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What's wrong with the word servant?
12:21pm Wednesday 23rd January 2013 in Postbag
SO many of my correspondents are irritated by the advance of ‘political correctness’, particularly when common phrases and words start to be seen as no longer acceptable.
I share their irritation and I often advise that the best way to deal with it is to laugh, and just not to allow oneself to be bullied.
However, there is another side to it: in some aspects, what we call political correctness is just good manners. I wince when I think of some of the things that we used to say to one another at school.
For example, a fellow that fumbled a ball in a game might be referred to as a ‘spastic’. We accepted it, it wasn’t always intended to hurt, sometimes it was more of a joke. Now it would be quite inappropriate to say such a thing, however you meant it to be taken.
I think this is progress, we are better mannered for it, even if it is ‘political correctness’ that has brought it about.
Now however, my colleague and neighbour Christopher Chope, the MP for Christchurch, has caused a furore and has been condemned for using the word ‘servant’.
He was drawing attention to the problem of overstaffing in the Commons dining room when he recently dined there and found that there was a ratio of three ‘servants’ to every diner. As an aside I would point out that this problem has arisen recently because of a change in the sitting hours on a Tuesday.
Where we used to sit until 10.30pm, we now finish at 7.30pm.
Consequently, members who would have filled the dining room, now leave the premises as soon as the business concludes.
The once packed dining room is now pretty empty in the evening and there is a surfeit of waiters.
The economic imperative is that there will have to be a measure of retrenchment in the catering department to reflect the new situation, inevitably some jobs will be lost.
All this is just common sense and, I presume, that it was to this that Mr Chope was drawing attention.
Was it rude, incorrect, gauche, inappropriate –whatever term fits best - for him to describe the waiting staff as servants? Frankly, I am very surprised, and rather disappointed that anyone should think so.
Servant is not a term of abuse.
On the contrary, to render service and to be a servant is a noble calling.
The essential quality of Christian leadership is to be the servant of everyone who you seek to lead. The motto of the great reforming Pope Gregory VII was ‘servus servorum Dei’, meaning ‘the servant of the servants of God’.
Every Sunday those of us who still go to Mattins will say the prayer of Saint Chrysostom containing the request “Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting”.
To regard service and servants as demeaning is a measure of how we are losing touch with important values.
This is particularly worrying in the House of Commons, where ministers and MPs need to be constantly aware of the fact that they are the servants of the people, and not their masters.