“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a Ditchley Foundation Conference in the London area of Great Britain. The contents of the conference were extremely helpful in thinking about ways to improve the quality of life for residents of Milwaukee, but today I want to speak on an aspect of British culture that I observed and think should be considered in our City. That cultural aspect is the respect and professionalism of service.
Service has become devalued in our American culture. We tend to look down upon the people who serve others for their career. Whether it is individuals who clean homes and commercial buildings or those who repair shoes for a living, we tend to look at people who work for others in a derogatory light. British culture not only shows a respect for people in these sectors, it places a distinct honor on those professions.
In the estate that hosted the conference, there was a full-time staff that served us as guests. Butlers, cooks, housekeepers and others who had the sole job function of providing you with anything you might need. In fact, they would anticipate your needs. When I first arrived, a gentleman looked at my shoes and anticipated that after the day’s events I may need to have them shined. The attention to detail was incredible and the level of kindness and professionalism that they exhibited could be easily felt. My impression was that this is a result of the level of respect placed on those individuals. They are not seen by the owners of the estate as subservient in status. They were a part of the family. They were their peers. They served an essential function and were treated accordingly.
One memory that sticks out was meeting the people who have been making the shoes for the Royal family for generations. In their small little shop, there is a room entirely dedicated to the shoe molds of Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses of the past. Every time a member of the royal family needs a shoe, a wooden mold is carved of their foot and the shoe is created around that mold so that it is the perfect fit. What stood out to me the most was the pride that they took in their craft. In the United States, we might hear of this family and laugh them off as “just some shoe-makers”. However, in their country they are revered for the quality and level of consideration they put into serving the royal family in the best possible way. This attitude was genuinely a beautiful thing to witness.
In our Milwaukee community, we have so many service professionals that we don’t always recognize. We have custodians, garbage collectors, receptionists, wait-staff and so many other jobs that provide essential functions to our society, yet we tend not to give them their deserved praise. If you take away the harmful stigmas that exist, you will realize that our society could not function without people taking these positions. You may not think that the custodian is the most important part of your workplace, but if that person wasn’t there you would feel the impact. Overflowing trash cans, filthy floors and unattended bathrooms would make a massive difference in how you feel about your work day. We need to start to show an appreciation for those who serve us and others.
To those reading this who serve in these roles, please know that we appreciate you. Thank you for taking care of others and undertaking some of the most thankless but important tasks in our society. Even if it is not said to you by those you serve directly, we all need you so much more than you know. Without you and those like you, our society could not function.
My call to us today is two-fold. The first is to appreciate those that serve us in our daily lives. From custodial staff to restaurant servers, we have so many people that attend to our needs in an exceptional way and we have to say the words to thank them. The second call is to recognize the value that we can have in the service sector. A member of a restaurant’s wait staff can make a good living. If you have a knack for it and enjoy the work, do it. Don’t allow society’s misguided perceptions of service prevent you from taking an opportunity to earn a solid income and make a difference. I believe if we internalize this characteristic of British culture, we will see a society where the proper amount of honor is placed on those who serve and the professionalism of services increases greatly as a result.