Here President Kennedy directly asks his audience "not merely to serve one year or two years in the service", but be willing "to contribute part of your life to this country." This is a concept of service that in my opinion goes far beyond any sort of elective office, volunteerism, or charity.
He gave a glimpse of the necessary set of values in his Executive Order starting the Peace Corps. On March 1, 1961, he said:
"The initial reactions to the Peace Corps proposal are convincing proof that we have, in this country, an immense reservoir of such men and women--anxious to sacrifice their energies and time and toil to the cause of world peace and human progress.
"In establishing our Peace Corps we intend to make full use of the resources and talents of private institutions and groups ...making it clear that the responsibility for peace is the responsibility of our entire society 'sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.'" [iii]
Here President Kennedy sets forth a vision of service that is the responsibility of our entire society, and that is not partisan or ideological. I first heard these words with the limited comprehension of a child. I now believe I understand what this proposal really meant. It was his very modest suggestion, encapsulated in this new experimental program called "The Peace Corps," that service could be a way of life for all.
The New Citizenship: Service as a Way of Life
In everyday life, every single person has the power to change the world. This fact is the very essence of The Peace Corps. The New Citizen lives by this fact.
Members of The Peace Corps were everyday people doing everyday tasks: geologists, foresters, computer scientists, agriculturalists, and small-business advisors. These individuals worked for all of humanity. In his article, "Has the Peace Corps Made a Difference?" author David Searles says:
"Virtually all volunteers (92% in surveys) said that the Peace Corps influence on their lives has been profound. Their concept of the world and their place in it has changed permanently for the better. Whatever ...provincialism they began with has been replaced by recognition that we are all in this together."
My book, The Tao of Public Service, advances the ideal of "Public Service as a Way of life." But this is not the ultra-noble ideal of total sacrifice most often seen in a spiritual context. It is service based on recognition of the practical reality that in living our human lives "we are all in this together." This understanding requires that we do our best work for each other. This is the essence of the New Citizen.
The New Citizen seeks perfection yet not the all-encompassing perfection of the omnipotent or the omniscient, but the limited perfection of the task at hand. One has to strive for the immediate and attainable ideal. It is a matter of character. One has to try and be the ideal: worker, teacher, doctor, lawyer, soldier, judge, professor, president, governor, mayor, CEO, husband, wife, son, daughter, father, or mother one can become.My fellow citizens there can be, in our day and in our time, a new birth of freedom, founded on character. However, not a character rooted in the routine of farm life and reflecting a unity of activity. But rather a character rooted in a common striving that finds its expression in "perfect service." And in this way, we can build a better world.
[i] This article contains excerpts from, The Tao of Public Service: A Memoir on Seeking True Purpose, by Eric Z. Lucas [available from, Self Discovery Publications, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com and Balboa Press.
[ii] Adrienne Koch and William Peden, The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, The Modern Library, New York: (1993), at 259-260.
[iii] Executive Order Announcing the Peace Corps: March 1, 1961.
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