Saturday, June 25, 2011

Some Things are More Important than Life Itself

A professor at the Catholic University and a guest columnist in the Catholic Times comments on the remarks the President of Korea  delivered at a recent workshop for civil servants. The president vented his anger for the  corruption and self-interest of civil servants recently exposed in different parts of the country. Our citizens are perplexed and concerned, he said, over the revelations.  "What is happening to the country?" he asked. "It seems that the whole country is corrupt. Although much of this has been simmering for years, we are going to need a new way of measuring what makes a just society, and change our ways. We have to come to a new understanding of public service."

Similar words have echoed  from many other times and places in  history. In China, we have the words of scholars who stressed that public servants should be just and fair in all their dealings.  They should know clearly the difference between public and personal interests.  A Korean scholar from  the ancient kingdom of Koryo  said, "For public  servants there is nothing more important than to be just, and when dealing with money, nothing more  important than integrity."

The professor brings to our attention the  words of Dasan, Chong Yak-yong, who said that to be a good public servant, and leave much good behind, six things are necessary. 1) Under no circumstances accept a bribe--one has to be incorruptible. 2) When it comes to sex--be Incorruptible. 3) When relating to authority--be Incorruptible. And this incorruptibility will bring about 4) the birth of personal light and transparency. 5) Personal dignity. And 6) An upright character that will perform work with integrity.

Incorruptibility is the basic virtue of a public servant and the source from which all else follows. The professor then brings up St. Thomas More, who as a public servant rose to  become the king's chancellor. He refused to give his signature agreeing to the king's annulment and becoming the head of the Church in England. Before dying on the scaffold,  he told those who were present, " I am considered a good servant of the King; I want to die a good servant of God." His friend Erasmus said that England lost one of her greatest men.

A public servant should not have honors and wealth before his eyes but, like Thomas More, the public good. The civil servant is not working to attain his  own goals but is working for the citizens, for all. The life of Thomas More teaches all of us that there are certain things that are more important than life itself. (The Chinese Character on the left top has the meaning of justice)

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