This past weekend, I was able to catch a replay of a speech given by Nicholas Burns. Yes, I spend my weekends watching C-SPAN.
All glimpses into my future aside, I learned a great deal about American diplomacy and that got me thinking about the current state of the world and the comparisons we can make to our predecessors. We seem to be spiraling into diplomatic disarray; our military presence remains strong, but maybe our artistic contributions are where we are most lacking.
There are all of these clichés we hear about how violence is not the answer; from “the pen is mightier than the sword” to “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Now, these are generally things we are told to avoid punching a bully or talking back to curt adults. However, we can think of these on a much grander scale. Throughout the course of American history, we can see these violent military escalations, and the successful ones were matched with contributions in writing.
I am not going to get on a tangent about our society being less politically aware than ones before it. With the technology available to us, we stay plugged in to news blurbs constantly. As I write this, I have Twitter and Facebook open, with both full of political commentaries. This is what we are all bombarded with on a daily basis, but it is rare that we get our hands on the novel or hear the speech that will truly change or strengthen our opinion on something.
My new theory is that because we are so often stimulated by memes about politicians, we become immune to the things that might actually inspire us. We are fast approaching the 50-year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Think about this: If that speech were to be given today, would it still hold the same gravity? This is not because of the speech itself, but because it would be shared and tweeted and would blow up our newsfeeds. Therefore, after a while, we would ignore it.
I am not saying that we are lacking in great thinkers, writers, and speakers, but I think their talents are being overlooked. Without these inspiring us, and I mean truly inspiring us, we do not see the point of some of the measures being or not being taken. For many great movements, we have had the literature and the speakers to match. These are great minds coming from no political affiliation, just academia. We no longer have those who are willing not only to cross the line of political parties but to ignore them completely.
In Nicholas Burns’ speech, he discusses the Great Seal of the United States. This seal shows the bald eagle clutching 13 arrows, representing the 13 colonies, in one foot and an olive branch in the other. This was meant to show the point that we must be a military force, but we must equally value the intellectual desire for peace.
The American Revolution obviously required military force, but the revolution would not have gained the movement and clout it required if it were not for the literature that came with the time. We needed French aid and such aid would not have been given without Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” pamphlet.
Today we see all of this unrest in Egypt and political uncertainty in North Korea and Iran. These are met with the encouragement of military presence, but no one is rioting for poetry and powerful rhetoric. This is where I think the problem lies. I am not saying whether or not we need military presence anywhere, but rather that we need a more inspired people.
I encourage you to do something minimal this week. Spend a few moments just tuned out from all of the information that is forced upon you. Turn off Facebook, Twitter and whatever news outlet you choose. Pick up a good, old-fashioned newspaper or go listen to someone speak. These might not contain the most influential rhetoric of our generation, but it just might prepare us for when we do hear that next great speech.
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