Every Act Counts
As a Sacramento native, I have long been surrounded by civil servants. Numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends and two of my three siblings who, through their service to the State of California, have provided me with so many stories about what it means to serve the public. Yesterday when I spent the day in several government buildings, I saw people hard at work, despite a debilitating budget impasse. I reflected on these folks and what brought them to work each day beyond simply collecting a paycheck.
I started my day at CAL-PERS, the agency which manages the pension and benefits program for past and present California state employees, where my brother Rob was recently honored among the agency’s 4,000 workers for his outstanding service. His division handles over 25,000 calls each week with a 95% resolution rate at the first call. I felt proud that he was singled out for his accomplishment and became more aware of the degree to which his life was dedicated to serving others.
My next stop was at the Department of Transportation, where my 16-year old son Rafael is working as an intern. Colette Armao and Lilli Schilling, his mentors, had designed a customized program for Rafael to learn the ins and outs of managing a large transportation system. His first meeting was sitting in on a review of the aviation planning department’s disaster preparedness plan. For my 16-year old, that’s just this side of heaven. For their efforts on my son’s behalf, Colette and Lilli received my gratitude, and beyond that, credit only on the invisible ledger where selfless acts are noted.
My final stop was at the Capitol, where I attended a briefing on the health assessment of the state’s four major ethnic-racial communities. It was great to see many old friends and colleagues with whom I worked on the frontlines for over twenty years. The room was packed and I found myself sitting in the aisle listening to legislators and staffers honoring the researchers, community health workers and organizers behind the scenes who had given decades to a cause that benefited people other than themselves.
As I drove back to San Francisco, I reflected on public service and recalled a quotation from writer and activist Frances Moore Lappe who said “Every aspect of our lives is, in a sense, a vote for the kind of world we want to live in.” I thought of civil servants such as Rob, Colette, Lilli, and my old friends and colleagues in community-based organizations who spend their days working in cubicles responding to the needs of the public. How many lives do they affect during the course of the day? I wondered whether they realized that some of their most mundane tasks might have been the most effective in making a difference in a person’s life. Performing their tasks with a smile, treating others with respect, and knowing that their work contributes to the greater good seemed to be a common theme that made their work fulfilling. It reminded me that even in my most mundane tasks such as developing handouts and making copies, every act counts in making a difference for the better.
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