(This post was originally published on The Shriver Report website.)
Maria Shriver dedicated her third Shriver Report to her parents, Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. As she summed it up, “Their name is on it too.” Needless to say, this truth runs deeper.
Like father like daughter. And like Maria, Sarge knew that “the source of any political process is the minds and hearts of people.” And like his daughter, he too provided a series of timely and significant reports to the minds and hearts of the American people. The form and focus of their respective reporting is different, but their purpose and approach are of a piece.
Like her father, Maria is a catalytic leader who casts the widest possible net in generating and compiling the stories and essays that constitute The Shriver Reports. And as Sarge remarked about his own process in the formulation of the War on Poverty, “I decided that in the brief time we had, we would read everything that had been written about poverty; listen to anyone who had anything to say; accept advice from any source.” Driven by shared habits of mind that seek to challenge familiar assumptions and embrace all possibly relevant questions, the Shrivers’ reports generate insights that break new ground, foster hope, and trigger commitment.
“Driven by shared habits of mind that seek to challenge familiar assumptions and embrace all possibly relevant questions, the Shrivers’ reports generate insights that break new ground, foster hope, and trigger commitment.”
For his part, Sarge’s reports responded to the challenge of building a secure, sustainable peace in the tumultuous Cold War and civil rights eras in United States. In response to the international crises and tensions precipitated during the post-colonial years of the Cold War, Sarge developed the Peace Corps, generating the report that “deeds of compassion and service can break down barriers of politics and creed anywhere in the world.”
In response to the grinding poverty and social upheaval of the civil rights era, Sarge launched the War on Poverty, generating the report that “dramatic, effective action to create new opportunities and new hope [can] end the poverty and hopelessness that breed violence.” And in response to the threat of nuclear war at the height of the arms race in the Cold War, Sarge led the campaign for “No First Strike,” generating the report that the realistic response to “the challenge of peace” lies in genuinely and faithfully minimizing the perception of threat, not in escalating the certainty of it.
For her part, Maria’s Shriver Reports are contemporary responses to the social and cultural challenges posed by the transformation of the United States into a Woman’s Nation. In response to the challenge posed by the transformation of the American workforce – the fact that women now comprise over half the U.S. workforce and function as essential breadwinners in two-thirds of American families – Maria offered the first Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything.
In response to the challenge posed by the Alzheimer’s epidemic in America: the fact that women constitute “not only half the people living with the disease, but also more than half the country’s unpaid caregivers,” Maria offered the second Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s. And in response to the challenge posed by the tens of millions of women now living on the brink of poverty: the fact that in 2014 the line between middle class and poverty has become blurred, and that “women are struggling with their dual roles as breadwinners and caregivers,” Maria offered her third Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.
Despite the difficulty of their subjects, not one of the Shrivers’ reports is marked by bitterness, rancor, or ressentiments. Their common characteristic is a tough-minded, clear-eyed, and compassionate comprehension of the gap between the way the world is and the way it could be, combined with a deep-seated faith in the minds and hearts of the American people and in the capacity of Americans to make the individual and collective decisions that are required to close those gaps. The Shrivers’ reports are the carriers of that possibility.
As Maria puts it, “I believe individuals really can change the world. If we harness our imagination, our innovation, and our optimism, we can do this. And we can do it now.” And in the words of her father before her: “The processes we set in motion are at least as important as the direct results we achieve; the energies we release are at least as important as the specific production goals we attain; the attitudes we affect, the concerns we generate, the myths we destroy are at least as important as the number of [people we serve], directly or indirectly.”