Teaching Our Children a World Level Vision
This is the text of an extemporaneous speech delivered at the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace Conference on Ambassadors of Peace at the Hyatt Hotel in Washington, DC on October 13, 2001, one month after the 9/11 attack. The speech has been slightly edited for print distribution.
Sep 3, 2003
I'd like to begin by reading one of my favorite quotes that I have on the wall in my office. It's from a wonderful little book called As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen, an 18th century English author. He writes:
"Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals; cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built."
Isn't that a wonderful quote? We're gathered here to take on the mantle of "Ambassadors for Peace"; to build a world that matches our vision. All of us in the room are dedicated to build a world of true love, a world of peace. Let's think for a moment then -- what kind of world will it be fifty years from now, halfway into the 21st century? I don't know about you, but as for me, I'll be ninety-seven. I think there are quite a few people in the room who will be over the triple digits. Or in the spirit world, looking down at the world.
When I think about the world fifty years from now, I hope that I'll be there to see it, but I think that quite probably our ten year old children will indeed be there. In twenty years, they will be thirty years old, at the prime of their lives. So when we think about building the world fifty years from now, I think that we have to envision the work that has to be done not just by ourselves as Ambassadors for Peace, but by our children. What kind of world will be built by our children in the next fifty years?
Our children can't build a world of peace that matches a vision if they don't have a vision. When I look at MTV, which I rarely do, because it's rather nauseating, it seems that some of the children that I see on television, and some of the children that I see wandering shopping malls, may not have an adequate clarity of vision. I don't really believe that children in America today are being raised to inculcate them with a world level vision. They're not being taught to grab on to a world level vision for peace, that they will implement. What is their vision of what they can do?
I believe that the vision they gain comes from their root ethic, their core ethic. Isn't it true that our vision and our thought of the world are based on our own primary ethic as an individual? What we feel as an individual, and what we believe as an individual is cast outward and creates our personal impact on the larger culture, based on our view of what the world should be like. As parents, what is the key thing that we can teach our ten year olds to embody that will produce a world level vision of peace? I believe that it's the primary ethic of unselfish love.
We have to teach them that the most important thing that they can do - the best thing that they can do -- when they grow up, is to bring joy to others by loving them and by caring for them. We have to teach our children that the worst thing that they can do is to cause others harm. To hurt others. We need to teach our children that if someone says to them, "You hurt me", it should stop them dead in their tracks. It should cause them to pause and reflect and repent and then to rebuild that relationship -- to repair the hurt that they caused.
However, the ethic of unselfish love is not present in all aspects of our culture today. It is not the primary ethic in the business world. In the business world you leave your heart at the door. Abandon all heart, ye who enter here. We don't mix business with pleasure. It's "just business" after all! As we count our profits, we try to ignore the competitors who just leapt from tall buildings in despair, because we just destroyed their business.
I don't believe that the world of heart, the culture of heart, in the world fifty years from now, should support that kind of business. Therefore, the ethic of unselfish love needs to permeate business, politics and family. It needs to permeate every aspect of our culture, and be the common underpinning and the common base that everyone can agree on.
It doesn't matter what religion we espouse, it doesn't matter what race we are, or what language we speak -- as our Muslim sister said, our blood is red. Our hearts are the same also -- our hearts are passionate. We all believe in true love when it gets right down to it. Therefore, I believe that the key ethic, the ethic that we can all agree that we should and must teach our children, is that primary ethic of unselfish love.
That ethic not only influences business and family and politics, it influences our common purpose as a people, and in America it influences our common purpose as a nation. It influences our "national purpose". What is our national purpose as a country? I think that it has become muddied, lost and often confused. The founding fathers engaged in a dialogue about their view of what America's national purpose should be. They sat in taverns, they sent letters to each other, they talked and discussed the national purpose of America. They had a "national conversation" about their purpose as a country.
I believe that that purpose needs to be renewed as we enter the 21st century, and as we plan for the next fifty years. I think that it's time that we all become very clear that the purpose of America will absolutely impact the world for better or for ill. If we proceed from this point on, with lack of clarity in our national purpose, we can indeed face the potential of tragedy.
The children of the Al Qaeda gangsters, the Al Qaeda gang, are being taught a purpose. A national purpose. An international purpose. They're being taught an ethic, they're being taught a vision -- a vision that they can die for. Those children are being raised to be willing to sacrifice their lives for a horrible, evil purpose. Our children need to be taught with even greater passion, and even greater strength, that their purpose as individuals, and their purpose as a country is very simple -- that of unselfish love.
I was very, very impressed with President Bush two days ago, when at the end of his prime time press conference, he spoke to our children and asked them to give money to feed and clothe the children of Afghanistan. That was a wonderful thing. I really felt that it was an issue far beyond politics and religion. I felt that God was anointing him and inspiring him to focus on the key point, that active love for others, and active service for others, is the way to melt the resentment of the world toward America.
The world does have resentment toward America. It is true that we have sacrificed for the world. It is true that we have done many charitable things for the world, but I believe that the world has resentment toward us because we haven't completely lived up to God's desire for us, and our potential as a country.
I'd like to close with a quote that is my next favorite quote, from Mother Teresa:
"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."Amen.