Admiring our heroes is easy. Modeling the behavior is hard.
On April 16, 2013, I gave a speech to an ROTC graduating class entitled, “A Time for Heroes.” As I read it over, it feels like an appropriate message for this time and place. I’ve updated it and share the essence with you now.
We celebrate what we call “The Greatest Generation” with good reason. The impact of the great depression remained part of their everyday lives through the end of the Second World War, a conflict where over 400,000 Americans gave their lives on the altar of Freedom. The sacrifices we have had to make so far as we battle a powerful viral enemy still pale by comparison.
But I believe that this generation still has the potential rise to The Greatest Generation. We live in a world where the bad guys never sleep, where it’s possible for selfish cowards to ascend to the highest echelons of leadership. And yet, we can choose to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We can hold our leaders to a higher standard and remove them if they don’t live up to it. Our careers can be a testament to the value of education, respecting the competitive advantage of diversity and tolerance, while modeling the very behaviors we expect from others.
We can fight the root causes of violence: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. We can elect, perhaps even become public servants who commit to creating a future where everyone has access to a first class education, world class health care, and the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. We can roll up our sleeves and fully participate in eliminating the hunger, ignorance and the despair that pushes weak minds in the direction of demagogues.
In fact, this sort of heroism is the only way our nation can endure. As the great Jackie Robinson said, “Life is not a spectator sport.” It’s fired at us, point blank. And what we do, or choose not to do, will affect the next generation, for better or worse.
The challenge of heroism then, is a choice that faces us every day. How we rise to that challenge will define the quality of our character. How we endure and evolve in this time of sacrifice can reveal new vistas of opportunity and invention that raise all boats.