Earlier this week, I attended an event sponsored by UMKC and The Raindrop Turkish House to foster inter-cultural communication and promote the concept of civil servitude. The keynote speaker, Professor James Harrington spoke about the importance of a society that gives back and fosters a moral imperative to improve itself. He quoted many influential leaders from the ages, with striking examples of civil servitude in action.
Toward the end of his speech, he quoted Harry S. Truman in what was the first presidential address ever to be televised. In October of 1947, President Truman went on national television to request the American people eat less. The impetus was war torn Europe, where devastated areas were struggling with famine and poverty. The American government appealed to the people to conserve food to provide more grains for Europe.
“I know every American feels in his heart that we must help to prevent starvation and distress among our fellow men in other countries,” Truman declared. “But more than this, the food-saving program announced tonight offers an opportunity to each of you to make a contribution to the peace. We have dedicated ourselves to the task of securing a just and a lasting peace.”
Can you imagine the response from FoxNews if Obama were to give a similar speech with a similar request today? The idea of a food-saving program seems completely preposterous in modern times, mostly because there's no way the American public would sympathize with such a proposal, or the motivation behind it. The connection to our neighbor and his plights is a tenuous one, and it feels like people are willing to help as long as it doesn't involved any self-sacrifice or personal inconvenience.
“The voluntary program is the best way for us to do the job. We believe that self-control is the best control. From now on, we shall be testing at every meal the degree to which each of us is willing to exercise self-control for the good of all."
Self control is the best control? I can't begin to imagine any public figure uttering these words nowadays- our entire society is based on consumerism and consumption is what America does best. It is baffling that we have changed so much as a society in such a relatively short period of time; we are such a food obsessed nation that not even the president of the United States would dare suggest we cut back in today's age. We value our rights and individual liberties, but the idea of "the good of all" has faded into a school time parable. Our concern for the global community has dwindled away, although we enjoy unprecedented advances in technology that make it easier than ever before to connect with other nations and peoples.
In the age of facebook, twitter, email, and the world wide web, we are more than ever an interconnected world. Despite these technological advances, our civil servitude and global consciousnesses feels weaker than ever. How do we get back to a time when the president could call on everyday Americans to avoid eating eggs, poultry, and meat to help our fellow man? How do we regain the individual participation to maintain "the good of all"?