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Mon, Oct. 14

Tom Cantlon: A positive note about some dedicated people

Want to read something positive? There’s a quote I’ll share with you but let me mention where it comes from. Often times when I interview people, either in government or otherwise deeply involved in some issue I want to learn about, or I have to deal with some government function myself, or hear the work stories of people I know who work in these fields, I’m amazed at their dedication and professionalism. We’ve all encountered times when that’s not the case, and it’s frustrating, but then we generally don’t give a second thought to the many ways that things work, because people made things work, and we take it for granted.

Author Michael Lewis was recently asked about his research for a new book during which he interviewed a lot of people high up in various agencies. He was asked about his general impression of them and he put it better than I could. So here it is, slightly edited for length.

“So I didn’t know what I was going to find when I started knocking on the door of the Energy Department or the Agriculture Department or the Commerce Department. And I turned out having exactly the same experience that political people have when they’re appointed to these jobs running these places and have vague preconception of what the bureaucrats are like.

This happens over and over again, that a new administration comes in. They have kind of vague contempt for the people who are there. And four years later, they walk out and say those are the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with. I expected to be briefed and be informed by these people. I did not expect to be inspired by them. The kind of person who is still working in our government despite all the abuse the government takes is a mission-driven person. They’re not paid well. They’re there ‘cause they’re interested in the task. The people in the National Weather Service are people who have had a passion for the weather since they were little kids.

The people in the Department of Energy are scientists who’ve had a passion for their particular science since they were little kids. Essentially it’s all these people are firefighters in spirit. And there’s something really moving about groups of people who are doing what they’re doing not for money but for mission. They have a purpose in life. So I came away from it thinking, wow, I can’t believe we as a society have treated this slice of our society, these kinds of people, who are really the best among us, as badly as we have.

And, yeah, the structure’s screwed up. It’s not the people who screwed up. It’s screwed up that you don’t know your budget when you’re planning, or that you make a slightest mistake and you become public enemy No. 1. But you do something really great, and no one pays any attention. All that’s really screwed up, but that’s not their fault. That’s our fault. And that’s what sort of needs to be fixed because in a way what we’re doing is wasting the greatest spirits in our society.”

If you pay attention, or ask around, your can find plenty of local examples of people in government and related jobs who fit this description perfectly.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at

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