We Should Be Servants
November 18th, 2008
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.