Mind Matters — Reflections and Memorials

For the July 4th holiday weekend, my family and I trekked to Washington D.C. mostly to spend some time with my son who has just moved there. The weekend was a weave of family dynamics and touristy sightseeing of the nation’s capital.

Have you ever wondered how nations manage to make treaties at all, when families have trouble enough coming to consensus about what to see next or where to eat? Families as a microcosmic metaphor for the global community aside, we did all marvel at the various quotes we read at all the memorials; particularly Martin Luther King’s, Thomas Jefferson’s and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s. Aspirations to idealism abound yet we know the truth of Jefferson having slaves and Roosevelt’s internment of thousands upon thousands of innocent Japanese Americans during World War II.

Perhaps again looking at our leaders is indeed like seeing our own families’ foibles, recognizing the contradictions of word and deed not only in presidents but also in our kin. Becoming a mature adult does mean coming to terms with the imperfections of our parents, no longer idealizing them but seeing them as fallible human beings. So it is with leaders and their lofty words –recognizing the aspirations as ideals to constantly strive for even when reality defies the reach.

Martin Luther King’s memorial is especially poignant and meaningful. His statement, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” speaks directly about how our social conscience and consciousness is a long hard process.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King are quoted similarly for their stance on war. The Martin Luther King quote reads, “It is not enough to say, ‘We must not wage war. ‘ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.” (1962)

And Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943 said: “Unless the peace that follows recognizes that the whole world is one neighborhood and does justice to the whole human race, the germs of another world war will remain as a constant threat to mankind.”

We know Jefferson, of course, for the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Another quote in his memorial attests to his theoretical hatred of slavery despite his own reality, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism.” Does this belie true conflict in his own heart?

Over a hundred years later, Franklin Delano Roosevelt reminds us, “Among American citizens, there should be no forgotten men and no forgotten races.” He also spoke to overcoming economic inequality: “… The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt presciently rebukes the climate deniers, with his words delivered in 1933: “Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.”

Jefferson had his own prescience when he said: “… laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. “Jefferson allows for the expansion of consciousness!

Both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson would concur with Martin Luther King that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

All words to aspire to even when reality at times seems to contradict our journey through history to a higher consciousness. Consider such quotes as seeds of hope germinating in us all.