Abraham Lincoln gave, what is in my opinion, the greatest American speech… ever. It was called the Gettysburg Address. He spoke only 272 words and the entire speech barely took two minutes to deliver. However, in that speech, he captured the complexity of the American Experience up to that moment in American history.
That is the thing about Truth, it doesn’t take long to express itself. Some confuse the brevity of a truth speaker with being the thoughts of a simpleton, but they are seriously wrong. Give it a try yourself. Take a complicated issue, like global warming, or terrorism, or the HIV crisis on the African continent and try to capture it in 272 words or less. I have already used 135 words at the period in this sentence – about half of Lincoln’s allotment. Or, maybe take a look at the lyrics of your favorite ‘musical’ song. You might be very surprised at how few lyrics are actually in that song. Once the truth is said, there isn’t much left that needs to be said.
Maybe it is that search for the simple Truth that keeps our ancestors’ proverbs alive today. Instead of suggesting that the next time we decide to change the water in the bath, maybe we take the infant out first instead of tossing her in the air and watching her crash to the ground and then scream her little head off while the neighbors shake their heads at our absent mindedness – we could just use the old German proverb ‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.’ Of course the proverb refers to something else, such as throwing out the good with the bad…which is another proverb now that I think about it!
Our world today seems to be in need of the simple Truth. Maybe we should all write our own version of the Gettysburg Address? Better yet, maybe we need a global Gettysburg Address, not from an American perspective, but from a global citizen’s perspective.
So here is my 272 word attempt. I don’t pretend to be Abraham Lincoln.
We, inexplicably and regardless of where we might live on this planet Earth, are all connected. My fears will become our fears, your pain will become my pain. We have spent centuries trying to ignore this Truth and we have suffered greatly for it. Examples abound where solutions that harmed others have returned in some form, in some age, to harm those who imposed the original harm… or upon their descendants.
Today we find ourselves constantly and brutally being invited to participate in a global civil war, a conflict defined by its intolerance for Life itself. Many innocents have become casualties of this war. All who oppose this hateful intolerance are viewed as the enemy regardless of a lack of uniform. We may choose not to recognize this, but be assured, we are recognized as soldiers by the other side. The battlefields are our tall buildings, busy airports, joyful concerts, and any other place where the human spirit is celebrated through toil, achievement and prayerful communion.
We face the challenge of defeating – utterly and completely – those who want to destroy the human spirit while at the same time not using tactics that destroy our spirit. To become like the aggressor is to introduce a new enemy… ourselves. If that were to happen, we would be the defeated. Future generations depend upon us meeting our challenges with a deep respect for human dignity. For many this will seem impossible.
Hateful, harmful actions must be halted but in a manner that allows for a common joy to be shared by all humanity… or so that is my prayer. Our connectedness is our greatest strength.
I would really love to read your speech.