We Are All In This Together: A New View of Citizenship

Ask not, what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country…”

President John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

The New Citizenship

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 manifests this same spirit.

Members of the Peace Corps were everyday people doing everyday tasks: geologists, foresters, computer scientists, agriculturalists and small business advisors.   On March 1, 1961, Kennedy’s Executive Order starting the Peace Corps said:

“In establishing our Peace Corps we intend to make…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.[i]

These volunteers answered JFK’s call to serve 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  Whatever…provincialism they began with has been replaced by recognition that we are all in this together.”

Thomas Jefferson once wrote:

“It is the manner and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor.  A degeneracy in these is a canker that soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.”

My professional experience and recent events reveal that we need better citizens in order to have a peaceful and free society. I address this need in my book, “The Tao of Public Service.” It advances the ideal of “Service as a Way of Life.” But, this is not the ultra-noble ideal of total sacrifice most often seen in a religious 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 demands that we do our best work for each other.

The New Citizen In Each One Of Us

 As the Peace Corps visionaries correctly saw, service to humanity is an effort to be achieved day-by-day, step-by-step, by individual initiative, motivated by and determined to work toward the ideal.  The new citizen appears whenever true service happens.  And it happens everyday.

This new citizen is: the fireman who runs into a burning building to rescue others; the soldier who leaps on a live grenade thrown in attack; the teacher who makes sure each of his or her students has learned the lesson for today; the electrician who makes certain before he leaves that all the lights work; or the leader who makes sure he or she has given the people a vision because “without vision the people perish.”  Each of these individuals is just doing their job. But with one difference:  each one is doing the best work they can do – with the ideal of that job as their guide.

Giving Our Best To Each Other:  Service As A Way of Life

In order to create a better society, 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 strives for the immediate and attainable ideal:  as a matter of improving character. One has to try and be the best:  laborer, teacher, doctor, lawyer, reporter, 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 time, a new birth of freedom, founded on character:  a character rooted in a common striving that finds its expression in “perfect service” by each and every one of us.  And in this way, we can build a better world.


[i] Executive Order Announcing the Peace Corps: March 1, 1961.

This article is based on and contains excerpts from, The Tao of Public Service: A Memoir on Seeking True Purpose, by, Eric Z. Lucas

 

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The Path and The Tao of Public Service

 

“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.

Public Service

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 every day 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 individual’s 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.

In his book “Creative Understanding” writing in 1920 he said:

“In a word Dharma is the conceptual expression of the practical understanding that for everyone there is only one way leading to perfection.  The meaning of the doctrine of Dharma is this:  that for the understanding of every abstract idea, for the realization of every program, for the satisfaction of every possible ambition, a corresponding inner state is needed.  One must be inwardly prepared for what one undertakes, whatever it may be; ultimately one is only justified in aspiring to an ideal conforming to one’s personal inner reality…[ii]

The idea that one must be “inwardly prepared for what one undertakes” is an identification of the basis for the conception of inner purpose or “mission.”  As a philosophical concept Keyserling introduces it as a principle of living.  However, as a psychological concept Maslow introduces it as a psychological imperative:  it is not what I want to do but what I must do.  Another way of saying the same thing is that it represents one’s purpose in life.  It may not actually be what you want or wish to do.  However, it may be what you must do because it is THE THING that you are “inwardly” or “psychologically” prepared to do.  It is the thing that leads not only to correct growth and psychological health, like planting a seed in the correct ground, but it also is the correct manner in which one is intended to relate to the surrounding world. “

The Future

President John F. Kennedy’s words are a clarion call for a new kind of citizenship.  The ideas discussed above reveal that we have now come to a time when we must put the public/private distinction behind us, once and for all.  The ideas of “the private citizen” and “the public servant” are obsolete and must be brought to an end.  For, to have a better world, we must all strive to be of public benefit to each other.  We must all strive to be public servants.

For the individual this means that he or she must strive for perfection.  It is not the all-encompassing perfection of the omnipotent or the omniscient, but it is the limited perfection of the task at hand.  One has to try and do one’s dharma.  One has to strive for the immediate and attainable ideal.  One has to try and be the best worker, teacher, doctor, lawyer, soldier, judge, professor, president, governor, mayor, CEO, husband, wife, son, daughter, father and mother one can become.  A mayor does not have to perfect being a president.  The mayor has to perfect being a mayor.  The daughter does not have to perfect being a son.  The daughter only must strive to be the best daughter possible.

In so doing, we live life for others and also work towards our own inner growth: growing our own insight and intuition.  And in this way, we build a better world.


[i] Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality   Harper and Row, Publishers (1954) p. 211-212.

[ii] Hermann Keyserling, Creative Understanding Harper and Row, Publishers (1920) p.197.

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No Security Without Community

Today elections are about the acquisition of government power to enable the victors to establish their view of the best social order.  Often the opposing views breakdown to security versus community.  But is this a real choice?  In my view there is no security without community.

Hobbes and Maslow

Thomas Hobbes wrote his famous work on government, “Leviathan” in the year 1651.  Hobbes asserted that we need government to guarantee our security.  He believed government kept man’s basic nature in check.  He saw man’s nature as base and violent which if not held in check by external force would lead to a perpetual state of war: the war “of every man against every man.” He described human life without government as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

However, since Hobbes, one of the most prominent thinkers was a psychologist named Abraham Maslow.  Maslow is widely considered to be the founder of humanistic psychology.  He is known for creating the theory of, “the Hierarchy of Needs.”  In his signature work, “Motivation and Personality” his goal was to develop a psychology of health.

Consider Maslow’s discussion of the unhealthy person:

“…For the basically deprived man the world is a dangerous place, a jungle, an enemy territory populated by (1) those whom he can dominate and (2) those who can dominate him.  His value system is of necessity, like that of the jungle denizen, dominated and organized by the lower needs…p. 232.”

Note the similarity of Maslow’s unhealthy person to the war-centered “human” of Hobbes.

Maslow’s Chapter Twelve is entitled:  “Self-Actualizing People:  a Study of Psychological Health.”  He describes healthy individuals as “problem-centered” rather than “ego-centered.”  Healthy people “have some mission in life…” and a “more efficient view of reality.”  “They have for other human beings a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection…what Adler called the older-brotherly attitude.”  The unhealthy must develop these qualities.

These are quite different value systems.  The Hobbesian political view is based on an unhealthy psychological condition.  Today “deprivation psychology” finds its cousin in “deprivation political philosophy.”  Per theory, power is pursued in order to obtain security.

However, “self-actualizing” psychology reflects health.  Individuals feel no deprivation, instead feeling the “need” for life purpose.  “Fulfillment-psychology” finds its cousin in “Communitarian” forms of political philosophy.  Power is pursued to form a better community or as the writers of the Preamble to the Constitution put it:  to form a more perfect union.

In modern times we have seen an example of each view.

The Bush Presidency

In 2004, author Ron Suskind wrote an article entitled:  “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush.”  Suskind in trying to understand the Bush administration purportedly interviewed Karl Rove.  Suskind wrote:

“[Rove] said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as, people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality…” ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

-This “reality does not matter,” fact-adverse view, produced the falsity-based war in Iraq, trillion dollar deficits and runaway financiers who nearly destroyed our economy.  I submit that this “empire now,” power- as-an-end, type of thinking is bankrupt without an organizing purpose.

Purpose, Vision and FDR

“Without vision the people perish.”  In Maslow’s healthy psyche, the ambassador of such a disposition would strive to fulfill the purpose of leadership:  they would strive to create a vision on which people could rely.

In our nation’s history there have been president’s who, arguably, could be considered representative’s of this mind-set.  In modern times, perhaps Kennedy, Reagan, and  Clinton to name a few.  But, I believe that the clearest exemplar of this view in recent history is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).

FDR called his vision “a New Deal for the American people.”   The New Deal gave us:  Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, to name just a few of its programs.  In contrast, where Bush gave America war and falsity, FDR gave people a firm vision of life and a future on which to stand.

FDR was elected to four terms.   He was never defeated.  He achieved the perpetual power that every ego-centered, power-seeking operative craves.  But this was not his goal.  His goal was to serve people.  This was his purpose.  In his First Inaugural Address, he said it like this:

“Plenty is at our doorstep, but…the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence…They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish…The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit…These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

Whenever a president fulfills the purpose of the office, you have an example of True Service.  Where there is no vision, there can be no security, no matter how much power the visionless possess.

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Real Change: Not Just in the Hands of the Politicans

After a lifetime of public service, I am convinced that real change is not just in the hands of the politicians.  Real change is within the reach of each and every one of us depending on how we do our daily tasks.

An Ethic of Love

On Friday, August 24, New York Daily News reporter Corky Siemasko wrote a story about a wedding ring that had been lost in Battery Park.  Artist Danielle Carroll had been teaching painting classes in the park and inadvertently misplaced her wedding ring while cleaning up the day’s activities.  She did not realize her ring was missing until she woke up with a start at 3:30 a.m.

She tried to sneak out of her apartment to look for the ring but her husband awoke and they immediately journeyed back to the park together.  They found the likely trash can where she thought she might have dumped her trash but it had been emptied.  The only possible aid to the search was a loaded but unoccupied garbage truck sitting nearby.  Being unable to conclude the search effort they wrote a note and left it on the windshield, asking for help in searching for the ring telling the reader that she believed her ring was in the truck.

The note was found by park worker Gary Gaddist.   After he found the note he called her and received the whole story.  He agreed to help but told her it was “iffy” like “looking for a needle in a haystack.”  He had collected thousands of pounds of garbage, sitting in black bags at the Parks Department’s facility on Randalls Island.  He started looking through the bags and around 8:30 a.m. he found the ring.  They had left the note for him at 5:00a.m.

When he was asked why he had done this task for a total stranger he said, “it was a love thing.”

“She sounded like a nice person, and I could tell she and her husband love each other,”  he said.  “I’m glad I could help.”

This is a great story.  But I suspect that Mr. Gaddist is somewhat of an unreliable reporter.  I say this because he attributes the motivation for his action to the couple’s love for each other.  But I suspect that the real love at issue is the love of Mr. Gaddist.  He does his job with love.

True Service

I have been known to say that: “True Service  is dedicated work done in the world which includes a consideration of its effect on others.  It is not charity.  Rather, these efforts rest on a redefinition of work itself – in the redefinition of what a job means.  It recognizes that every type of work or job by definition is only properly done when it includes consideration for the needs of those affected by the result.

In practical terms, this means that any action can be done in one-way or the other. Any job, any work, any task, can be done by using the power of that job solely for one’s own benefit or by looking out for the benefit that job’s real purpose has for others: whether it is President of the United States or garbage collector.    True service is achieved when any job unites power and purpose in benefit to the public.”

Here the story of the actual garbage collector reveals that “dedicated work” means work done with a feeling of love for one’s fellow human beings.  But it also reveals one other thing.  It is more than just a feeling of love.  It is “an ethic of love.”  It is not merely just love as feeling but it is also love in action.

Love in action.  This is what happened here.  Love in action is True Service.  If each and every one of us went about our daily tasks like Mr. Gaddist our nation would change. It would become a better place.  Mr. Gaddist shows us that this is not pie in the sky.  With his actions he shows us what is possible.  And if such an ethic of love were spread far and wide,  the resulting change would be in our own hands.  Not in the hands of politicians.

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The Need For True Service

Introduction 

Since graduating from law school I have been a public servant for most of my career life: a prosecuting attorney, a city attorney and a trial judge.  I am a deep believer in public service.  In my private life I devote most of my non-work hours to community service. But at this point in my life, sadly, I have come to the conclusion that all of these efforts, in a fundamental sense, have failed.  If you, like me, desire to help change the world for the better, I suspect that we have to conceive of these efforts in a whole new way.  There needs to be a new definition of public service.

Our Brave New World:  The Fact of Interrelatedness

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southern Iceland erupted twice in less than a month in the spring of 2010.  The ash flowed all over Europe.  During this episode an estimated 28,000 flights a day were grounded.[i]  My wife’s boss planned to visit her daughter in Paris but the flight was cancelled due to volcanic ash.  She rebooked the flight twice but could not travel to Paris until May 15th, over thirty days later.  We live in Everett, Washington.

We are interconnected, intertwined, in so many different ways.  The economy in Greece flutters and the U.S. stock market takes a dive.  The H1N1 virus starts in Mexico and in few days spreads around the world.  A woman protesting elections in Iran is shot on the street and we see it live seconds later.  A drill platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico and oil spreads through the pristine ocean waters threatening the entire world ecosystem.

More and more I am left with the feeling that my life is both less important and more important than it has ever been before.  This is so because any decision I make in my job, in our world of today, has the potential to affect everyone else in the world.  Conversely, my decisions are less important – perhaps even ineffectual – because the effect for good or ill is even more dependent on the quality of the work someone else does.

True Service

Let me give you one example.  A few years ago I was assigned a “dependency case, a termination action,” for trial.  The parents had their child taken from them because they were drug addicts and suffered from other psychological infirmities.  The trial was heart-wrenching.  Both parents knew they were unfit but refused to give up their parental rights.  They had no faith that the “system” could do more for their son than they could.  The father was black, the mother was white. Their mixed race son, who was eight years old, was suffering from leukemia.  Their fear was just this:  once this child is taken from us who will adopt him?

Yet I had to do my job.  I terminated their parental rights.  However, I retained jurisdiction of the case to try and ensure his adoption.  But the odds were not good.  Cyle was classified as “violent” in his group home.  He was an unlikely candidate for adoption.  And about six months after my termination decision his leukemia came out of remission, requiring hospitalization and a bone marrow transplant.  The doctors refused to deal with the Department or me (the judge), as surrogate parents.  They insisted on a legal parent.  I was desperate. I even talked to my wife about adopting him.

Enter Sven and Yvonne, foster parents.  Cyle had to have 24/7 care in the hospital (often in the psychiatric ward) and a parent present. So Sven quit his job and moved into the hospital.  There was no requirement that he do this.  The couple also agreed to adopt Cyle despite his violence and life threatening condition.  So, approximately 28 days from the date I received the demand from the hospital Cyle was adopted.  The transplant sent Cyle’s cancer back into remission.

Last fall, almost two years later, Cyle died.  His memorial service was a celebration.  This little boy who had been officially classified as “violent” received testimonial after testimonial about his transformation.    His teacher, principal and classmates all spoke.  Cyle was considered a model student who inspired his entire school.

At one point he knew he was dying and he was prepared to die.  He occupied his time preparing others for his death.  He left notes hidden around his home:  making jokes, making observations about life, reminding his family members to do things, and even asking his mother to apologize to the doctors for his violent behavior all those eighteen months ago.  The wonderful little boy that he was came shining through.

Yvonne spoke about how Cyle had been such a good son and how he changed their lives. But I was left with the transformation that Sven and Yvonne had achieved in Cyle’s life. They put Cyle first.  He died at peace, knowing he had true parents and that he was a loved member of a real family.

I say it was a transformation. Yet, it was also something more.  It was true service. They put Cyle first and they saved him.  He received what he needed. I was left with a deep feeling of gratitude for these young parents.  I am grateful because but for them my actions would have been futile.

The Need to Unify Power and Purpose

Sven and Yvonne went far beyond what was required of them as foster parents.  I have seen situations where the foster parents are merely in it for the money.  This was my great fear.  But my fears did not come to pass.  Instead they responsibly united their systemic power with their true purpose.

When a fireman runs into a burning building to rescue others; when a soldier leaps on a live grenade thrown in attack; we know that something special has taken place. Today, I am going to give that extra-special something a name.  Let us call it True Service.

When I use the term True Service, in this new way, I am not referring to government service, elected office or even volunteer “community service.” And I am not relegating regular work or our regular lives to the realm of the “private:” Because in a certain real sense our regular work and our regular lives are not merely or simply “private.”

When I use the term True Service what I mean is dedicated work done in the world which includes a consideration of its effect on others.  It is not charity.  Rather, this new concept rests on a redefinition of work itself – in the redefinition of what a job means.  It recognizes that every type of work or job by definition is only properly done when it includes consideration for the needs of those affected by the result.

In practical terms, this means that any task can be done in one-way or the other. Any job, any work, any task, can be done by using the power of that job solely for one’s own benefit or by looking out for the benefit that job’s real purpose has for others: whether it is President of the United States or garbage collector.    True service is achieved when any job unites power and purpose in benefit to the public.

For example:  Seeking power through profit solely for themselves, the executives at mega-corporation AIG took on too much risk and their company went bankrupt. This threatened the entire world economy because AIG was “too big to fail.” I submit that they were not really doing their jobs in this new sense because they disregarded the impact of the risk they undertook on the rest of the economy.  They sought only power and ignored purpose.  When the executives at BP and their contractors ignored the safety concerns of their own work crew and caused the Gulf Oil Spill, they too sought only power and ignored purpose.

Today so many people seek security by trying to possess the power of a job or task and then keep the result solely for themselves.  They correctly see this power as leading to benefits for themselves that they need and want.  But what I have tried to show is that every task or job also involves a purpose.  And if you act only for power it often fails to meet the purpose and as such is a detriment to us all:  like a fireman who stands by and allows a house to burn to the ground because the owners failed to pay a $75 dollar fee.  Power benefits the individual but purpose benefits everyone.

Every action properly done is an act of public service no matter how high or how lowly the actor.  Every action is significant and every single person is critically important.  For even the vagrant on the street has the power to ruin your day or end your life.

I submit that our dizzying maze of interconnected social problems can only be properly met and resolved when a critical mass of individuals begins to act according to this new understanding.   I suspect that only in this way can we build a better life.


[i] European flights jump as volcanic ash clears and Germany, France reopen airspace, by Edward Cody and Karla Adam, Washington Post, April 22, 2010.

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The Practice of Law as a Public Service

By Eric Z. Lucas[i]

“A lawyer, at minimum, must stand for truth and not falsehood…Too long have we been known by our fellow citizens as agents of deception.  The era of deception in legal practice must be brought to a close.”

 

At the very beginning of my law school experience I was taught an essential principle about legal writing.  In writing legal briefs I was taught that opposing briefs were to be like “two ships passing in the night.”  For a long time I was confused as to what this meant.  I mean, if two people are writing about the same set of events, shouldn’t there be some agreement, some overlap in their positions?  The answer to this question, according to the quote is, “No.” The two positions should be presented as so diametrically opposed that you would not easily recognize them as the same event, hence, “ships passing in the night.”

This method, called argument or persuasion, seeks to present the client’s position in the best possible light. Accordingly, one local legal writing text informs the reader that:

“The facts must be candidly set forth, but the writer may arrange them, phrase them, and expand or condense treatment of particular events so as to emphasize favorable facts and to diminish unfa­vorable facts.”2

So the art of persuasion depends on skillfully emphasizing what we call the “favorable facts” and diminishing what we refer to as the “unfavorable facts.”

Now any reader of intelligence will soon realize that this kind of factual manipulation comes very close to the border of downright factual distortion.  Some people call factual distortion “lying.”  But, as you can see from the explanation, lying is not what lawyers are taught.  They are taught to manage the facts.  That this process brings one continually into the danger land of distortion is taught as merely one of the hazards of the practice of advocacy or persuasion.

Perhaps all of this art of persuasion stuff would be innocuous or merely rhetorical – except for one thing.  Lawyers are also taught a certain system of values in their training. Modern legal training is dominated by the Positiv­ist school of jurisprudence, as exemplified in the legal theories of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Hans Kelsen, 3 and  H.L.A. Hart4

The Positivist school breaks with the older schools of jurisprudence, which saw a close connection between law and morality,5 by discovering law and morality to be separate realms. The positivist school also purports to discover “law as a science,” which science finds its foundation in a fundamental rule called a “basic norm.”6  Thus as young law students we were taught that:

“Inasmuch as the norms that are the basis of the value judgments are enacted by human, not superhuman will, the values constituted by them are arbitrary. Other human acts of will can create other norms opposite to the former ones; and these other norms, then, constitute values that are opposite to those con­stituted by the former.  That which is “good” according to the one norm may be “bad” according to another. Therefore the norms, enacted by men and not by divine authority, can only constitute relative values…A norm…cannot be either true or untrue, but only valid or not valid.”7

It is important to reiterate the proposition quoted from Kelsen.  Law students are actually taught, either implicitly or explicitly, that the values under­lying legal norms are arbitrary.  They are also taught that since it is true that values are arbitrary, all man-made or normative valuation is relative.  Thus, when a lawyer is fighting for a certain legal position, he or she is not fighting for truth, for a norm cannot be true or false.  He or she is only promoting a cer­tain value, in a field of competing values, all of which may have a legitimate claim to validity.8

Now this is not a problem, except for that, as children in our society, we are taught something con­cerning social valuation, which is quite different.  The idealism in young law students is not a product of TV shows, but rather, is a product of the central core of our process of socialization.  For as we grow up in America, we are taught:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”9

The introduction of these “truths”, at this  point in  the discussion, perhaps might explain the internal conflict of young law students who are being taught the Positivist view of the nature of law.  For the idealism that many of them feel flows directly from the inculca­tion of these truths.  Indeed, to refer to  “equality” of man and his “unalienable Rights” as “truths” puts these teachings on a different level or order of being10 than the Positivist jurisprudential discussion of the legal norm.  To then take these truths and relegate them to the position of a “basic norm” under­lying the legal system of our society, does not tend to inspire confidence in the legal system.  In point of fact, it may tend instead to denigrate both these truths and the legal system.

For these truths are taught to American children as absolutes, as principles true for all mankind.   In many cases such children have relatives and friends who fought and died in foreign lands in order to uphold these truths.  They are not taught to us as culturally relative statements of a basic norm.

To say, “we hold these truths to be self evident,” speaks to a foundation of our reality, which is unshaka­ble.   These truths are understood to be brief statements of the real meaning of human life, not the norma­tive culturally relative meaning of our American socie­ty.

Many practitioners and I suspect many of our fellow citizens believe that the practice of law must involve some semblance of factual manipulation or downright dishonesty, in order to protect and best represent the client’s point of view and the client’s best interests.  But, our fellow citizens should also understand that many giants of legal practice have not agreed with this principle of manipulation.  In fact, our sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln held quite a different view.

Professionally, Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer.  And as such he had a reputation “for absolute honesty.”  He became known as “Honest Abe” or “Honest Old Abe.”   It was known that, “when his adversary could not quite prove what Lincoln knew to be the truth, he reckoned, it would be fair to admit the truth…” In a law lecture he wrote in 1850, he sought to counter the “vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest,” saying:

“Let no young man, choosing the law for a calling, for a moment yield to this popular belief.  Resolve to be honest at all events; and if, in your own judgment, you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation.”

This was Lincoln’s view.  But he has not been alone.  The great Charles Hamilton Houston joins Lincoln in his positive view of lawyers.  In the year 1924, Houston, (a cum laude graduate from Harvard Law School, and the first black to serve on the Harvard Law Review) did a curious thing.  Rumor has it that he turned down Harvard Law School Dean Roscoe Pound’s offer to serve on the faculty of HLS, in order to join the faculty of Howard Law School, an all black institution.    He became Dean of the Howard Law School in 1929.  He served as Dean from 1929 to 1935 and during that time completely transformed that law school from a night program to a fully accredited institution recognized by the American Bar Association.  But that was not his real objective.

His real objective was to train young black lawyers to join in his strategic plan to overturn the doctrine of separate but equal established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson.  The plan was to take cases of racial inequality in education and use them as precedents—as stepping-stones—to over turn Plessy.  He trained many lawyers but his best pupil was Thurgood Marshall the first black Supreme Court Justice of the United States.  Marshall joined in the work, with other fellow Howard Law School students and in 1954 Plessy v. Ferguson, was overturned when the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. the Board of Education (authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was a Republican from California).

In training his young group of constitutional warriors Houston taught them that: “A lawyer’s either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society.” … A social engineer was a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who understood the Constitution of the United States and knew how to explore its uses in the solving of “problems of . . . local communities” and in “bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.” 11

Particularly in these two individuals you see ideas reflecting the possibility of a new kind of lawyer and a new kind of legal practice.  In an essay I recently wrote entitled: The Path of Public Service12 I sought to further define this approach by presenting a new definition of Public Service.  In that essay I said:

“When we use the term “Public Service” we are not referring to things related to the public/private distinction.  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 every day 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.”  Specifically, we mean work done for the sake of others as compared to work done solely for one’s self or for one’s own benefit.  And 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 say “Path of Public Service” it should now 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 every day lives.”

The point here is that no matter what the task, it can be pursued as a method of public service – Public Service As A Way of Life. What this means for the individual is that he or she must strive for perfection.  It is not the all-encompassing perfection of the omnipotent or the omniscient, but it is the limited perfection of the form at hand.  One has to try and be the best judge, lawyer, justice, law professor, president, governor, mayor, CEO, husband, wife, son, daughter, father and mother one can become.  A mayor does not have to perfect being a president.  The mayor has to perfect being a mayor.  The daughter does not have to perfect being a son.  The daughter only must strive to be the best daughter possible.

In terms of this article, one must ask:  What does it mean to be a lawyer?  What does it mean to be a law professor?  What does it mean to be a judge?  This article answers the question as follows:  the meaning does not inhere in the power associated with the form.  Perfection and meaning do not lie in that direction.

It is possible for a lawyer to be what Charles Hamilton Houston called a “parasite” on society or a “social engineer.” He taught his students to be social engineers, and the result was Brown v. the Board of Education and the subsequent beginning of the liberation of all black people and all other citizens of America from the evils of racial segregation.

But clearly, if these words are true, then a lawyer, at minimum, must stand for truth and not falsehood.  A lawyer and all those who serve the law must take pride in arriving at the true meaning of a statute, case, or principle and take shame if the tools of the profession are used to perpetrate falsehood and harm.

It means in practice a lawyer must not resort to arguments of deception or “fracture” 13 and not utilize arguments that intentionally distort the meaning of a case or situation.  To do so, in these terms, is to violate the very soul of the law – which is to arrive at the true meaning of a norm, case, or controversy.

More than anything, this article reveals that it is the direction of the effort that is of utmost importance.  We may not be able to reach the goal of ultimate truth or ultimate perfection.  But nevertheless that must be the direction we take as far as the form utilized will travel.

As a profession we need to stand for truth and meaning.  Too long have we been known by our fellow citizens as agents of deception.  The era of deception in legal practice must be brought to a close.  Arguments of deception, fracture and subsequent annihilation should be looked on with derision whenever they occur: whether in private forms of litigation, or public discourse.  If this is done it may be possible to usher in a new golden age of law, where law is about understanding “the fabric of thought before us…so that we may know truly what it is.…as we strive in accordance with our obligation of fidelity to law”14 to make life a coherent, workable whole.


[i] Eric Z. Lucas is a 1986 graduate of Harvard Law School, and is Executive Director of the One America Society Foundation, a think tank.

2 Squires  and Rombauer, “Legal Writing In A  Nutshell,”  (West Publishing Company: 1982) at p. 171.

3 Hans Kelsen, The Pure Theory of Law (Regents of the University of California 1967).

4 H.L.A. Hart, Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals, 71 Harv. L. Rev. 593 (1958).

5 The older schools of jurisprudence, which combined law and morality, are known as “Legal Realism and Natural Rights or Natural Law.”

6 Kelsen, supra at p.8.

7 Id., at 18-19.

8 On a personal note, during the first semester of law school when these understandings were becoming apparent to the student body, many in my class became physically ill.  I cannot vouch for other classes, but it was traumatic for many idealistic young law students to learn that this system was so constructed or could be so construed.

9 The Declaration Of Independence, July 4, 1776.

10 Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon and Schuster, Inc. New York:  1995) p. 465-466.  When Lincoln evoked these “truths” in his Gettysburg address some commentators of the day took issue with him.   Biographer David Donald reports that the New York World stated:  “This United States was not the product of the Declaration of Independence but the result of the ratification of a compact known as the Constitution,” a compact that said nothing whatever about equality.”

This is the same tension between inherent meaning and Kelsen’s  basic norm.  For Kelsen the Constitution would be seen as a basic norm.  But Lincoln, in searching for the foundations of the nation he led, turned to these “self evident” truths.

11 The quote from Charles Hamilton Houston, can be found at: http://www.brownat50.org/brownBios/BioCharlesHHouston.html

12 The essay can be found at: www.ezlight.wordpress.com.

13 For a further discussion of the concept of “fracture” see my article entitled: Law, Truth, Meaning and Lies:  A Metaphysical Look at the case of Berea College v. The Commonwealth of Kentucky.  It can be found at:  http://works.bepress.com/eric_lucas

14 Lon Fuller, Positivism and Fidelity to Law:  A Reply to Professor Hart Harvard Law Review, Vol. 71 at 667 (1958).

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The Nobility of Every Day Work

By Eric Z. Lucas

Every citizen can feel a sense of mission, place and importance.

Every task can be considered an act of service to our nation.

Tim Knopf, an English teacher at Mariner High School, just retired after 38 years in the school district.  In simple terms, what this means is that he was just starting in the district when Mariner High School’s first class was graduating.  The year of his start was 1972, the year I graduated from Mariner High School.   But what does this retirement mean?  Can it only be best quantified in simple terms or is it best quantified in less simple terms?

Does it mean:  “Those who can do and those who can’t teach?”   This is what my down home farm relatives said to me when I told them that I had just earned my teaching certificate and they did not mean it as a joke.  Is this an accurate view of what teaching is or does the task of teaching have a deeper more special significance?

Let’s start with a simple act of quantification.  High school teachers, teach multiple classes in one day.  Perhaps they see as many as 100 students a day.  But let’s make it easier on us.  Let’s assume that the High School Teacher’s class load is like that of an elementary school teacher.  When I taught sixth grade I had 35 students for the year.  If you take 35 and multiply it by 38 years you get 1,330.  This means, at minimum, Mr. Knopf gave personal instruction to 1,330 different people.  He gave instruction to 1, 330 people approximately 39 weeks of the year or 195 days.  In terms of days, 195 over 38 years is 7,410 days.  And when you think of it, each of those 1,330 people received 195 days or so of instruction for a total of 259,350 units of instructional contact – at minimum. So if those who can do and those who can’t teach, then those who can’t are partaking in a huge amount of nothing.  But, deep down we know this isn’t true.

Deep inside we know that all of those instructional contacts are important.  In fact, when it comes to teachers, we know that they are important both in quantity and in quality.  Almost everyone I know has their own story – a story of how a teacher who inspired them or had faith in them changed their lives.  My personal story is also about a Mariner High School Teacher.  Her name is Ann Kashiwa. Briefly, when I was an injured high school athlete, whose future was diminishing because of the injury, she taught me to have faith in my mind.  She taught me that I was more than my body.  She taught me that I could rely on my mind.

Ann Kashiwa, my inspirational teacher, taught me to have faith in the investment I could make in my mind.  I spent two years reinventing myself from athlete to scholar.  And in the end this meant SAT testing; becoming a National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist, undergraduate school at Stanford University and the University of Washington.  I received my law degree from Harvard Law School and this led to my first law job as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in King County.  As a baby lawyer, in my second year, I successfully prosecuted a mentally ill young man who stalked and planned to kill a doctor, his wife and his two daughters.  The entire family was saved.  He received a prison sentence of 20 years.  The case was on National TV in 1988 before the days of Court TV.  And this was just the beginning of my career. I am just one person.  Think of all of the other 1,329 people who she, and teachers like Tim, have affected and who those they taught have affected others.  Imagine all of the other benefits, large and small, this group of people has been able to bestow on society.  Looking at it from this point of view couldn’t teaching be considered a public service?

We make a mistake when we assume some people are significant and others have no significance at all.   Just the quantity of the contacts alone should reveal that even one high school teacher should not be considered insignificant. But when we add the potential quality of the contacts we can see just how far-reaching the work of any teacher can be.  But these ideas do not apply only to teachers.  They can apply to any work.  I have had the good fortune to see the Cathedral at Notre Dame.   Remember that stonemasons built this timeless structure, not rocket scientists, or billionaires, or doctors or lawyers.

Nobility also means dignity.  Because of the possible beneficial effects, any work done well can lead to dignity.  In our time every citizen can feel a sense of mission, place and importance.  Every task can be considered an act of service to our nation when that task is done well.  In this way every act can be an act of public service.  And in this way every kind of work can be noble.

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