These are difficult and strange times. Given recent political events, I felt compelled to revisit John Kennedy’s book “Profiles in Courage” in hopes of finding inspiration. First published in 1956, the book sends a timeless message that seems most applicable today.
I was an admirer of Kennedy when he was our president, even though I was very young and in grade school. Growing up in a family with deep Catholic and Democratic roots, I felt a sense of conviction and purpose inspired by my own parents’ admiration of our young president. The day he died I recall standing up in front of my second grade class, making the sign of the cross and saying the Our Father to honor our fallen president. Like so many others of mine and my parents’ generation, we remained hopeful his brother, Robert, would one day run for president and continue his brother’s quest for a better America. Camelot could still one day be realized.
President Kennedy’s book reminds us that there is a higher calling. Something President Abraham Lincoln referred to as our seeking of “the better angels of our nature.” Even in the face of severe opposition, we are asked by our conscience to do the right thing. The noble thing. His book provides several examples of politicians who chose to take an unpopular step, in a civil manner, even though they knew this would come with great risk to their political careers. Frequently the examples cited demonstrate steps that were taken which aggravated members of the individual’s own political party. While these heroic acts of political courage are important, I find myself asking the larger question of how did we come to a place as a society where civility became so forgotten and unfamiliar?
I have come to the conclusion that those politicians who act without regard to the integrity of their opponent do a disservice to themselves and those they represent. At the same time, those who fail to call out those within their own party who fail to live by this norm are guilty of the same disservice. We live in a time when we are quick to attach labels to those with whom we disagree. Those on the left label those on the right as fascists. Those on the right label those on the left as elitists. I remain confident that when most of us are presented with facts in a civil tone with respect for each other’s integrity and self-worth, the truth can be obtained. More importantly, compromise can often times be reached that allows us all to gain from the benefits of each other’s humanity.
As a very young man in grade school, I viewed the world without regard to a politician’s failings or personal shortcomings. As a much older man, I am more than aware that no one is perfect. No one lives up to the standards we would hope for 100 percent of the time. But this new gained awareness should not be used as an excuse to embrace despair and hopelessness. We still have an obligation to our children, grandchildren and generations to come to strive to create a better world.
John Kennedy’s brother Robert once gave a speech in which he stated that “each generation makes its own accounting to its children.” Our generation still has time to demonstrate that we can work together. We can leave the world a better place. Ordinary people together can do extraordinary things. Camelot remains in sight.
Robert J. Kretzmer has 42 years experience as an insurance adjuster and claims administrator.