The Athenian Oath
The longer I serve in my profession the more I think H.L. Menken was right: “Democracy is the art of running the circus from inside the monkey cage.”
I’m often asked why I chose public service as my profession. After all, with so many careers to choose from why pick one where you are guaranteed to be a target for criticism because everything you do is done in a fishbowl whose tank is only half full (or half empty depending upon your political persuasion).
At most businesses mistakes are a matter between you and your boss. Make a mistake in my job and it’s a matter of public record that is splashed in tomorrow’s headlines for everyone to enjoy. That’s the price you pay when you’ve got 27,000 bosses who no matter how hard you try will likely be aggravated with you at one time or another for something you did or didn’t do. And in case you forget, they’re always ready to remind you who pays your salary.
I poke fun because that’s how city managers maintain some semblance of sanity. There’s a fine line between having thick skin and being callous and city managers have to walk that tight rope while juggling a flaming torch, a sword, and a bowling ball – and did I mention they’re riding a unicycle blindfolded.
Alright so the blindfold may be stretching it but you get the idea.
So why do it? The truth is few jobs provide the opportunity that my job does to have a profound impact on the lives of thousands of people. These impacts form lasting impressions that over time come to define us – they become a statement of who we are, what we do and what is important to us – they’re our legacy.
Sure, in the daily grind a city manager’s life can be tiring but I’m propelled by the prospect of the legacy that I’m contributing to and I understand that legacy building is hard work that is rarely appreciated or rewarded until years later – if ever at all. But you don’t do legacy work with the expectation of immediate gratification. Legacies are measured in lifetimes.
Legacy building is the masonry work of communities – laying the foundation of tomorrow brick-by-brick, day after day, from the bottom up. It’s the physical expression of the values of the people that saw the potential in the place they live to become something great someday.
That’s what government service is all about – cultivating community potential, one person at a time. It’s living up to a promise to be there when people need us. A promise that parks and homes are safe, bridges strong and fires prevented. Making sure people thrive.
Legacies speak the language of possibilities; they point to the organization’s true north; anchor its service philosophy; and represent a standard to live by everyday … for a better tomorrow.
It’s a recognition that every little step counts. No matter how big or small, each one is another dot to add to the community canvass that over time becomes a part of our Kent mosaic.
Across the distance of time the collection of dots transform into something bigger than the space they occupy, something more than the sum of their parts, something worthy of a place to call home.
A place like Kent where legacy matters.
The Greeks had it right when they had every citizen took the Athenian Oath. I use it to keep from forgetting why I do what I do. I hope you’ll also use it to be sure you’re contributing to the Kent legacy in a way that you will be proud to tell your grand-children about decades from now.
The Athenian Oath
We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice.
We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many.
We will revere and obey the City’s laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them naught.
We will strive increasingly to quicken the public’s sense of civic duty.
Thus in all these ways we will transmit this City, not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.