Public fury at politicians are on the make shows that we want them to serve, not profit. Thats an inkling of the Buddhist practice of dedicating one’s whole life to serving all beings
Weekend Word, BBC Radio Wales, 27.2.2015
Whatever Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind actually said when they apparently offered their services to a private company for cash, there’s no doubting the strength of public reaction. We recoil when politicians seem to use a public office to serve their personal interests. Why? I think it’s because we still believe in public service. We want our leaders to be there to help the country, not themselves.
One thing I love about Wales is that the public service ethos is still alive. In polls we vote Aneirin Bevan the greatest ever Welshman, streets ahead of Tom Jones and Gareth Edwards. The welfare state Bevan helped found was born from the sense of community that’s so strong here, the sense that we’re all in it together and there’s value in helping each other. That’s what people do in the NHS, education and all the other ‘caring professions’, and also as volunteers. Without this willingness to give, society couldn’t function.
But I often hear from people in these sectors that their work is undervalued. It’s not just the cuts. Perhaps, in a society that values winners we’re ceasing to respect servants. If we measure worth by how much we’re paid, what’s the point of giving?
For Buddhism, the desire to serve is a key to living better. Self-interest, Buddhism says, is a trap. We all tend to feel that we’re the centre of the world and our own interests should come first. But that narrows our lives, cutting us off from others. The Buddhist perspective is that our natural human needs are important, but selfishness isn’t the way to meet them. Real happiness comes when we stop trying to grab hold of it, and open ourselves to our connections to others. We call this compassion.
Service starts with the things that are close to us: our friends, family, community or country. But genuine compassion isn’t limited to any group, and that’s why Buddhism proposes that we dedicate our lives and our actions to all living beings.
That’s a lofty aim, but surely it’s in line with what Nye Bevan was after when he founded a Health Service that serves everyone, and it connects to the anger we feel when politicians fall short. You can’t put a price on compassionate service.