Old Words and Deeds

Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect my view of the government, my office, or my position therein.

I had some problems finding a topic to blog about this week. I read about several interesting topics, but could not nail down the kernel of an idea; so I will bring you these and see where you take them.

When did the public service become an ignoble profession?
Nick Charney wrote on CPS Renewal questioning when public service became an ignoble profession. I thought the word ‘ignoble’ a bit harsh, but I sought to find out more about the modern use of the word. Besides picturing a man in tunic, stockings, and hose holding a tablet computer, this is what I found.

ig·no·ble: igˈnōbəl, adjective
1. not honorable in character or purpose.
Synonyms: dishonorable, unworthy, base, shameful, contemptible, degenerate, sordid, mean.

no·ble: ˈnōbəl, adjective
2. having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals.
Synonyms: virtuous, good, honorable, upright, decent, worthy, moral, ethical, reputable.
Etymology: Middle English word from Old French, originating from Latin (g)nobilis ‘noted, highborn,’ from an Indo-European root shared by ‘know.’

I like the link of ‘noble’ to the verb ‘know’ in the modern sense. A ‘noble’ act then becomes an act by which one makes others ‘noble’, or more knowledgeable. Modern ‘nobility’ then lies in transparency and openness.

Taking Umbrage
Another post with another interesting word. Seth Godin blogged on taking offense and the futility of such an act. He argues that “the problem with taking offense is that it’s really hard to figure out what to do with it after you’re done using it.” Offense can be a strong motivator for taking corrective action, but as stated, it is quite useless without action.

The Study of Administration
This was my blast from the past. A paper written by Woodrow Wilson in Political Science Quarterly from, wait for it… July 1887. Wilson was just 31 years old and still 26 years away from leading America through World War I as President. The paper is an intriguing look at the foundations of the science of public administration. This one will require further digging to determine what has transpired in the last 127 years, but regardless, it is a worthwhile read. Despite being called a “largely dry essay on public administration”, I found it intriguing, if only for where it leads.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.

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