05/04/2011 06:19 pm ET Updated Jul 04, 2011

The Bin Laden Effect: In Praise of Our Government

By Peter Block

The death of Osama bin Laden completes a painful chapter in our history. The reaction of many is celebration. Some will use this occasion to warn of more fear to come. I, however, would like to take hold of this moment for gratitude -- gratitude for our government. This mission was complex, it was politically risky, it required patience, it took cooperation between the CIA and the military and others not so obvious. If you applaud the results, then you must applaud the leadership that made this possible.

In the last few years, we have witnessed an assault on the cost, excess and incompetence of government. People who run for office do so on a platform of disdain for the very institution they seek. We have elected officials who discredit public servants. In Wisconsin and Ohio the movement is to decertify the right of government employees to organize. We have had to listen to the absurdity of claims that government employees are overpaid. This occurs in the face of untold wealth accrued by the revered and sacred "private sector" -- as if the private sector somehow earns their millions while the public servants are the greedy ones. We have been speaking of government as if it is filled with waste like a trash basket.

Well, perhaps this moment of triumph will shift the tide of the conversation about our public servants. Perhaps we will now all speak of the commitment and persistence of our government and the people who choose to care for the whole. The Libertarian and Tea Party surge has held them in contempt too long. And this conversation is not just about the warriors; it is about those who create the conditions for warriors to be educated and grow up in a city and country that basically works well.

Our cities and country work well because of the people who make the streets, the schools, the water works, and the public lands function well. Someone has to care for the wellbeing of the commons. It is the task of government to protect the common good. Individuals cannot do this, businesses and churches and hospitals cannot perform this task. This observation is not a question of ideology or political opinion, nor is it about those who use every issue to promote their cause. This is simply about the common interest triumphing over self interest.

Whether the world is safer today, I do not know. But this is a time for gratitude for those who serve the public. It is time to appreciate all of them, most of whom are invisible and often whisper what they do for a living. We need to thank them. Period. And commit ourselves to continue to support all who serve us, those in civil service, those who give their lives as much as those who risk their lives.

John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and co-director of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. He is the co-author of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development. Peter Block is founder of Designed Learning. They are coauthors of The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (Berrett-Koehler).

For more commentary from McKnight and Block visit their website

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