And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. - President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, 1961
The states of our souls
It’s fair to say that vast swaths of America are searching their souls, for a sense of who they are (or have become), and who they want to be.
From historians releasing titles that call for that soul-searching, or that seek inspiration in presidents past, to memoirs by a politician-turned-activist or a terminally-ill patient turned healthcare advocate, once-quiet voices are adding to the drumbeat for a more lasting and inclusive peace.
This impulse to improve the human condition, and reshape our common destiny, has also been surfacing in other “citizens of the world,” as President John F. Kennedy called them (and us).
These are often young citizens, I might add.
We’re already on a first-name basis with some of them, like Greta (Thunberg), Malala (Yousafzai) and Nadia (Murad).
And some of them are our very own children - sensitive, activated, and worldly.
They hold a mirror up to our collective inaction and apathy. They seem to burn with an inner fire that we can only hope to emulate. And they’re nudging, sometimes compelling, us to step up to the plate and join them in their cause.
How do we make sense of this phenomenon, especially when it pours through someone who’s barely old enough to vote? Maybe it’s youthful idealism at its best. After all, they’re (as yet) unburdened by adulthood’s conventional rites of passage - a higher education (if they can get it), a life partner, a job, bills, and children of their own. For them, fighting a cause is not only noble, it’s likely more feasible. Once they turn 18, or 21…they’ll see. They’ll have to settle into a more socially-acceptable routine.
Well, we can’t say for sure. Many of them have only just begun their movement-making journeys. Who knows how many will go the distance, like Al Gore, Gloria Steinem or (gasp of respect, please) nonagenarian David Attenborough have.
But the issues they focus on have real-world impact on billions of souls. That grand purpose can fuel their inner fire for years.
The souls that they help tend to be the youngest, or the most voiceless among us. That great reach can fill their empathic heart for decades.
And the deeds they perform inspire not just their peers, but scores of us who watch in wonder. THAT ripple effect can sustain our planet for generations.
Not quite a bed of roses
For all their work, these voices are rising in a world that isn’t fully ready to embrace them.
For better or worse, we’re still operating in old and familiar paradigms that some describe with now-pejorative words like patriarchy, inequality, command and control, resource extraction, toxic capitalism, elitism, and imperialism.
These opposing voices are met with skepticism, resistance, and even cynicism…by the dominant powers that be.
That doesn’t surprise me, because that goes with the territory of being a norm-breaker.
What does surprise me is when we, the fellow well-meaning citizens of the world, also meet them with skepticism, resistance and, yes, even cynicism. (I catch myself doing it too…doubting if they’ll get far, or far enough. These old paradigms can be sinister!)
The thing is, we don’t need to march, or even fight, with them to stand with them. Sometimes, all they ask of, and from, us…is to believe that change is possible.
And…to remember that we are intertwined.
What I cover in Peaceful Leader
With all that in mind, I’ve designed the Peaceful Leader newsletter for public-spirited citizens everywhere, with stories that champion the rising voices for peace in our turbulent world.
I write about urgent issues and important causes, using each week’s news to frame what matters, and pulling from my multifaceted experience to share what counts.
Each edition of Peaceful Leader covers one or more of the following:
Institutions Are Us – Curated stories, or firsthand accounts, of building or reshaping institutions, societies and worlds
BeCause We Can – Causes that are making the news, and/or profiles of those who work to champion them - some famous (and young), others working quietly and powerfully behind the scenes
May these stories lift us, and the world, into a more peaceful place.