Why More and More Young People Are “Revolted”

“A ... great ... and ... growing number of the young are revolted. Not by the ideals we preach, but by the acts we perform. They say: ‘You preach peace and practice war. You preach honesty and practice evasion. You preach morality and practice infidelity. You preach equality and practice discrimination.’ And they are right. We have no excuse for our failure to practice our own ideals.”

Our Quote of the Week illustrates two of the defining characteristics of Sargent Shriver’s leadership style: the prioritization of strong values, and consistency between words and deeds. And a lack of these characteristics, argues Shriver, causes both disenchantment and harm, particularly among younger generations.

Spoken during his Remarks at the Brandeis University Panel on the New Revolution and the University, Sargent Shriver’s words reflect his personal situation as well as his era. At the time, he was US Ambassador to France, as is evident from his reference to that country and to European history. He talks about the unrest and disenchantment that he was seeing among young people, as economic uncertainty, racial discrimination, and the war in Vietnam were causing an acute distrust towards the government and other institutions.

Sargent Shriver’s words reveal many of the characteristics he finds essential for strong leadership. He stresses that both rationality and creativity are important:

“Nietzsche described the conflicting impulses which have spurred man to his destiny. The Dionysian and the Apollonian. The one creative, poetic, passionate. The other critical, scientific, rational. These two impulses were never symbolized better than this summer when, simultaneously, our Apollonian self established a moon base on the Sea of Tranquility while our Dionysian self established, near Woodstock, New York, an earth base on a sea of ecstasy. Each in its own way represents a unique achievement of these two parts of our being. Through technology, system, intelligence, reason directed towards a goal, we can touch the stars. Through passion, creativity, love and communion, we can renew the earth.”

And he reminds us that using bureaucracy as an excuse to prevent progress causes harm and leads to an erosion of trust. Continuing his argument about why young people are “revolted,” he gives this striking example of what the nation is able to accomplish during war, contrasting that with a lack of progress at home:

"[Young people] know that any society capable of delivering 100 billion dollars worth of food, medicine, arms, factories, and men to Viet Nam in three years can achieve anything material we want to achieve at home. But they are frustrated by the evasions of a million lilliputian clerks, who say ‘no.’ ‘Government doesn’t work that way.’ ‘The law is not on the books.’ ‘The college charter won’t permit it.’ ‘It’s in committee.’”

Although much has changed since Sargent Shriver spoke these words in 1969, his vision of leadership continues to stand as an example that can help us to create stable, vibrant institutions. If we focus on our values, foster intellect as well as creativity, minimize bureaucracy, and act in ways that are consistent with our ideals, we can build institutions of all sorts —educational, commercial, and governmental — that work for our people, and not against them.

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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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