“The issue that haunts me is this ...”

“The times change, but men do not. The human heart will always thirst for knowledge. The human heart will always desire love and the human stomach will always hunger for bread. The issue that haunts me is this: Must these thirsts, desires and hungers forever go unsatisfied among men? Must ignorance always overshadow knowledge, must hate always be stronger than lover, must there be more stones than bread?”
Sargent Shriver |Allentown, PA | June 4, 1967

In our Quote of the Week, Sargent Shriver shares what he sees as our most basic needs and desires, and he expresses the concern that we are not capable of fulfilling these for each other. Ultimately, however, Shriver has confidence in what he refers to as “humanism”, the ability to view each other with compassion and to serve each other so that we may all live in a safer, more abundant and peaceful world. And he expresses particular confidence in young people’s ability to be “humanist”.

Sargent Shriver’s 1967 Commencement Address at Muhlenberg College opens with a profound observation about the passing of time. He points out that in the four short years since the graduates had begun college, the country had seen major upheaval: President Kennedy had been assassinated, and Vietnam had gone from being “only a place on a map” to “an agony in our soul”. However, there had also been a positive transformation, as the programs of the War on Poverty had lifted millions out of poverty and the civil rights movement had become much more widespread. It is in this context that he describes our tendency towards humanism -- towards love, compassion, and service.

In his remarks, Shriver focuses on the ability of all people, but particularly of young people, to make and influence change. He speaks with enthusiasm, for example, of young people’s willingness to protest, and to do so creatively:

“There is more creative protest in America than we realize. It is being made by people who want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Instead of telling everyone what’s wrong with a world they didn’t make, young Americans are helping to do what’s right in a world they can make.”

Shriver also demonstrates how people can facilitate positive change at all ages and during all phases of life, using examples from all of the War on Poverty programs (Head Start, Job Corps, Upward Bound, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Community Action, Legal Services, Foster Grandparents) as well as the Peace Corps.

Shriver’s words are a reminder that social change is never easy, and when it is led by younger generations, it can cause discomfort for many, particularly if it includes “dissent and protest,” as he puts it. But when calls for change are creative, and when they are peaceful, they can wield tremendous influence. There is a long tradition of young people leading positive change in this country. It is up to us to empower younger generations so that we may continue to change and grow as a society.

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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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