Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Worry less about what you want to be and worry more about what you want to do.

--President Obama, participating in a forum on public engagement with six young people at the University of Chicago on Monday, as quoted in the New Yorker article titled Back in Chicago, Obama Looks to the Future.

The Chicago Tribune focused on another general lesson that works for politics, marriage and in general:

Of his organizing days, Obama said it was important to spend time "listening and finding out what they're interested in and connecting their immediate needs to policies that have influence on their immediate concerns."

"Listen to understand rather than listen to respond. That will save you a lot of heartache and grief," said Obama, who added that it was a lesson he learned in marriage.

In his own words as recorded for the New York Times, President Obama was even more direct: don't make the mistake of telling people what issues they should be interested in; spend the first six months listening to what people say are issues they are interested in, and connect policies to that.

"This community taught me that ordinary people, when working together, can do extraordinary things,” Mr. Obama said. “This community taught me that everybody has a story to tell that is important.”

President Obama took his own advice by spending much of the hour listening to the young participants in the hall.

Though all the reports noted that President Obama didn't talk about the current regime, the Washington Post emphasized public policy :

In his first public appearance since leaving the White House in January, former president Barack Obama told young leaders here Monday that “special interests dominate the debates in Washington” and that getting involved in their communities is the best antidote to the divisiveness dominating the country's politics...

“The one thing I'm absolutely convinced of is: Yes, we confront a whole range of challenges, from economic inequality and lack of opportunity, to the criminal justice system to climate change to issues related to violence. All those problems are serious, they're daunting,” Obama said. “But they're not insolvable. What is preventing us from tackling them and making more progress really has to do with our politics and our civic life.”

This was President Obama's first public event since shortly after leaving office.  There will be more soon, and everyone expects that he'll talk about other subjects. But he made clear that young people are a major concern of his post-presidency:

“The single most important thing I can do,” the former president told an audience of students, is to “help in any way I can prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world.”

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