We Can Do This

Published: September 14, 2021

By Jim Lichtman
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Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.  —Robert Kennedy

Before a campaign appearance in Indianapolis, Indiana, Sen. Robert Kennedy had just learned of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.. The crowd he was planning to address had not yet heard the news.

While Kennedy was advised not to speak that night, he felt compelled to speak to a largely black audience. Without a script, Kennedy stood on the back of a truck and became the bearer of difficult and tragic news.

“I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.”

However, rather than turning to anger and accusation, he used the moment to ask people to look beyond the shock of the moment and work to change the corrosive nature of America’s discord.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another.”

Last Saturday, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, former president George W. Bush similarly used the opportunity to press for unity.

“On America’s day of trial and grief I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know. At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. That is the nation I know. At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome to immigrants and refugees. That is the nation I know. At a time when some viewed the rising generation as individualistic and decadent, I saw young people embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action. That is the nation I know.”

With so much division, and hatred, what we need more than ever is for all of us to reaffirm our country’s capacity for love, wisdom and compassion. We can do this. If we have a willingness to change, we can do this. If we want to see a better, brighter America, we can do this.

In his last words to the audience in Indianapolis, Kennedy said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

Instead of labeling, we need to recognize that we have one common bond. We are all Americans.

Let’s make things better for the next generation. Let’s commit to wisdom over ignorance, compassion over hatred, and good will over prejudice.

To return faith in our institutions we must begin with faith in each other. At Pearl Harbor we demonstrated that faith. On 9/11 thousands depended on that faith. We need to remember who we were and who we can be again.

We can do this.

Commentaries appear Tuesdays and Fridays.


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