In Tribute to Sargent Shriver

Note:  Ironically this was the first post ever entered at Gold Post It.  Its was published May 7, 2007.  I copy and enter it here in memory of Sargent Shriver who died this week at age 95.

I have just read Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver.  Most people under the age of 50 know him, if at all, as the father of Maria Shriver or, more remotely, the father-in-law of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  If you’re over 50, you more likely know him as the husband of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics. A few people, comparatively speaking, will know him as the first Director of the Peace Corps during the 1960’s.

But, only a handful know him as perhaps the greatest visionary and architect of social change in this country during the 20th century. The Peace Corps, the Job Corps, Head Start, Legal Services for the Poor, the OEO… the list is staggering in its breadth and scope exceeded, only perhaps, by the breadth and scope of Shriver’s seemingly infinite energy and profoundly motivating impact upon everyone who ever had the privilege to know or work with him.

Yet, in all that I read and learned in the nearly 700 pages of Scott Stossel’s exhaustive work, nothing has given me more pause than one of Shriver’s most noteworthy speeches, first delivered during the presidential campaign season of 1970 and known as “The Politics of Life” speech. In it, Shriver made “a distinction between the politics of life and the politics of death.”

It is this distinction that has crystallized for me where we are today, 37 years later, as we embark upon yet another political season as the field scrambles to determine who will be the Republican and Democrat candidates for President and Vice President in 2008. It seems that we are, once again, enmeshed in politics…the Politics of Fear.

We are already being subjected to campaign rhetoric from both sides.  Fear is a big issue. It’s a big political issue. Each side wants us to fear the other. Republicans want to capitalize on the fear generated by 911 and have you fear the inability of the Democrats to protect you as well as the certainty that they will increase an already oppressive and obscene tax burden. Democrats want you to fear the effects of a Republican-fueled incestuous relationship between government and private corporations, as well as a foreign policy bent upon imposing our military and global vision upon an increasingly unreceptive and hostile international community. Independents want you to fear both the Republicans and the Democrats simply because they are bigger, more powerful and have been around too long. And trumping all of these, global terrorist cells want you to fear Life itself.

So, ’tis the season to be fearful it seems. Or is it?

My father taught me to believe that in every situation, I always have a choice. If you’re religious, call it Free Will. If you’re not, call it the right to self-determination. No matter what you call it, the ability to choose starts with our thoughts.

What will I think about and, by thinking about it, to what will I give my energy?  If I can choose my thoughts, and my choice is between fear and reason, I choose reason.  Why choose otherwise?  If the choice is between fear and courage, I choose courage. Why choose otherwise?  If the choice is between fear and hope, I choose hope. Why choose otherwise?

So the real issue as we prepare for the onslaught of political rhetoric is choice. Choosing to reject the Politics of Fear.

The illusion, or hologram as I like to call it, is that it’s all about choosing between “us” and “them.” In stark contrast, the reality is that it’s all about reclaiming our inherent and divinely forged right to choose what we think about and how we view the world and it’s future. To choose wisely is to choose reason, courage and hope over fear.

Abdicating the choice is not an option. Failing to make the choice yourself will guarantee that someone will make it for you. And with so many marketing “fear” this season, the odds are with them…unless you campaign instead for the Politics of Reason.  As Americans, born and raised with the concept of liberty and the constitutionally mandated right to vote, we understand the importance and significance of free elections. But it seems we have forgotten and worse still, abdicated the greater right to free thought.

This is a critical moment in the evolution of our individual and collective truth. In order for us to move into the Politics of Reason, we must each turn inward, away from these “external marketers of fear,” and make up our own minds about what we think and what we believe has value.

The paradox holds the answer.

Only by going within, by thinking for ourselves, can we all unite as one in the Politics of Reason and by so doing, collectively reject and annihilate the politics of fear.  For me, the timely and lingering message taken from Sargent Shriver’s life is what one mind, thinking for itself, rejecting the politics of fear, can accomplish.

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