough topics for several more!

    Take the historic meaning of “servant of the people” and the use of the word “servant” which was acceptable at one time. I think of the Masterpiece Theatre series “Upstairs Downstairs” and how we see and call what we do today.

    I wish I had the talent to be a carpenter or plumber or computer guru. I’d rule the world! I’d tell you when and if I can come and when I arrived, you’d be grateful to see me. You could call me what you wanted to! I wonder if this will change under current economic conditions. Jeanne

  3. Joan Said:

    Service is essential to our spiritual well-being, and we should all do it with a smile.

  4. Linda Said:

    All good stuff…keep it coming!

  5. Barbara Jacksier Said:

    As a writer, I am acutely aware of how a word’s meaning can change overtime. But, just in case I forget, I have a framed needlework instruction leaflet hanging on my office wall. It reads “Gay Teen Ideas.”

    While the concept of service employment is still valid in the 21st century, this career path requires a new job title with a more PC ring to it.


  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Thanks for you comments. The area of service employment requires pc job titles, perhaps, but even more than that–an enormous campaign to recognize the importance, value, honor and pride associated with such work.

  7. Jim Said:

    The latest contribution to your blog is wonderful. Bravo to Seneca!

  8. Judy Said:

    love the concept of your blog. By shining a spotlight on the highs and lows of service, in the ever-changing marketplace, you….hopefully…will initiate change for the better. You speak for all of us who, on some days, want to throw open our windows and shout, “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” Thank you, Peter Finch, and Jeanne for fighting the good fight. Judy

  9. Thomas Yip Said:

    Micro-economics is my favorite class because I can apply the lessons in real life.

    I learned that everyone has a comparative advantage over another person in something. Domestic service is certainly one. There are times when it’s more efficient to “let the pro’s do it”.

    Although when the satisfaction of doing it yourself outweighs the time/cost of the task, you’d perform the task yourself. Isn’t satisfying to make dinner once in a while?

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Just for the reasons of satisfaction–that you note in your last paragraph–I like to iron. It seems soothing if I feel anxious. I also like to sweep [not vacuum] a wood or tile floor and to make pies. It could be that these chores, once done, are complete when much of my other work tends to be open-ended.

  11. Martha Takayama Said:

    An interesting reflection about maintaining awareness of one’s professional purpose, and on efficient division of labor.

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