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September 12, 2008

To Serve Is To Lead

Nicholas Frankopan ’09
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Last night, John McCain and Barack Obama came together to praise the value of national service. Volunteerism is an important aspect of what makes a society civilized. Contributing to the community at large is not only good business or good government; it’s also the right thing to do.

But to what extent can bureaucratic forces foster national service without stifling it? McCain reminded the crowd that the federal government has its limits, and Obama shied away from the idea of compulsory “national civic service.”

Perhaps the best way to promote a culture of service is through business education. At Columbia Business School, we learn to appreciate not only the facts of the case in question but also the issues surrounding and clouding the situation. In Leadership, we are always taught that raw intelligence only gets you so far and that emotional intelligence is the true determinant of success. Learning how to insert the relevant resources to the relevant people at the relevant time is essential to a Columbia MBA. It is this knowledge that is required to organize or help movements that people care passionately about. This is the kind of service that all Americans would like to see at the heart of this country.

MBA students must also learn another element of service — that to whom much is given, much is expected. An MBA equips people with the skills and knowledge to be more socially conscious precisely because the degree is part of such an august tradition. It should escape no one’s attention that service is an essential component of leadership. In today’s society, there is no shortage of good causes for which our skills can be put to use. For every person there is a cause that rings strong and true. As McCain stated last night, “It’s not about the individual — it’s about the cause that they serve.” This discussion, which occurred on the seventh anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, reminded Americans of a greater common cause.

Photo credit: Tina Gao, Columbia Spectator


by Natasha Oppenheim | September 12, 2008 at 6:35 PM

I very much agree with Nicholas' view on service - both the lessons that can be gained via the MBA course, and also on how that can translate in to so many different spheres of life. It was great to see politics set aside (almost) for a position on which everyone could agree.

by Unknown Ideal | September 18, 2008 at 2:19 PM

By what standard of morality is "service to others" the right thing to do? It is not volunteerism that makes society civilized--in fact, a culture in which citizens are held in bondage to their fellow man is a society of slaves. As Ayn Rand noted, "civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy...[it] is the process of setting man free from men." Contrary to Mr. McCain's assertion, America is /only/ about the individual. This country was founded on the protection of individual rights. Mssrs. McCain and Obama seem not to remember this. Furthermore, there can be no causes without individuals. The greatest cause is the fight for freedom. Under a McCain or Obama presidency, we will only see freedom wither further.

by Nicholas Frankopan | September 24, 2008 at 12:05 PM

The definition of morality is a “system of conduct put forward by society”. As such, it can be objectively stated that voluntary service to others is considered a noble and worthy by this society. Of course, the mandatory nature of service to others inherently erodes at least the selfless nobility of the cause, but it can still be worthy — think of a soldier mandated to fight for the defense of his or her country.

Freedom of the individual can only be protected to the limits of where it impinges on another’s freedom, otherwise freedom would destroy itself. This is not a recent level of “progress” discerned Avn Rand or anyone else for that matter — it is a philosophical truth pointed out by Aristotle. As long as there are societies this will be a balance that needs to be maintained.

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