Book Cover: The Tao of Public Service by Eric Z. Lucas
"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you- -ask what you can do for your country."" President John F. Kennedy, 1961
A new time and opportunity are on the horizon. It is a time when those who have the best interests of humanity at heart can forge a new form of life that can lead to a time, as one wise individual put it, when " the present state of fear, and of intense competitive struggle for existence, will be superceded by a real measure of stability and security."
In order to usher in such a time, we must all begin to walk our own path, do our life purpose, and fulfill our own mission to the best of our ability. However, it all begins with service. Service opens up the possibility of purpose. Without service to others, one's true purpose cannot be found.
Today many refer to one's life purpose or destiny as "the Path." In certain philosophies of the East "the Path" is also known as "the Way." "The Tao" means, "the Way." So this is what we mean when we use the phrase, "The Tao of Public Service."
When we use the term "Public Service" we are not using it in the old familiar way. In other words when we say "public" we are not referring to government service, elected office, or even volunteer "community service." And we are not relegating regular work to the realm of the "private." When we use the term "Public Service" what we mean is work done in the world for the sake of others and by this we mean "any work."
What this means, in practical terms, is that any task can be done in one way or the other. Any job, any work, any task can be done solely for one's own benefit or for the sake of others: whether it is President of the United States or garbage collector. In addition, when we refer to a path of public service it should be clear that we are not talking about one path but many paths. We are talking about the path or work that each person may engage in when they live their everyday life.
The Mission Concept
Abraham Maslow introduced to us the concept of a health-based psychology and described the healthy person as "self-actualizing." He presents this same idea of public service under the concept of a "life mission."
Maslow found that the healthy individual often conceived of their life purpose in the sense of what he called a "mission." In his book "Motivation and Personality" he said:
"Our subjects are in general strongly focused on problems outside themselves. In current terminology they are problem-centered rather than ego-centered. They generally are not problems for themselves and are not generally much concerned about themselves, e.g., as contrasted with the ordinary introspectiveness that one finds in insecure people. These individuals customarily have some mission in life, some task to fulfill, some problem outside themselves, which enlists much of their energies."
This is not necessarily a task that they would prefer or choose for themselves; it may be a task that they feel is their responsibility, duty, or obligation. This is why we use the phrase "a task that they must do" rather than the phrase "a task that they want to do." In general these tasks are non-personal or unselfish, concerned rather with the good of mankind in general, or of a nation in general, or of a few individuals in the subject's family.
With a few exceptions we can say that our subjects are ordinarily concerned with basic issues and eternal questions of the type that we have learned to call philosophical or ethical." [i]
Maslow published these words in 1954. The sense of mission and duty is clear. Yet, what I find the most fascinating is that these ideas, in the history of thought, are not new.
The origins of these ideas are found in ancient Indian philosophy and then re-energized in the words and theories of the philosopher Count Hermann Keyserling. Keyserling revived the ancient Indian concept of "Dharma." For him, dharma is also life purpose or the Way.
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