Saturday, January 29, 2011

JFK's words still inspire 50 years later

A memorable quote from a politician can be the driving force that results in a lot of good. Not many political quotes endure, but the ones that do last for generations.

Last week was the fiftieth anniversary of President John Kennedy's inaugural address in which he delivered one of the best quotes in recent political history.

Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

It is a simple statement, but it is profound. It can be interpreted in many ways, but a primary way is that it is a call to public service.

Opinions about the political ideology of the Kennedy family vary, but there can be no doubt that they believed in public service very much. Both President Kennedy and his brother Robert were murdered while trying to contribute to our nation's political arena. In the non-political arena, they had a brother killed during World War II.

When thinking about public service, the first group of people I think about are the men and women who serve in the armed forces. In the last 10 years, we have gotten a renewed education regarding the sacrifices these men and women must make.

Each week (or each day sometimes) we hear about soldiers killed or wounded in Afghanistan. This is the ultimate act of public service. It takes special people to be willing to lay down their lives to serve our country.

Of course, it is not just the soldiers who sacrifice in these situations. Their families go through a lot as well. A long-term separation must be nerve rattling for the spouses of soldiers as they have to live with the uncertainty of when they will see their loved ones again.

When considering Kennedy's statement, he understood that it would require effort from all of us if our nation was going to continue to grow. However, I wonder just how many of us are willing to embrace this responsibility.

Complacency and apathy have done a lot of damage to America in recent years. People seem more interested in the latest episode of American Idol than what is going on with our nation.

Our government would seem to be an obvious example of this. Politics has become a blood sport, and both Democrats and Republicans have had their hands stained by this.

When reading and watching the news, it is understandable why so many people get turned off. These days, political debate takes place with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the head.

While it is easy to get discouraged, we have to remember that we all have to contribute. When the circumstances of our lives appear overwhelming, all we can really do is roll up our sleeves and get to work.

And I'm not talking about politics here. We all have opportunities where we can make a significant difference if we will open our eyes and change our priorities.

We can volunteer in schools or churches or just about anywhere. Public service can be done in lots of ways, and it is up to each of us to discover what our contribution should be.

I guess it comes down to what kind of legacy we want to leave. People say that it is important to leave our country in better shape for the generation that follows us.

Well, that does not take place by closing our eyes and wishing for it to happen.

It takes sacrifice. It takes commitment. It takes a willingness to not settle for the status quo.

So, what can we do for our country?

My guess is that we can do a lot if we will only try.

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