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The Path and the Tao of Public Service

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The Mission Concept

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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:

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"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]

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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.   


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Eric Z. Lucas is an alumnus of Stanford University (Creative Writing Major: 1972-1975), the University of Washington (1981: BA English Literature and Elementary Education) and Harvard Law School, J.D. 1986. Since law school he has been a public (more...)

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