Saturday, September 24, 2016

Moral Imagination

In his speech to the UN, President Obama suggested that he sensed a rise in xenophobia, racism and intolerance in many places in the world.  He's not the only one to say that.  It's impossible not to see it in America, and with the recent attacks on Polish workers, it's clearly active in the UK, which suggests it was a stronger factor in the Brexit referendum than many will admit.  A bad thought, considering the stakes of November in the US.

But President Obama also spoke of a source of hope, in young people around the world.  It is true that among Millennials and younger, there seems much more acceptance of difference.  Here is what President Obama said, with an interesting interpretation as to why this is so:

"Sitting in a prison cell, a young Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that, “Human progress never rolls on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God.” And during the course of these eight years, as I've traveled to many of your nations, I have seen that spirit in our young people, who are more educated and more tolerant, and more inclusive and more diverse, and more creative than our generation; who are more empathetic and compassionate towards their fellow human beings than previous generations. And, yes, some of that comes with the idealism of youth. But it also comes with young people’s access to information about other peoples and places -- an understanding unique in human history that their future is bound with the fates of other human beings on the other side of the world.

I think of the thousands of health care workers from around the world who volunteered to fight Ebola. I remember the young entrepreneurs I met who are now starting new businesses in Cuba, the parliamentarians who used to be just a few years ago political prisoners in Myanmar. I think of the girls who have braved taunts or violence just to go to school in Afghanistan, and the university students who started programs online to reject the extremism of organizations like ISIL. I draw strength from the young Americans -- entrepreneurs, activists, soldiers, new citizens -- who are remaking our nation once again, who are unconstrained by old habits and old conventions, and unencumbered by what is, but are instead ready to seize what ought to be."

Other generations have been called idealistic--mine for example.  But I always knew we were a minority--it was just a really big generation, so there seemed like a lot of idealists and activists.  And then the demands of career and family absorb the middle decades, ideas are re-examined or just change.  Now we're typecast as reactionaries, which is no more true that the original stereotype.

But change requires adjustment, including an expansion of "moral imagination"
 as President Obama says in his final paragraphs:

"My own family is a made up of the flesh and blood and traditions and cultures and faiths from a lot of different parts of the world -- just as America has been built by immigrants from every shore. And in my own life, in this country, and as President, I have learned that our identities do not have to be defined by putting someone else down, but can be enhanced by lifting somebody else up. They don’t have to be defined in opposition to others, but rather by a belief in liberty and equality and justice and fairness.

And the embrace of these principles as universal doesn't weaken my particular pride, my particular love for America -- it strengthens it. My belief that these ideals apply everywhere doesn’t lessen my commitment to help those who look like me, or pray as I do, or pledge allegiance to my flag. But my faith in those principles does force me to expand my moral imagination and to recognize that I can best serve my own people, I can best look after my own daughters, by making sure that my actions seek what is right for all people and all children, and your daughters and your sons."

No comments: