This historic week reminds us of just how much we have been through together, as a nation and as individuals, from the civil rights movement we honor as we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., to women’s rights, so much of which is embodied in Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision made 40 years ago.
In President Obama’s inaugural address, we were reminded of the more recent hardships we’ve faced—the Great Recession; the hurricanes, drought, and wildfires; the violence against our children; the bigotry and misogyny that still lives on in our laws and in the hearts of a vocal, hateful minority.
Our systems—economic, environmental, political, corporate, academic—are clearly at a breaking point (if not already broken), where the chaos could lead to collapse or just the opposite, the emergence of new and refashioned systems, innovative solutions and the will, forged by the fires of our collective hardships, to act and create a new age, an Age of Greatness.
President Obama’s words resonated with the promise of this new age. He committed to solutions, from addressing climate change to working toward true equality of all people—including women, the poor, immigrants, gay women and men . . . people whose equality in the eyes of our government, our businesses, and our individuals will truly determine the fate of our nation.
He even addressed the false dilemma that politicians and the media have been attempting to wedge between generations:
But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.
I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was to hear that he gets this, that the choice isn’t either/or but both/and, that the success, security, and well-being of any single generation can and should contribute to the same for all ages.
Of course, inspirational speeches often end up being only that: inspirational. That is why of all the words of hope and promise he uttered Monday night, I found the following to be the most moving:
We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in 4 years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
These are the words that I hope everyone took to heart, not only in terms of where we are headed as a nation, but in terms of where we are headed as individuals, personally and professionally. Now is the time to act on that big vision you have inside you, to act knowing it will be imperfect, to act on something so big that it simply can’t be carried out entirely in a lifetime or two lifetimes or ten.
The Age of Greatness won’t be ushered in by nations or corporations or even non-profit organizations. It will be ushered in by individuals, like you and me, acting on what moves us and discovering that the more of us who do so, the more we will resonate with each other. Collectively, what moves us will create a movement that changes the world, rippling out into the next 4, 40, 400 years . . . and beyond.