“We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defence.”
Although he needs no introduction, Obama was the 44th President of the United States. He and his family occupied the White House from 2009 to 2017 and suffered great stress as they bravely coped with hatred from those who could not accept a black president. He spoke these words at the Democratic National Convention on September 6, 2012, as he accepted his party’s nomination to run for re-election as President.
Barack Obama is not a hero because he was without flaws. There is no leader, past or present, who completed their stewardship without making errors. History will judge the decisions Obama made in the White House; I will not. I will write this post as a celebration of one man’s faith in himself, in his country, and in humanity.
As a Canadian, I have a stake in what goes on south of our border in the United States. I have many friends and literary colleagues living there and I am concerned about the angst they live with as they navigate their lives in a bitterly divided nation. While I understand that Barack Obama is a flashpoint that has contributed to American disunity; this is not what he stood for as a man or as President of the United States.
The opening words of the passage quoted above speak to the very heart of citizenship in any free, democratic society. Every single citizen has responsibilities as well as rights. What are these responsibilities? I think the most important one is to stand up and defend the common good. With so many diverse interests competing against each other, citizens must insist that leaders exercise courage and wisdom to reach the necessary compromises that will serve the common good. Too many of us have lost sight of the goal of the common good, and too many of us remain silent, sullenly refuse to vote, and therefore, fail in our duty to insist that our leaders act on behalf of everyone.
Obama rightly points out that our destinies are bound together. A nation can be strong and successful only with the combined efforts of all the stakeholders. Unfortunately, too many people in our western democracies feel disenfranchised. Government decisions are influenced by and for the benefit of the rich and powerful few at the expense of the many. We can debate all day about how this situation came about and who is really to blame but it really doesn’t matter because the blame game provides no solutions. It is an exercise in futility.
Some are touting frightening predictions about the demise of American civilization. They claim that Americans are so deeply divided that they will tear themselves and this once proud nation asunder. That is one possible outcome but I have stated to my good friend, Jill Dennison in Ohio, that I don’t believe that I’ll live to see that day. I have personally met many wonderful people in America, both in-person and online, and I have faith that they will rally to President Obama’s call.
Oh really? Oh yes! Obama speaks about love, charity, duty and patriotism in that 2012 speech. Despite the ugliness, we see in the mainstream media every day, My friend Jill Dennison goes beyond the political morass and finds stories about ordinary Americans who put themselves out to help others in need. The characteristics Obama highlights are alive and well in American society. We all need to widen our focus to see and acknowledge this truth.
We have it within us to rise to the challenge. To return to the ideals of democratic leaders who founded our nations and to act in the best interests of the common good. We used to put these ideas in the context of building a better nation. Today, the environmental crisis we face forces us to think outside the boxes of our individual countries and to put the good of the planet and all of humanity before our own personal interests.
Are we going to give in to the hopelessness and despair fostered by our current problems or are we going to dig deep and find that courage within us to rally to cause of goodness, truth, love and charity – for the benefit of all?
Failure is unthinkable.