Emerson Was Right – Twice

Reading time – 1:21; Viewing time – 2:09  .  .  .

Chris Matthews’ new book about Bobby Kennedy ends with the words of John Glenn, former astronaut and senator from Ohio, relating his taking Kennedy’s children to their home following the assassination of their father and staying the night with them. He found himself in Kennedy’s study and saw on his desk a collection of poems and essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a couple of which Kennedy had marked in the margin. Emerson wrote,

“If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side and admit of being compared; when the energies of all men are searched by fear and by hope; when the historic glories of the old can be compensated by the rich possibilities of the new era? This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it [emphasis added].”

Surely, ours is a time of revolution, a time of massive upheaval in our country and the voices of change are loud and intractable. Oddly, the voices resisting the din of the revolutionaries aren’t embedded in the status quo, but instead are calling for their own change. Returning to the way we were seems to be dissatisfying to all.

That, then, focuses us on Emerson’s final sentence: “This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.” Who, indeed, has what it takes to declare, “THIS is what we will do with it”? I don’t think a hate-filled, exclusionary specter will do, nor do I believe that just being against things is adequate. Our times call for wisdom in the face of our daily cacophony. We need a visionary who can see both the forest and all the trees, who can make sense of our reality and show us the better tomorrow we’ll build together. Then, in Emerson’s words, we’ll know what to do with it.

The other passage Kennedy had marked in his copy of Emerson’s poems and essays is critical to our time and will remain so:

“Always do what you are afraid to do.”


Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we’re on a path to continually fail to make things better. It’s my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That’s the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

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2 Responses to Emerson Was Right – Twice
  1. dominickpalella Reply

    Jack, I would prefer to be born in an age of political evolution. Revolutions foment division and violence between citizens. Throughout history, revolutions have divided people who think their own political beliefs are right, and those of others are wrong. This continues today between conservative and progressive voters, expressing hate for those who don’t accept their own political beliefs. Unfortunately, most of them have not yet recognized that they are both outsiders, and virtually voluntary political servants of their political masters. How many more polls do voters need to see to conclude they have no voice in the decisions of their politicians?

    What we now need is political leadership that unites their communities of constituents to cooperate with each other. This requires political leaders who have the personal integrity to engage with their constituents before they make decisions that will affect their health, safety or financial wellbeing. It will require them to relinquish their autocratic power, and hand over democratic power to their constituents. While citizens who are politically engaged have overwhelming political power that dwarfs the power of every corporation and wealthy citizen combined, we need leaders to show them how to use it. That’s what you’ll find on my web site.

    If anyone can name one of their officeholders who vigorously solicit the opinions of even 5% of their constituents before making decisions for all of them, and shows any evidence that he or she has done this, please let me know. TrueDemocracyNow.org

  2. Joni Lindgren Reply

    I believe we are in moral decay! Having said that, when we pay attention to the important things like morality, fairness, kindness, “we” society vs “me” society and our stewardship of the planet, Trump paralleling Hitler, and all the good things in life that his administration wants to take from everyone, this administration is a disaster and a failure!!
    When all of the money is taken from the people and given to the rich…..when this administration is determined to take healthcare away from the people…..when our public lands, National Parks and National Monuments are taken from the people just so the wealthy can invest in more fracking, drilling and more pipelines can be installed…..when we see activists being arrested and jailed for over a year as what happened for the inaugural protesters, and the voices of scientists and media are dismissed and bullied, when Alabama will vote for a child molester (Moore) over a moral candidate AND our illegitimate president idolizes dictators around the world and, especially Putin, I have concluded that we are in BIG trouble but IF WE CONTINUE TO RALLY AGAINST EVERYTHING IMMORAL and REPUGNANT THIS ADMINISTRATION STANDS FOR, we can reset the moral code of this country!! We HAVE to because our morality, Constitution and a just society depends on it!!