This post is dedicated to Ted Kennedy who passed away today, and the Kennedy family. It was inspired by Robert Kennedy’s speech on June 6th 1966 in South Africa. I urge people to read this in its entirety and respond. I know it’s a bit long, but I also believe it’s important.
Another Day of Affirmation
Today a torch was thrown; a generation is stepping down to retire.
This generation brought us through a Cold War, sowed the seeds of change in our world, and sparked growth and innovation never seen before by humanity.
We are a new generation; one who has been called complacent. We have grew up in a life of ease, but suddenly found ourselves in turbulent times.
But today should be another day of affirmation. Where we look at how we got here and the ideals and life which we sometimes take for granted.
The core ideal to look at Freedom – a quality and name that has been much abused in recent years. And the core of Freedom is the Freedom of Speech. Let us take back this word. Let it represent what it was meant to represent- no more freedom fries, one-sided coalitions in the name of freedom, or shrinking away from problems and stances because they are hard.
History depicts a timeline where people have been repressed. Where ideas have been thrown out the window. Where countless people and groups have worked to smother the voices of a few and repress many.
But in all of these struggles, a general outcome is that these voices eventually get heard. That people will stand up and the forward progress of change, which may be slow, eventually becomes reality.
Every squeak and squelch that oppression tries to muffle; we must try and amplify. That is a duty to humanity.
The retiring generation saw many struggles. They were bogged down in a world torn by fascism and twisted academic prose used to justify oppression and killing. They saw the mistakes of their forefathers and how the oppression of different races was a hindrance to humanity and churning out hate and distance. They stood up for injustice within and outside communist bloc, where people were forced to spy on one another. Ideas strangled and twisted in the name of order and in a world where everyone was meant to be the same, but divided people further and further.
Their generation was not without its faults. The problems created by this generation include conflicts like Vietnam and an invasion of Iraq.They sometimes had a forward momentum that pursued greed over the greater good, and a debasement of our environment.
These mistakes are now our responsibility. This is the torch that is being thrown and we must catch it.
We have grown up in a time of war, globalization, economic collapse, turbulent change in the homosexual community, and environmental dangers.
These are the problems we must face.
But we have also seen how the struggles of the previous generation bore fruit to the first black President of the United States. Where they stood up for freedom shot the roots to the future and change that we have seen today.
Just like it was amazing for them to see the first Irish Catholic become president where a generation before signs littered the streets saying “Irish need not apply”, we have seen positive change first hand.
150 years ago we still had slavery, 100 years ago women weren’t allowed to vote in America, 60 years ago we still lived in a extremely segregated society, homosexuals still don’t have equal rights. These are problems and struggles that still haunt us today, and will many years to come.
There is no excuse in ignoring these problems and reform is a necessity. But this is not an excuse to ignore the fundamental ideas of Freedom. Changing our beliefs and checking our system is natural, but not an excuse that our system should regress from the pursuit of Freedom for all of humanity.
Minorities must be given a voice. Majorities should listen. While battles over ideas will be fought and there will be winners and losers, let us not forget the important role in everyone in how we move forward and shape the future.
We live in a world connected in so many ways. We are able to fly across an ocean where before mankind was scared to explore and it took months to cross an ocean. We can send a message instantly, which before may have taken months to reach its destination. We have sent men to the moon.
These wonders connect humanity. There are no borders of nations in space. We are all citizens of the Earth and must support one another in our pursuit to the future.
We must stand up for the oppressed in Iran, the censored in China, the murdered journalists in Russia, the starving, the undereducated, human beings. There is no excuse for a person’s view to be oppressed. When a group or individual smothers another all of humanity is tarnished and it is our duty as human beings to stand up for one another.
Murder in the name of religion or nationalism are not condonable. These are acts committed by humans. These are faults of humanity and have unfortunately been repeated today and will be repeated in the future. We must support the individual. Humans must have a voice. When a group takes a stand to silence others, humanity has a duty to stand up against that group. But when standing up to the group, let us not forget the true change comes by leading and being a beacon of hope.
Forgetting our foundations has plagued us in the past and still does today as seen in Guantanimo Bay. We cannot impose ideas but must promote them through encouragement and example.
We must look at the world we want to live in and strive to build it. Not everyone will be great, but the small forgotten battles and stands of the past have shaped the world we live in today. By having a voice you must use it. If you forget this, then it is a loss to all of humanity.
Take your ideas and run with them. Change a corner of the world, but don’t forget the people who don’t have the privilege, opportunity, and voice you have. Don’t forget the idea of a civic duty. A democratic society and world require participation. We cannot be lazy in this regard.
The borders of religion, race, education, and income are ever present, but we must strive so everyone has the freedom to pursue their dreams. We mustn’t become tempted by the illusion of security and ignore progress. We need an appetite for the hard adventure and question. A life of ease is not a life worth living. We must make the tough decisions and in doing so we will make mistakes, but that is no excuse for not trying or participating.
It is our turn to take the torch. Let us be the next greatest generation.
As Robert Kennedy said years ago in South Africa:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
‘If Athens shall appear great to you,’ said Pericles, ‘consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their duty.” That is the source of all greatness in all societies, and it is the key to progress in our own time.'”
He reaffirmed four dangers that democratic societies face.
Futility – The idea that someone cannot make change. That something seems so daunting that it appears futile. Individuals have been a driving force in history. If Martin Luther thought his struggle was futile we wouldn’t have Protestantism. If Matin Luther King Jr. thought his struggle was futile we would’ve lost a great force in civil rights.
Expediency – We cannot expect change to happen over night. While sometimes it appears to, change actually has a huge foundation that was laid by many men and women before. Fight for a cause and a passion, but don’t give up when it doesn’t happen immediately.
Ideals and realistic possibilities – While we should support the idealistic, we should not forget about realistic change and take head and warning from the history behind us. Idealists have changed the world for the better, but they have also caused great harm. The change you see might not be image you began with, but a little progress is still progress.
Timidity – We must not shrink away from challenges and bullies. It is easy to say that someone else will take care of the problem, but if society all ignores inhumane action then it takes control.
Kennedy also alluded to a Chinese curse: May he live in interesting times.
We live in interesting times. Let us not forget our responsibility.
Let us join in a common purpose to support one another no matter where they be if their cause is good. We must build a better future.
Let us catch the torch that the Kennedy’s and our forefathers caught years ago.