Seeking “a common existence”

“Mankind has entered a new era. Our philosophic, religious and political beliefs can still provide the framework for our activity in the years ahead. But the problems we now face are different in nature, not just in size, from those we faced before...Nationalism, jingoism, great power chauvinism, individualism, old-fashioned liberalism, populism, conservatism — none of these alone is sufficient for the future. Instead we must seek a common existence, rooted in our common humanity, which faces worldwide problems requiring common solutions. And, the first place where we must bring our common efforts to bear on our common human problems is here at home.”
Sargent Shriver |Washington, DC | September 20, 1975

Our Quote of the Week reminds us that to tackle society’s biggest challenges, we must transcend the “-isms” that limit and divide us – nationalism, individualism, liberalism, conservatism – and employ the values that bind us together as a human family. It is only by focusing on our “common existence” that we can create policies that tackle the problems that threaten us both domestically and internationally.

In 1975, Sargent Shriver entered the Democratic Primary and spoke these words in his Announcement of Candidacy for President of the United States. Although Shriver did not go on to be the Democratic Presidential candidate –Jimmy Carter would win the Primary – there are many insights to be learned from his campaign, which officially began with this speech. In his remarks, Sargent Shriver spoke about the “crisis of confidence” that Americans were dealing with at the time. The United States was still recovering from the Watergate scandal and the subsequent resignation of President Richard Nixon. At the same time, the country was dealing with a recession, out-of-control inflation, high unemployment, and growing income inequality. With the country being under such intense pressure, Shriver presented a way forward that was positive, pragmatic, and forward-thinking.

In his announcement, Shriver speaks of policies that are grounded in values that preserve human dignity:

“To the millions of families who see their children fail and their neighborhoods collapse, the meaning of this philosophy is reunion — reunion with the most basic sources of our national strength. Anti-neighborhood practices like redlining and block busting must be reversed. Anti-family practices like forced separation of parents on welfare must be ended. Discrimination against working women must be stopped. And, we need flexible work schedules to permit parents, fathers and mothers both, to care for their children. Finally, we must find ways to redesign our housing, tax, and other policies to allow families to live together, rather than in generational ghettos.

I do not pretend to have all the answers. But we can find answers together only if we are guided by some vision of where we want to go; it is a vision of freedom, of fairness, and fulfilling work that shapes the policies I favor.”

He goes on to say:

“Domestic and foreign affairs are inseparable. […] Today no nation belongs to any one God or science, or solely to its citizens or its ideology. By circumstance, we belong to a still separated but now seamless world. In such a world, the shaping of a common existence is the precondition of a secure existence — and perhaps of any existence at all.”

Shriver’s rejection of specific political or religious ideologies, and his embracing of values that uplift and empower humanity, allow him to envision a world in which no human challenge is too daunting to tackle and overcome.

At the moment, we are dealing with some of the same challenges that Americans were dealing with in 1975, including a crisis of confidence towards government, economic turmoil, and persistent discrimination and inequality. However, inside these challenges are opportunities for positive change, if we can transcend the polarization that divides us. Indeed, this is a huge “if”. It will take considerable time and a sustained effort on all our parts to change the way we tackle our most pernicious problems, from racism to poverty to was and even climate change. But if we can work together to acknowledge and honor “our common existence”, we can transform our communities, our institutions, and society as a whole.

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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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