By Dan Vizzini, CPS Senior Fellow and Core Team Member
A few years ago, I retired from my position at the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services. For 26 years, I had the great pleasure of serving the city and its citizens as a financial analyst, program supervisor, policy development specialist, assistant to a City Council member, and legislative and regulatory specialist. My experiences at the City had a profound impact on my views about citizenship, public service, and the relationship between public policy goals and the interests and goals of Portland’s businesses and neighborhoods. Much of that learning formed the basis of the work I do now at the Center for Public Service and JaLoGoMa (a training program for municipal government officers from all over Japan), where I focus on building a bridge between the theory and practice of public service and citizen engagement.
Late in 2011, when it came time to replace my old business card from the City of Portland with a personal business card, I thought deeply about my former public life and the core values that I wanted to carry forward into my private life. One image was particularly powerful. It’s a graphic I developed to depict the journey that one takes from the discovery of a new idea, to planning and acting on the idea, and finally to sharing the idea and personal experience with others. This image and the story of the journey of discovery became a powerful metaphor for my work on sustainable
development and green infrastructure.
My original sketch was inspired by the graphic representation of the Fibonacci Sequence, a sequence of numbers that was originally developed around 200 BC to help interpret the meter of Sanskrit poetry. The Indian number series was eventually discovered and introduced into Europe in 1202 by the Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa (popularly referred to as Fibonacci).
At the heart of the Indian mathematics and Fibonacci’s Sequence is the notion of the Golden Ratio, or the proportions that repeatedly appear in the natural world: from the shape of the nautilus in sea life, to the spacing of adjacent leaves in plants, to the relationship between the length of the human forearm and the length of the human hand. The Gold Ratio (1:1.618) represents the aesthetic balance in living things; a balance that has been emulated and reflected in the highest forms of human art and architecture.
So when I was searching for a symbol to add to my personal business card, I found myself returning, again and again to Fibonacci and the symbolism of the spiral. The shape is meaningful on multiple levels. It represents the human search for balance, order, and beauty, and a need to harmonize our lives with the natural world on which our lives depend. It represents a journey of discovery that begins with “discovery,” leads to a process of inquiry and learning followed by planning and action, and concludes with sharing the experience with others in a way that drives new opportunities for discovery. And finally, the expanding nature of the spiral from a single point represents an expansion of human knowledge, understanding, and experiences that result from a human journey of discovery.
With all of these ideas in mind, I began a search for an image that I could use on my personal business card. A number of attractive images were readily available on the Internet. But in the end I settled on a photograph I took in a shop full of fossils and rocks in Seattle, Washington. There, in the middle of the shop, was an Ammonite fossil, roughly 1.2 meters tall and .8 meters wide. The fossil perfectly illustrated the Golden Ratio, and the nautilus shape reflected my spiral representation of the journey of discovery.
A few years after I incorporated the spiral image into my business card, I found myself returning to the image to use as a symbol or totem for JaLoGoMa. It seemed only natural to do so since I had begun to use the image to illustrate many of JaLoGoMa’s foundational principles of civic engagement and the co-production of public goods. Highly stylized, the image I chose presents a modern abstraction of the natural nautilus form. The rounded shape and bold red color intentionally mimic the Japanese rising sun. And to the form, I added a personal admonition for public servants and citizens to act with courage, perseverance and passion on behalf of humanity and the well being of all living things.
I have no doubt that what has evolved into a strong and meaningful symbol for public service work will continue to provide me and those I work with a reminder of our core values. Identifying and working with a symbol has only strengthened my understanding of the importance of the work we do in public service, as it serves as a constant reminder. If you haven’t taken the time to explore your own values in this way, consider doing so!