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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Simple Story of Civic Duty

The main point of our book is that there is more to public life than self-interest. Many people shirk civic duty, of course, but many others accept it even when it would be in their interest to do otherwise. The Orange County Register offers an example:

Walking to his car during his tour of duty as a juror, financial consultant Rick Keller pondered his predicament.

It was January 2009. The nation was in the worst financial mess since the Great Depression. Keller's clients, some of the wealthiest people in Orange County, had lost millions in a matter of weeks. And in 10 days he was scheduled to hold his annual luncheon with 250 of those very same clients.

But facing a crowd of angry investors wasn't what was bothering Keller, head of the then-named Keller Group, which had more than a billion dollars on the line.

It was the prospect of not seeing his investors face to face. The judge had just instructed the jury the civil trial would last another two weeks.

Keller, tall, lanky, with the runner's body he had in high school nearly four decades earlier, considered his conflict. Should he ask to be excused – something he could probably pull off – or should he fulfill what he considered a civic obligation?


Keller stuck with the trial, never asking to be excused from his civic duty. He wound up being foreman, in fact. Sure, there was much debate among his colleagues. But everyone's moved on. The next meeting is just around the corner.