Kathleen Cahalan on “Reviving Vocation to Public Service”

In an editorial a few months before the 2017 election, David Brooks argued that the failure of leadership in public service stems from the fact that people find themselves “enmeshed in a system that drains them of their sense of vocation.” Brooks appealed to vocation in its most common terms today: as something you feel called to, the use of your skills and gifts for the common good, something you cannot not do even in the face of hardship. He was looking for a “revival of vocation” in public and professional life.

Such a revival would have to take account of the multiple sources of calling in a pluralist context. Ranging from the purpose-driven life determined entirely by divine order to finding your bliss, the source of callings today vary widely. Nonetheless, religious traditions share five commonalities that press beyond sheer determinism or secular expressive individualism that hold a key to reviving calling to work for public service. Continue reading

Kathleen Cahalan on “Why Experience Matters”

cahalankathleenDo you want a cardiac surgeon who is not a good cutter? Or a child care provider who does not know the difference between a bad mood and a tantrum? Or a judge who does not know how to administer the law?

Experience matters because it is the basis of good judgment. It provides us with insight into the particularities of situations. But experience alone is not enough, according to Aristotle. That knowledge must be combined with wisdom (sophia), what we hold to be the highest moral truths. Together these two kinds of knowledge provide a person with phronesis—the ability to do the “right thing, in the right way, and at the right time.” Phronesis is engaged knowing; it is situational and particular but at the same time informed by reason and moral frameworks.  Continue reading