The following are statements from two influential people in American history. Try to guess who they are and when they said them.
“An informed patriotism is what we want. Are we doing a good job of teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly what it means to be American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family, you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that American was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties.
But now, … some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of American is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer in style. … We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.
So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important – why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. … She said, ‘we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.‘ Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”
“Fame is a four letter word. And like tape or zoom or face or pain or life or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it. I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job (is), we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen, day and night. The conductor of the orchestra at The Hollywood Bowl, grew up in a family who had little interest in music, but he often tells people he found his early inspiration from the fine musicians on television.
Last month, a 13-year old boy abducted an 8-year old girl. And when people ask him why, he said he ‘learned about it on TV. Something different to try. … Life’s cheap. What does it matter?‘ Well life isn’t cheap. It’s the greatest mystery of any millennium. And television needs to do all it can to broadcast that. To show and tell what the good in life is all about.
But how do we make goodness attractive? By doing whatever we can to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own. By treating our neighbor, at least as well as we treat ourselves. And allowing that to inform everything that we produce.
Who in your life has been such a servant to you? Who has helped you love the good that grows within you? Let’s just take 10 seconds to think of some of those people who have loved us and wanted what was best for us in life. Those of us who have encouraged us to become who we are tonight. Just 10 seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time. (10 second pause)
No matter where they are, either here or in Heaven, imagine how pleased those people must be to know that you thought of them right now. We all have only one life to live on Earth, and through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.”
Statement #1 was said by Ronald Regan toward the end of his Farewell Address as President in January 1989. Statement #2 was said by Mister Rogers during his acceptance speech at his Television Academy Hall of Fame induction in 1999. Fast forward to 2021. Why does it feel like we didn’t heed their wisdom?
Both Ronald Regan and Fred Rogers were humble servant-leaders and key influencers in politics, education, business, media and arts & entertainment. They wielded their influence in a kind, gentle and attractive manner with different audiences. They were able to integrate their interests and aptitudes into a coherent whole that gave a special power to their lives and influence. They were careful not to use that influence carelessly. They did not often endorse viewpoints or tell others how to live. Instead they led—as the best leaders do—through example.
I pray that new leaders emerge with the same spirit, grit and influence as Ronald Regan and Fred Rogers. Make no mistake. We are in a war for the heart and soul of America. It is a spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of our good people. At risk is what Ronald Regan so eloquently warned, an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.
That is what is at stake in the fight we are in. We can see today the totalitarian impulse among powerful forces in our politics and culture. We can see it in the rise and imposition of doublethink, and we can see it in the increasing attempts to rewrite our American history.
President Regan, Mister Rogers, I’m sorry I’m a little late to the game, but I am ready to fight the good fight, just as you did, in a humble, gentle, neighborly, servant-minded manner. I’m suited up, have my helmet on and chin strap tight.