When our grip on good values is the basis to our being, our delivery will be good in all aspects of our lives
THE Mayor of Casterbridge, one of the most critically acclaimed fictional writings of Thomas Hardy, tells the tale of how the flaws of human condition can haunt even at the cusp of success. It is a narrative of accomplishments, when decked on unchecked values, can collapse like a house of cards.
The writing brings to the fore the very essence of how actions define Destinies.
The novel relays a poverty-stricken Michael Henchard who would one day sell his wife and daughter to the highest bidder when in a state of intoxication. Mortified by his action, Henchard would take an oath of abstinence from alcohol for 21 years.
In the ensuing years, through hard work and acumen, Henchard would become a wealthy merchant, as well as the Mayor of Casterbridge in Wessex.
Years later, the wife he once sold would reappear with a daughter. His past would come to haunt him at the zenith of his public life. As he struggles to conceal his past, his public life suffers with his inability to move with the changing times. His fall becomes inevitable to what can be mirrored across generations of fable and reality.
At its core, this tale narrates how the kaleidoscope of fate and destiny throws its curve balls at our characters waiting for it to rise or dent to the occasion.
We often go about our lives thinking there are two, but parallel stories, that run in our lives. Our own lives that revolve around work, kids, family, bills, chores, and the hustle and bustle of nonsensical traffic.
Yet there is another world that runs parallel called the “other outside world”. We hear of the other world through media and headlines, and from party talks. We spend very little time connecting the dots between “our own realities” and that of the “other world”.
The other reality
What eludes us is that “the other” reality is what shapes our own destiny, what defines our own reality, what moulds our own future, least said our own character. Our own story and the story of our future, and even that of our future generation, is not a different one.
I draw these parallels to demonstrate the realities that engulf us today. More and more people across the Atlantic and down the Pacific are losing faith in public and private institutions. We need to only turn to the breaking news as testament to this. Events before us lean towards the argument of an interdependent world.
The values with which we live our own lives have bearing on the lives of many we may come to impact directly and/or indirectly, consciously or otherwise. But this fact continues to escape many of us. And so many of us contemplate the fundamentals of what works for the times.
So what does work?
For those who play golf, you will know, the grip of the golf club is the foundation to a good swing. Why? Because the grip is your only contact with the golf club and ultimately the golf ball!
Hence the grip is the basic technique to master when you want to improve the game. With a good grip, aided by a good posture, the swing is the same no matter the club or course.
Applying this analogy to our own lives, I am persuaded that when our grip on good values is the basis to our being, then our delivery will be consistently good in all aspects of our lives.
The crux to me lies in the core of our own characters, in the depth of our own value system and in the consistency of the standards we set for ourselves in life.
Localising this to the sector I work in, the public sector, I'd argue that the core purpose of public service is simply this to me that we are here to serve the public and it is a service. Our one and main role as public officials is to make sure that “other world” aligns with “our own world”. But do we really do this though?
Many a mail that greet me bemoan if the system has failed every time a service at the public sector doesn't meet an expectation. Why can't public officials honour their responsibilities, I am asked?
I struggle with the question that isolates public officials alone at a time when the world is seeing a global movement of “Occupy Wall Street”, which challenges the very ethics of private institutions which affected the lives of the man on the street across the world.
Yet as a taxpayer myself I have experienced less than acceptable service at times and have made known my disappointments.
Someone recently said to me, Malaysia is not a “police state”. It is most definitely a “policy state”. I can't agree more. Our love of circulars and policies in the public sector has at times blindsided our ability to apply common sense to the service we deliver. We toil through complexity with the conviction simplicity is not progress.
Though a thankless job, some say, I have come across many in the public service who have served much better than the service I have received from top-tier private sector companies. That said, I have also experienced hare-brained solutions from the service that has driven me up the wall.
Whether in public or private sector, media or non-governmental organisation, the same rule applies as it does with golf. Get your grip right, the swing is then consistent no matter the club. Be that in serving the next customer equally as well, or to report an event fairly, or manage finances trusted on us transparently. All of these reflect on our grip on what is universally accepted as good principles and values, I am persuaded.
These are the values that will define our legacies. Our legacies will be defined by those we have served. If our time is defined by oblivion then that's how we did serve, perhaps. If our time is commemorated by others with monuments, metaphorically speaking, then perhaps that is how we delivered.
This to me is the very essence of public service. We are here but to fill an office temporarily. We can each plan our legacies but we cannot our marks and stamps. That is anchored in the lives we ultimately touch.
There is a part of “Mayor of Casterbridge” in all our lives. Even as success pursued and found the Mayor, Thomas Hardy expounds the essence of “character is destiny” in his writing. He wrote how the core of a person can ultimately save or destroy a man regardless of the phases of life he may have seen and experienced.
All along the same man is there in Michael Henchard, but he gets lost somewhere beneath the surface in the hustle and bustle of life. He never really knew his core, only to realise its make when his mettle was tested.
I dare argue that the world that awaits us will be not be upheld by cutting-edge achievements, but it will be in how we revolutionise human values into connecting the dots of the parallel worlds. It will be defined by our acceptance that our own value system will define us, no matter where we work.
In the service industry, we are all ultimately judged by the court of public opinion. And so what we then choose as our value system will define our end!
> Tan Sri Sidek Hassan is Chief Secretary to the Government.
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