It’s a common theme in all kinds of literature, class levels and how they may interact. We’re all familiar with tales of the ‘the help’ just existing as faceless things which are there more as decoration that human beings but also of tales of the posh ‘masters’ being viewed as nothing more than the ignorant fools who wouldn’t be able to even tie their shoes without someone to do it for them. The reverse of each are also easy to find.
These rods of familiarity crop up in any and all genres and every time they do, what are they trying to say? Is it just that it’s simply a place to start? Because we’re all well versed in the ideas does it just save time for the storyteller, letting the reader already have opinions in their head without the need for tons upon tons of exposition, or is there more to be said?
I originally started to think about the world of service when my mind wandered to the game shows we all watched when we were growing up. When asked what they did for a living, so very often the response was ‘civil servant’ but that term seems to have, if not totally, at least largely, disappeared. Why don’t we see civil servants mentioned as much today as we used to?
Now, rather than the generic term, we’re treated to much more specific job titles which all jostle for a place under the main umbrella. So why the change?
I’ve worked in different companies which have been delivering a service to the public over the years. Indeed most of us will have had experience of the service industry with bar work etc. being a popular first job. On any given day, I had to make sure that the people who were coming to spend their free time doing whatever in the location I was working, be that a gym, a bar or a restaurant, were given the best possible service so they would be happy and therefore want to spend more money. For the most part, the people I dealt with were great and that relationship of client and purveyor of goods was smooth and we all got on well. But there was a rapidly growing section of the population who were far from pleasant.
I’ve amassed an interesting pot of horror stories over the years where I was confronted by someone who was rude to everyone they came across because they thought they’d bought the right to be. The classic ‘I pay your wages’. But I’m not the only one. With what feels like an ever growing power and almost supernatural speed, the mentality of ‘ME FIRST’ is everywhere. I want to do a thing therefore I should be allowed to do said thing, regardless.
The readiness to go mad on that person who is serving at the very slightest thing has spread from the vocal minority to a very vocal, not majority, but it’s getting there. The ‘I pay your wages’ mind set has spread so that as a society we’re almost encouraged to look down on those who are serving. Is it just driven by the aspiration? Back to the familiarity of the servant/master trope, that’s how you’re supposed to behave to the help. The natural distrust and derision of those we perceive as beneath us is what we’re supposed to behave like isn’t it?
For most of us, there are precious few times where we are on the privileged end of this particular equation so, damn it, we’re going to make the most of it.
Maybe this is why the civil servant has declined in modern society? No-one wants to admit that they’re a servant. It brings to mind images of Victorian era service at best and slavery at the worst. Now we see all kinds of different titles for us all which try to move away from the idea of serving anyone else. Civil servant gets pushed away.
But returning as I so often do to Star Trek, why should we be ashamed of working for the good of others in whatever form that may take? We already hold those of the population who do massive charity work as being the best of us but why should we only see them as worthy of note only after millions raised or years of toil? In Star Trek, everyone works for the good of humanity rather than just for the acquisition of personal wealth and station. There is a shared understanding that we’re all in it together no matter where we sit on the spectrum. It’s easy to argue that a brain surgeon should be valued more highly than a bin man. All the training and dedication to the health of the human race, it’s simple, but if you remove the bin men, the effect is likely to be far more widespread and have the chance to cause a great deal more havoc than if you did away with the specialised doctors.
Now I’m not advocating that we all try to create some bizarre commune. My mind wandered and I ran after it just considering the why’s and wherefor’s of how we view those people who act in the service of others. Shouldn’t we all try and play our role in the advancement of the human race and work together to be able to be better? It’s easy to recognise some people as doing a great service to the whole but shouldn’t we all be thinking about the wider picture rather than just basing so much around what we think it means to us and us alone.
As I look at the political landscape which is developing in the UK and in the US and what is happening to so may of the weakest people on Earth, I recognise the hands of nebulous self interest all over the place. Yes poor service should be called out, but to improve for everyone not just to try and demolish the person who missed the sugar from your coffee.
We all need to do our part in the service of everyone else.