Remembering that “our community is the world”

"[Above] all, we’re human beings. And our community is not just Silver Spring, or Chevy Chase, or Bethesda. Our community is the entire Washington Metropolitan Area. Our community is the United States. Our community is the world — and a trouble world at that. And we can’t run from the larger identity sooner or later paying the price.”
Sargent Shriver |Washington, DC| February 24, 1966

Our Quote of the Week reminds us that we are all connected. When we fail to act with compassion, disregarding each other’s humanity, we can too easily put the life or welfare of our fellow human beings at risk.

In 1966, Sargent Shriver spoke these words during his Address at the National Conference of Christians and Jews Annual Brotherhood Dinner; he was leading the War on Poverty at the time. In the speech, he encourages his audience to use their skills for the benefit of their community – and he makes the case that their “community” is the entire world. He challenges his audience to push themselves to be welcoming neighbors and engaged citizens, for the collective benefit of society.

In the first part of the address, Shriver focuses on the concept of brotherhood, stressing that we must ignore the small differences that divide us to focus on how we can use our individual skills and talents to the benefit of all human beings, particularly those who are most vulnerable. In this way, we activate our compassion and honor our interconnectedness.

Some of Shriver’s language in the speech is characteristic for the era and can seem dated at times. However, it’s important to look beyond the outdated terms to see that conceptually, Shriver is speaking of the dangers of othering.

“It is no longer revolutionary to say: Jews, Catholics, Protestants all accept one another as part of the brotherhood of man. Yet, there are many whom we do not treat as brothers. The Puerto Rican from East Harlem, the poor white from Appalachia, the mentally retarded child vegetating in an institution, the Negro who just came to Washington from West Virginia or South Carolina. Do we treat them as brothers? Or are they a class apart? Different? We call them a ‘sub culture.’ That fancy phrase sounds respectable and scientific -- not bigoted. But it is. It’s a way of saying: He’s different. He’s not one of us. And then we conclude we don’t have to treat him as one of us. That’s his fault -- not ours. We forget that it is we -- not the other person -- who decide to make these differences in language, color, background important!”

In this context, Shriver speaks of the dangers of looking at poor people as “a culture apart” from us – in 21st century language – of othering the poor so that we feel no responsibility towards them.

Many things have changed since Sargent Shriver spoke these words in 1966, but a quick glance at the headlines of the day makes it clear that the examples of human suffering are as dramatic as they are pervasive. From poverty to gun violence to war – any example of large-scale human suffering – could be alleviated if we acted with compassion and we acted together.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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