“The most powerful force we have”

“The desire to serve and fight against the ancient enemies of poverty and hatred, injustice and war, is the most powerful force we have.”
Sargent Shriver |Bellarmine, KY |April 8, 1964

Our Quote of the Week reminds us that our greatest power as a people is not fueled by economic strength or by military force. It comes from our ability to work in service of peace, justice, and love.

In his 1964 Address to Bellarmine College, Sargent Shriver describes how the United States can create a strong, secure environment at home and abroad, to the benefit of communities around the world. Shriver was living a unique moment in his life at the time of the speech. He had been working as the first Director of a thriving Peace Corps for three years, having built the institution from the ground up. He was also settling into his tenure as the head of the War on Poverty, creating what would become the Office of Economic Opportunity, and designing the programs it would administer (Job Corps, Head Start, Upward Bound, Community Action, VISTA, Foster Grandparents, and Legal Services, among others). Being in these two leadership positions at once, one international and one domestic, gave him a unique perspective that few political leaders enjoy. From this one-of-a-kind vantage point, he was able to illustrate that committing to empowering people who need support, wherever they may be, elevates us all, and results in greater prosperity, security, and trust.

Shriver’s belief in service as a power is evident throughout the speech. In fact, he sees it as transformative:

“Both of these efforts, the Peace Corps and the war against poverty, offer a specific, tangible, concrete opportunity to men and women to help their fellow man, to use their hands and their skills and their brains directly and intimately to build a new kind of a world.”

Our world is a very different place in 2022 than it was in 1964. And yet, we would do well to take Sargent Shriver’s words about service to heart today. If our “fight” were one for peace, in which we work to abolish “poverty and hatred, injustice and war”, we would be truly serving others in a way that makes us all more powerful. We know that these words are easy to say, and that it is extraordinarily difficult to overcome the conflicts and injustices that currently exist at home and abroad. We also know that there are no quick solutions to challenges in which we find ourselves as a nation and as a species. But the reality is that all of our strategies to preserve the superficial powers of militarism, political strength, and economic wealth, have brought us all to a precarious place.

We cannot afford to continue in our current direction. If we are to build a “new kind of world”, we must do it wholeheartedly. We must do it together. We must do it in service of a more peaceful, just, and loving world.

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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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