A recent incident of violence in the government building where I have worked for twenty-one years pulls my pen to blog instead of to the query letter and synopsis I’m supposed to be crafting for my latest novel.
But some things are far too important to remain unsaid, and so….
This is an open letter of thanks to the many and varied public service government employees in my province of Alberta.
You, public servant, deal with an extraordinarily difficult, and yes, dangerous, segment of the population on a daily basis. And given that the majority of you are not law enforcement, you deal with this populace with no ‘back-up’ of weaponry (although there may be a panic button wired into your office somewhere). Instead you use your skills, your diplomacy, your common sense and self-preservation.
You perform your duties out of a sense of commitment, skill, and belief that in some small way you do make a difference. You do not do it for the exuberant wage you take home, and nor for the enviable perks—because as opposed to the public’s ill-informed illusion here’s a secret: you do not make an exuberant wage, and nor do you reap enviable perks. And here’s another secret: as a government employee you never will.
I’ll tell you what you do get, though:
You get berated by the public and told that you’ve made the wrong decisions. You’re told that you should have done this, or maybe should have tried that. You are second-guessed and harshly assessed by people who surmise the facts around the cases you work on because (and this one hurts) you can’t defend yourself with the truth—because it’s confidential.
You get spanked for daring to ‘flaunt’ your “book education” if you happen to have a few letters behind your name. How dare you try to act smarter than, better than, or more informed than the public you are charged to serve? Who, exactly, do you think you are?
You get chastised by the public who will tell you that since they pay taxes, they pay your wages! (The exclamation mark is there to connote the rabid assurance with which they will tell you this). These same folks either don’t realize or don’t care that you too pay taxes—and you may as well forget about them ever knowing your actual job description, much less what your true duties entail. Your job is damn well what they say it is—and that will be largely what they have learned from watching one-hour dramas on American TV. Nonetheless, you will be expected to execute your role as they see fit—not how your agency’s policies dictate you fulfill your duties and certainly not within the constraints of some pesky legislation. What’s the law, anyway? Just a lot of pretentious mumbo-jumbo—right?
Oh, and speaking of legislation, you get to work alone a great deal of the time despite labor laws erected that prohibit working by yourself. And why is this government legislation defied by the very government agency that is your employer? Well, that would be because your job is tough and turnover is high—so your agency is chronically understaffed. Also, people get sick, people take vacation, all of which they have earned and deserve. So the reality is that yes, sometimes you work alone—because here’s the other part the public demands yet really doesn’t understand: because you are a public servant operating as an agent of the government, you are an essential service—meaning you cannot just ‘close shop’ on the days you’re short-staffed. The taxpayer does indeed fund you, and so that means ‘on with the show’ even though you’ll be in the high-risk situation of working alone with our aforementioned difficult segment of the population far more often than you should (which is never).
You get a lot of shit, government employee, and for anyone who might tell you that if you don’t like it you should ‘just quit’, I’d invite them to look at their livelihood and see if the same advice could be so easily and glibly taken.
Mortgages happen, bills happen, children happen, life happens, and so it’s not so easy to ‘just quit’ a rough job.
But when you work for the public, the public is not so understanding, compassionate, or forgiving as you, in your role, are both charged and demanded to be (by that same public who will use the services you provide for FREE at least once, likely more, in their lifetime).
So again, and in the face of all the derision, the berating, and the Monday-morning-quarterbacking from a public who believes they could do your job so much better than you (yet would never actually touch your job with the proverbial ten foot pole), I say THANK YOU, public service government employee. Thank you for your skill, your commitment, and your bravery. Thank you for your stoicism, your sense of humor, and your stiff upper lip in the face of the flack you endure.
Thank you for being my colleagues and thank you for being my friends. Thank you for teaching me what grace under pressure looks and feels like as I too perform my duties—as a public service government employee.
Peace to you all.