“when bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle#
Barack Obama is the first African American president in history. His is an American story. Elected 44th President of the United States on November 4, 2008, he was sworn in on January 20, 2009. He came from the heartland of America where people believe that hard work and education is how you get ahead in life. Obama is his own little league of nations, with a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas. He was born in Hawaii and raised with people around him and grandparents, who knew what sacrifice and service really meant. He won scholarships, took out student loans to get through college and law school, while helping rebuild communities devastated by the closure of local steel plants in Chicago. He knows what stepping up to be counted and taking responsibility for self and other people is all about. Whether they are family, friends or people he has never met, caring about others is part of his DNA. He said when elected ‘What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept…this is the price and the promise of citizenship…this is the meaning of our liberty’
Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) reminded us that ‘good men’ achieve the highest human good. The ‘good men’ in every ancient Greek polis (city) subscribed to a strict code of conduct, one that had been thrashed out over centuries. It required of them to be truthful, trustworthy, courteous (even to their enemies), courageous, respectful of the rights of others, generous with their possessions (as far as their means would permit), immune to the temptation to cheat, and finally, to be proud of the code itself. So how do we attain goodness without a sense of purpose or by having a belief there is something more?
For centuries, when large parts of the earth were dominated by the absolute monarchies of the east, the Greeks were evolving their belief that a man must be respected, not as the instrument of an all-powerful overlord, but for his own sake. Athenian statesman Pericles (495 – 429 BCE) said ‘Each single one of our citizens in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his person, and do this moreover, with exceptional grace and versatility.’ This is what the Greeks meant by liberty. Their ingrained belief in everyone’s right to freedom was sustained by a deep respect for personal honour, and it was nurtured by a love of action. The democratic western system of government that free countries share was based on the development of a society who believed in ‘good men’**. The power of one has been an inducement to great actions and the spur to great achievements in any age. It relies on each and every one us to promote the emergence of new ideas, to encourage the raising of positive voices and to provide a benefit for marginalized sections of society.
Statistics show that of the people eligible to vote in America for Obama only 56.8% voted in the American 2008 election, just a little more than half. This is surely a devastating statistic in a country founded on the promise of liberty, freedom and justice for all. It seems that nearly half of the people in the U.S.A. don’t value what they have, and what so many people who are America’s allies have fought alongside them to keep. This includes their right to vote, such a precious expression of their liberty ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth’.
For people outside the American voting system it is hard to understand a country, which as little as two years ago swept the knight on his white horse into office as their President, with such a resounding voice that it echoed loudly around the world, could possibly within such a short time not only be trying to pull him off it, but beat him down and send him out of office after only one term. Here in Australia while we may not be across the whole way the voting system works in America, we do view President Obama’s presence on the world stage in a positive light. His sincere approach to the global community and its many challenges is much admired and appreciated.
Reflecting on the grass roots commentary the NY Times reported that Walter Sankey, 57, who lives in the working-class Hilltop neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, said “You can’t expect changes in two years for what took eight years to screw up,” Sounds like Mr Sankey should be running for office. Another young woman of 22 years of age said “We haven’t given Obama enough time, and we’re rushing to judge his administration on a lot of issues that were out of his control,”. Emily Pechar apparently voted in the Fulton County suburbs north of Atlanta. “Obama’s become a scapegoat, and that’s not appropriate.” Miss Pechar’s profound comment proves wisdom is nothing to do with age.
For someone who has worked and lived within an institution, the wheels of change (which everyone resists) do need time to take effect. People in the past understood it, but we are now used to such rapid change in our technologically driven consumer world that we expect it to happen across all spheres of our life. And, it is an unrealistic expectation. Everything cannot be bright and beautiful all the time. Real life isn’t like that. Mr Obama and his team inherited a great deal of woe and a country on the verge of collapse. The people applauded when he kept their banking institutions afloat, when the greatest monetary crisis in history nearly toppled the western democratic system worldwide. If he hadn’t succeeded chaos and anarchy would surely have ensued. He has made seemingly genuine progress in unprecedented times: a historic health care reform, a stimulus that headed off an even deeper recession, financial reform to avoid another meltdown.
Some reports say Obama, the master of words when elected, has been unable since to explain the vision of his party and their policies to grass root voters? Is this the reality or is it because the opposition, rather than offering genuine ideas and solutions succeeded in scaring everyone to change their vote? If this is the case being in office will surely sort them out. Having to work with a president from another political party will also sort out who are the ‘good men’. It would be good to know why 44% of people in America don’t value their freedoms enough to vote in their elections. Sadly with the science of asking questions to give the answers you want refined to extraordinary levels, who knows if such a process would be able to happen fairly any more. This is one time I show off my pessimism, rather than my customary optimism.
Yes, the President needs to listen. But being at the top surrounded by so many people peddling their own agendas as well as ideas, it must take time to get to the basis of truth and then act upon it. He will stuff up, that’s the nature of being human. Giving him just two years to fix all the woes of the world! Well, that was a huge expectation. Pulling him down more than likely won’t fix it, but just make it worse. So America playing the blame game is not helpful. It you don’t stop blaming everyone else and step up and help then you just may wake up one day and find out that all that made you great has been lost. And, once gone, it will be hard to reclaim or redeem.
In Australia we have had one Prime Minister delivered up like a sacrificial lamb a year before his term was up because people within his own party set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner playing the blame game with astonishing power. All on one momentous morning in our nation’s capital Canberra’s halls of power, between breakfast and lunch, he was brutally bruised, battered and brought down. His demise was perhaps the most undemocratic coup in recent political history and in my lifetime.
I was born in the era just after so many of our brave boys had given up their lives to protect both our rights as human beings and as Australians. And, many of them are still out their fighting to ensure it continues to happen and to help improve quality of life for all. The members of the ruling party arrogantly denied the Australian public a voice, or an opportunity to let them know its opinion on their elected Prime Minister’s first term performance. Instead they trampled all over our liberty and national character by not giving him a fair go. The fact the ring leaders in this dreadful debacle are still an active part of the party machine is for me anyway, more than alarming.
When people did eventually go to the polls here the new PM and the party machine who had acted so rashly, did not receive the sort of mandate they were expecting. Instead they were delivered a situation that needed them to concede on many issues. Through a great deal of negotiation and political posturing they found themselves having to share the limelight with both opponents and allies and listen to what people are saying. Recently they manipulated the vote of one ‘good man’ and gained a majority of one, hopefully this ‘power of one’ will not be permanent.
The western system of democracy is going through enormous change world wide. It requires of us all that we re-evaluate what our priorities in life are. We need to understand and know what it is that will cause us to be thankful for the world in which we live and work and discover just how we can help improve the quality of life for all, not just for a privileged few. We cannot simply expect to sail on a sea of euphoria all the time.
We need to develop a collaborative process and shared understanding of our common aims and values if we wish to increase our positive impact on the world as a global society. We have to remain confident in our collective ability to effect change and in many ways remain childlike; to keep an open mind, to refine an ability to remain humble, to eschew pride and arrogance and to be reverent towards other people and towards the natural world.
Leaders all around the world should be offering society, as a whole, options, ways and choices so that it can transform itself? All we need now is for another lot of ‘good men’** to step up, participate and help to make it happen.
Carolyn McDowall The Culture Concept Circle 2010, 2011