In the middle of working with Public Affairs Television on the Moyers on America Citizens Class, I came across this article about William Cope Moyers’ (Bill’s son) struggle with addiction: http://www.abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2484743&page=1. I bought and am reading his book “Broken: The Story of Addiction and Redemption“. This is a gut wrenching story that fortunately ends well. (William Cope Moyers is now vice-president for the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota.)
A passage on page 10 really hit me. It is a quote from Bill Moyers writing to his son about the work he did in the early ’60’s as deputy director of the Peace Corps.
“The Peace Corps embodied the idealism personified in Kennedy’s call to ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” my father wrote to me many years later. “It created an opportunity for moral teamwork with an exciting and talented array of people drawn by the same challenge. It placed our lives in a larger narrative than we had lived until them. When I traveled the country to research my book Listening to America, a desperate and alienated young fellow once told me, after riots had torn his campus apart. ‘I’m just as good as I am bad. I think all of us are. But nobody’s speaking to the good in me.’ The Peace Corps appealed to the good in us: ‘You matter, you can signify, you can make a difference.'”
As I read that passage, words popped off of the page. “idealism” a leader’s “call”, an “opportunity for moral teamwork” with talented and exciting people! Wow, I could make a difference! Despite all that is bad in me, someone is speaking to the good in me. Someone is telling me that I can make a difference. I am part of a larger narrative. Once upon a time, we had inspiration and hope. Despite what wasn’t working, we had hope. We had compassion. We had determined leaders who promoted leadership through service.
I was just a child in the 60’s so I my memories may be naive, but I remember being inspired and called to public service even as a child. I remember feeling compelled, at a tender age, to DO something to change the world and I remember gladly embracing that challenge. In my early teens, I was building churches in sweltering heat of Juarez, and passing out candy, Spanish-language Bibles and hugs to children with dirty faces and bare feet whose language I did not speak. But we all understood the language of love. Through my church and at my school, I found many such opportunities and I delighted in them. Whether my memory is accurate or just a bit of nostalgia, is not important. What IS important is that some aspects of that memory (real or imagined) are important to me and sound pretty darned good!
Last Spring, Texas Forums held 15 forums on Democracy’s Challenge: Reclaiming the Public’s Role. In many of those forums, participants lamented the loss of the “larger narrative” in which they could place their lives. They yearned for someone to speak to the good in them, someone to issue a call to make a difference. They bitterly recounted how they had hoped 9-11 would energize service and compassion. They spoke of simple and heroic acts that showed the world who we are at our best. As one woman said, “People are just waiting to be asked.” But we weren’t asked, they noted. People were standing ready, but no one was calling us. When our government did not do what needed to be done during Katrina, strangers stepped forward. Craigslist became a household matching service. But I wonder at the sustainability of good will in cities like Dallas, Austin, Houston and Atlanta that absorbed thousands of evacuees. At a meeting in Dallas with health care and community leaders one woman reminded her colleagues of the impact of the Katrina evacuees on their community. I was touched (and frankly, surprised) when she said charged the group, “This is an opportunity to correct some of the ills of New Orleans.” These examples prove that we have community service ethic within us, but I long for leaders who consistently call it forth and make it part of our political agenda.
Here we are coming to the end of mid-term elections. I don’t know what the campaigns look like in your neighborhood, but I doubt that they are much different than what I’m hearing in Texas. Nowhere am I hearing a voice that inspires me. I do not see inspirational leadership. I do not hear innovative ideas or platforms for addressing the challenges we face in this country. I don’t hear candidates speaking to the good in me. I only hear candidates speaking to the bad in their opponent. We’ve got two years before we go through this again. I for one would like to start working now to change the narrative. What will the larger narrative be in 2008? What will be our role in shaping that narrative?