Too infrequently do we pause to see the great world reflected in our own, a chance to affect the whole – in our own life, touching one person. Often, I write about big issues, national security, international affairs, travesties, tragedies and unfairness of national politics. What matters more is daily life.
Telescoping the past to present, allow me a few stories. Maybe they will offer hope in a time of national blight, a brighter way forward than reflecting on national disappointments and modern mischief.
As a college kid, I was wide-eyed and grateful. My father never finished college, and we had no money. Unlike current thinking, loans struck me as extraordinary good luck. I got enough to get through, with work on the side. Someone had faith in me. Without that, college would not have happened.
Then, by chance – another lightning strike – I won a scholarship to Oxford. I was conservative, universities already liberal. But someone had faith in me. I worked hard at college and Oxford, in time paid back my loans. I never asked anyone to pay them. That was not right; they were my obligation.
Overseas, I listened hard to people, worked to understand worlds from which they came – wildly different from my own. Some were from India, where I later worked with Untouchables; some were from Poland, where I visited families battling Soviet oppression; some were from Great Britain, led by the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher.
When I asked questions, they were answered. When I wondered in my naivete about history, people shared what they knew. Those older knew history – they had lived it. They also knew it needed passing forward. I was the beneficiary of their kindness and foresight.
Some years on, more by chance than design, I ended up an Assistant Secretary of State to Colin Powell, managing aspects of what America was trying to achieve around the world – rule of law, especially in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Colombia.
One day, we were together in Madrid. I was newly confirmed, quiet since not sure how I fit in. A thousand people hummed and buzzed about Powell at the plenary session; after the conference, hundreds mulled and sought his counsel.
My sense of mission was high, understanding of protocol nonexistent. I stood to the side, claiming a corner. My role was garnering support for allied contributions, which I did – but no one in the room had any idea who I was, nor should they.
Suddenly, Secretary Powell stopped. A consummate leader, concerned for his people, thinking ahead, caring – he scanned the room. Catching my eye, he took stock of the situation. Over the crowd, he said, “Bobby, we have a lot to do, are you ready to roll?”
I sprang to life, and so did half the room. My mission was instantly easier. He had made it so. He graciously imbued me with a portion of his enormous credibility. What he did was recognize that his intercession would be helpful. He wanted me to succeed, believed I could, and empowered me.
That is where this story comes closer to home. You see, anyone of a certain age, has life experience that is valuable – to someone younger. Anyone of a certain age has lived – maybe through the Reagan Presidency and Bush 41, collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cold War’s taper, a hot war’s scarring.
Americans of a certain age understand that faith in the next generation helps them step lively. Caring about young Americans helps them believe in the future – and prepare to contribute. If we have faith in their potential, if we share lived history, answer questions, pass kindness on, the future will be brighter. And they will do just fine.
What modern dystopian thinking, radical socialism, and prevalent cynicism miss is the “real thing” – the truth. Younger people want to learn, innately know they must to make something of themselves. They just need encouragement, faith shown, opportunities offered, empowerment.
Many know big things came before, but do not understand context. We can offer context. Not all but many ask questions – and want answers. Our job is to have faith in them, offer what we know – and what in time they must know. In this way, we do our part.
I am reminded of the timeless nature of this simple truth – that millions of Americans passing history forward, one-by-one, is the surest way to influence the future. That is how it has always been. Our job is to have faith in the faith that others had in us.
As Ronald Reagan said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on to them to do the same.” Part of the fight is educating those who must carry our ensign forward.
Put differently, another President, who lived more than 100 years ago, reminded us to believe in America’s youth. Said James A. Garfield, “I never meet a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities may be buttoned up under his coat.”
For me, I am glad to have lived in the time of Reagan, Thatcher and Powell. They remind us that whatever the big world says, we can influence the future by patiently passing history forward.
The future is defined by those who care – not by blur and bluster, hustle and bustle, or nonsense offered as wisdom from Washington. If we can remember that, the future is bright – and we brighter, too.