Go climb the hills of the acropolis

I haven’t been posting this week because I’ve been thinking, not for the first time, that (a) the opposition to the government sucks in NZ at the moment, and (b) we have no tradition of European oratory in this country and it’s a real shame.  Which led me to the fairly unusual conclusion that I should pretend to be the leader of the opposition and write some speeches.  Which is what I have been working on.  Turns out it takes a long time to write a speech of even ten minutes in length.

Yes, I do realise that this is yet another sure-fire way to drive you away from my blog, but there it is.  You have to follow the deranged dictates of your heart when it comes to writing.

In the mean time, we can enjoy the edited highlights of Robert Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation speech delivered in South Africa in 1966.  I think I have listened to this speech now twenty times.  It has some wonderful passages in it, and must have rang like a bell in the hearts of the students at Capetown University who were opposed to Apartheid and had invited him to South Africa much to their government’s distaste.

Of course, I recommend the whole speech.  I would love to see the documentary of his trip, but at the moment it is only available in the USA.  Furthering my obsession, I am reading a book about RFK’s campaign to win the Democratic nomination to run for President in 1968.  Frankly I know very little about American politics, but the death of RFK and MLK and the election of Nixon all within one year seems to have set America on a path that it is still on.  An unhappy one.

Where America goes much of the West follows.  And so I listen to RFK because I want some inspiration to push for a happier path.  His words are a call across the decades.  Unjust war still exists.  Poverty still exists.  Racism still exists.  Why do we hesitate?

At the end of his speech Bobby Kennedy outlines four dangers that he believes can stop people from acting to create a better world for all people.  They are statements that ring true to me.

One: “First, is the danger of futility: the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s greatest movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man.”

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Two:“The second danger is that of expediency; of those who say that hopes and beliefs must bend before immediate necessities….  It is not realistic or hardheaded to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values, although we all know some who claim that it is so. In my judgment, it is thoughtless folly…. It is this new idealism which is also, I believe, the common heritage of a generation which has learned that while efficiency can lead to the camps at Auschwitz, or the streets of Budapest, only the ideals of humanity and love can climb the hills of the Acropolis.”

Three: “A third danger is timidity. Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society….   I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the world.”

Four: “For the fortunate among us, the fourth danger is comfort, the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who have the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us….  And everyone here will ultimately be judged – will ultimately judge himself – on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.”

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8 thoughts on “Go climb the hills of the acropolis

  1. Okay, a serious question… have you ever considered getting politically involved? Are there any politicians you could support? It seems as though you could really do some good…

  2. It’s beautiful writing isn’t it?…the cadence of the sentences and the use of rhetorical devices…must read Obama’s inaugural address to see if it affects me the same way…

  3. Bobby Kennedy is one of my heros. In fact, I think that he tops the list. He was a son of privilege who saw poverty, injustice, and wrongs and wanted to help right those wrongs. I don’t know much about your politics; I do know that the world would have been a better place had Bobby won.

    But write about your politics; I will read it. The more we know about the situations in other countries, the better we can manage our own.

    And thanks for making me think of Bobby tonight, when the GOP is gathering to celebrate ignorance. It gives me hope for the future.

  4. So beautiful. I love this: “while efficiency can lead to the camps at Auschwitz, or the streets of Budapest, only the ideals of humanity and love can climb the hills of the Acropolis.” Brilliant.

  5. I finished the book on Bobby a few days ago. I had put off reading the last chapter for a while because I knew it would depress me. It did, but I am increasingly aware that the best thing to do with his death is carry forward his messages.

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