Ask What Your Institutions Can Do For You, And What You Can Do For Your Institutions

In 1960, John F. Kennedy made one of his more famous quotes in calling upon Americans to ask not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country. This quote, and this idea, was not original (as there are really few original ideas), as he had adopted it from his Hah-vard (Harvard, in a New England accent) background and then used it for political effect. Throughout history, institutions have traditionally made a lot of demands out of their people and not provided a lot beyond grudging and often partial belonging in return. Likewise, throughout history individuals have sought to gain support from institutions without providing more than grudging minimal loyalty on their part. It is my firm belief that both of these extremes are seriously in error.

As a person of whom it can be politely and accurately said that I struggle with issues with authoritarian leadership, issues that have been frequently reinforced in the course of my life, I tend to struggle with the expectations of blind (and silent) loyalty that is often expected of people within institutions. While I am intensely loyal to those institutions I belong to, making their enemies my own, and being very involved in their missions and goals in local and global efforts, my loyalty always comes with strings attached–namely my insistence on speaking openly and providing constructive criticism. My loyalty is not blind loyalty, but is often geared towards reforming those institutions of which I am a part, seeking to encourage them to become more like God even as I do the same for myself. I am certainly someone who is an enthusiastic servant of others, but I also demand very loudly that my institutions serve me and my interests.

When we serve in institutions like family, community, congregation, or nation, we have to remember that we are not losing ourselves within those institutions but we are serving people through offices and efforts. So often in life we are faced with the dilemma of the many and the one. We have been created with distinctive gifts and personalities, but created not to be in isolation but to be a part of loving institutions. We therefore must find and build institutions that allow us to be ourselves and provide us with encouragement and support even while we fulfill our duties and responsibilities to others, serving based on our capabilities and talents. We must find unity in diversity, in institutions that provide loving care (and not abuse) even as we serve and help others as well. Finding this balance can be tricky, and as life is often cruel to many of us, it is difficult for us to be as welcoming and loving to each other as we should be.

It is not selfish to ask what our institutions can do to serve us. After all, if we were created to ultimately be a part of the family of God, so too our institutions have been created to serve us, and they can and should be changed if they are not serving our interests or helping to provide for our own well-being. It is selfish to ask what our institutions can do for us if we are unwilling to serve others or fulfill our own duties and responsibilities to others, though. Likewise, it is abusive for institutions to make demands out of us when they are unwilling or unable to provide for our own needs and well-being. In order to avoid knavish selfishness as well as abuse, we have to find that balance where our institutions serve us and are accountable to us even as we are devoted to service to others in our own lives however we are able to do so. The more of us are devoted to service and lovingkindness, the easier it is for all of our needs to be met, and the more service-oriented our institutions can be, seeing as they are made of people and for people after all.

If we wish to have and create institutions that work as they ought to, we can neither forget the need to hold those institutions accountable to serving our own needs and interests–be they for support, encouragement, instruction, belongingness and love, safety, and so on. Likewise, we must know ourselves and our own gifts and abilities and seek to use those gifts in service of the institutions that we belong to. Finding this balance can be very tricky, but it is a necessary task if we are to leave this world in a better place for future generations, and to find meaning in our own suffering from abusive institutions in our own lives. When we see our institutions as having obligations to us, we can hold them accountable for their failings, and retain our own sense of honor and dignity and worth as beings created in the image and likeness of our heavenly Father. When we see ourselves as having obligations to others, our focus can be outside of ourselves and we can find meaning and purpose in our activities, and joy in serving others as we are able. When we combine both a firm defense of our own worth and dignity as people as well as our own outgoing love and concern for others, we are the sort of people who can find an honored place in loving institutions as well as achieve our own heartfelt goals and desires. And that is what we all want, after all, right?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ask What Your Institutions Can Do For You, And What You Can Do For Your Institutions

  1. Pingback: The Exigencies Of The Moment | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Redefining Leadership | Edge Induced Cohesion

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