Inspiration from Politicians Past
Today, the list of things that I can talk to people about is growing shorter and shorter. Most people I encounter are afraid. They know that the world before COVID is gone. Major changes are on the horizon. The uncertainty we feel has much to do with how confident we are about our ability to cope with the unknown that lies ahead of us.
Historically, our leadership has given us direction in uncertain times. They have lifted us up and tried to inspire. If we can’t take inspiration from those around us today, maybe it is time to take inspiration from our past.
While America was suffering through times of economic despair, in the midst of the Great Depression, Americans elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt president. At that time, there was no safety net. People died of starvation. People that were sick, unless they could pay cash for it, had limited access to healthcare. They simply passed away. For more than 3 years of serious economic depression, people suffered. Many lost everything in the crash and those that didn’t saw their life’s savings depleted, day after day. There was a general feeling of hopelessness.
At his first inaugural address, January of 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told us things were going to be different. He told us: We may be down, but we are not out! Now is time for the hard work of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. There are so many of us. Instead of tearing at each other over life’s scraps, because we are hungry and afraid, let’s build a garden. Each person determines the course of their own life. Don’t let your fear hold you back. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”
People who lived in tents, without food, listened to that speech on the radio of someone they knew who had a car that worked; and they pulled together; WE pulled together. These are the people who formed the greatest generation. Out of the ashes of despair, rose the American spirit. We could do the same again.
Kennedy, elected as the first Catholic and the youngest president ever elected, wanted to usher in a new age. Kennedy stated: “We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom — symbolizing an end as well as a beginning — signifying renewal as well as change. … The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.… I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it.” Kennedy believed that being a citizen of the “greatest nation” came with great privileges and great responsibility. He believed we have a responsibility to give back to our country and our fellow Americans. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
Our presidents then were giving us the messages we need to hear today. We need to stop living in fear, stop thinking of only ourselves, and start thinking about our obligations to our fellow Americans. If you have resources, teach someone how to fish so they can help themselves. If you don’t have resources, give anyway. Even the poorest person can extend a helping hand, show kindness, listen.
The greatest generation put county ahead of self. They put community ahead of self. They had seen depression, poverty, and they had seen war. The people of this country worked together to overcome depression, then to overcome “tyranny.” This made them feel a part of something great. They learned to respect any person that took care of their business, supported their family, and contributed to their community. Kennedy wanted that same feeling to be shared by the Americans of future generations.
Remember Roosevelt! Remember Kennedy! Now, in this moment of despair, what we need is to hear the call to be a part of something great.