Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Make Gentle the Life of this World"

In an impassioned and inspiring presentation to the recent TedWomen conference hosted by, Jacqueline Novogratz - an experienced NGO operative who has spent her career in developing and implementing philanthropic projects to fight global poverty - carries a message that a life of transformation and transcendence can make a difference in a world that faces a multitude of problems. 

Recounting the relationships with difference makers from around the globe that have shaped her worldview and inspired her work, Novogratz reminds us that each of us can and should make a difference by immersing ourselves in whatever the difference-making task is which may lie at hand.

"We face huge issues as a world," she observes, "the financial crisis, global warming, and this growing sense of fear and otherness. And everyday we have a choice. We can take the easier road," she notes, "the more cynical road, which is a road based on a sometime dream of a past that never really was, a fear of each other, distancing and blame. Or, we can take the much more difficult path of transformation, transcendence, compassion and love, but also accountability and justice."

"We need leaders, Novogratz observes." We ourselves need to lead from a place that has the audacity to believe we can ourselves extend the fundamental assumption that all men are created equal to every man, woman and child on this planet. And we need to have the humility to recognize that we cannot do it alone."

Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)
Quoting Robert Kennedy, she notes that, "(f)ew of us have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events; and, it is in the total of all those acts that the history of this generation will be written."

Inspiring words, indeed, from one great generation to the next, and the next thereafter.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

In delivering the news of Martin Luther King's assassination to a crowd gathered in Indianapolis, Indiana, RFK - an inspiration to millions as the 60's tilted further into a violence that would end in his own assassination months later - urged his audience to "gentle the life of this world," a sentiment that should still be valued today.

Speaking within minutes of MLK's death, the following is the text of his remarks:
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some -- some very sad news for all of you -- Could you lower those signs, please? -- I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization -- black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with -- be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.
But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my -- my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King -- yeah, it's true -- but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love -- a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past, but we -- and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder. But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

Thank you very much.

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