This week, May 29, marks what would have been the 98th birthday of United States president John F. Kennedy. Standing head and shoulders above most other presidents, this charismatic, handsome, world-class orator won the hearts of not only the U.S., but the world.
These qualities that made him popular pale when compared with his powerful convictions. He stood for freedom and peace, encouraging people to contribute to the welfare of the nation through individual effort.
Kennedy appealed to the hero within and this, above all else, accounts for his immense popularity. It is this legacy from which we can learn and change things at Lane — our individual efforts can be directed toward the greater good of the college.
Kennedy is remembered as a Democratic Party icon. However, it is likely that present day democrats wouldn’t give him a second glance as a party candidate. Kennedy was quite unlike Roosevelt, who created the welfare state upon which so many democrats hang their hats.
Jeff Jacoby, in an article titled “Would democrats embrace JFK now?” published in the Boston Globe on October 13, 2013, invites readers to look at Kennedy through a non-partisan lens. He says that Kennedy was “anything but a big spending welfare state liberal,” pointing out that the narrative of Kennedy as a liberal hero is patently false.
“In today’s political environment, a candidate like JFK — a conservative champion of economic growth, tax cuts, limited government, peace through strength — plainly would be a hero. Whether he would be a democrat is another matter altogether,” concludes Jacoby.
I’m an admirer of Kennedy for many reasons, but not because he was a democrat. In fact, by most of today’s measures he wasn’t one. Favoring neither the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, I favor conscious responsible government by any name. I cannot support a party simply because of its name and purported values.
Taking sides creates blind spots and perpetuates conflicts. Political parties engage in incessant arguing as do their supporters. Try talking politics to anyone who votes for the party not of your choice and see what happens. Prudence tells us not to bother.
Having an understanding spirit geared toward collaboration is practically the antithesis of the U.S. two-party political system, which perpetuates an “us versus them” paradigm that fuels conflict between opposing sides.
The dynamics inherent in setting up opposing camps guarantees an unending supply of intractable problems, enough for each side to champion, but never solve — a great way to stay in business.
I sometimes wonder if this is by design. Or perhaps we humans are stuck on our evolutionary path in an immature paradigm of “me versus you” — unable to get past petty squabbles and the need to win; what “we” want and believe is more important than what “they” want and believe. Maybe we aren’t yet mature enough for peace.
Kennedy was born into war 98 years ago. World War I was in its fourth year, 1917, the year of the deadliest attack on London by Germany which claimed 162 lives, 46 of them children. A further 432 were injured. The casualties of the war are an estimated 37 million, with more than 17 million deaths.
Beginning in 1914 and ending at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day on the eleventh month of 1918, this Great War, the one that was to end all wars, is all proof we need that war solves nothing.
“Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”
— John F. Kennedy
War is an extreme example of what taking sides and holding positions can lead to. War is our teacher and not as distant from our individual choices as it may seem. Maybe our next evolutionary step is to break down the walls that divide us, the ones we erected.
Our task then becomes to think, speak and act from values-based convictions while maintaining an unrelenting intention to finding our common ground.
In Buddhism this is the middle way; in Christianity it is loving each other as ourselves — by whatever name, this is the only way forward.
The current problems and arguments at Lane are a microcosm of the world. We can change things for ourselves, and at the macro level, by not locking into fortress-like stances. Maybe we need to sign an armistice agreement, a declaration or a constitution.