Yes, Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. Yes, he freed the slaves. But, the Civil War was less about slavery than it was about federalism and state sovereignty. Lincoln should absolutely be revered for his role in ending slavery in the US. Absolutely. Slavery was/is wrong. But, in so doing he also saved the UNION…he saved the UNITED STATES…and set the US on the correct course toward (finally) providing the example of right and democratic leadership in the world. Obviously, we now know and all agree that slavery is/was wrong. But, consider how much credibility we’d have in our ‘world policeman’ role of today if slavery was still in effect. How could a country founded on the principles of liberty hold people in bondage? Yes. The idiocy of it is ridiculous. Lincoln is the person primarily responsible for ending that very apparent discrepancy. And, obviously, we still struggle with the implications and ramifications. But, think too about the role of strong central government versus that of a conglomeration of strong states. The states wanted to be the ones that decided civil rights (and everything else for that matter) within their borders. Politics is local, right? The federal government wanted to be the ultimate arbiter of issues that transcended those borders. And, we had to fight a war to decide which view was correct. Lincoln provided an example of how to deal with the issues that are not local. Lincoln saved the democratic republic. And, look to present day to see how the fight between federalism and local sovereignty persists. Abortion is one of those issues. The red state vs. the blue state debate is one of those issues. The evolution of the European Union is another example of this struggle in action. And, nationalism vs. globalism is still another. Humanity should share a common goal. The daily struggle that humanity faces in finding food, shelter, and comfort is not just local and it should be something to which we UNITE as one common group to defeat. We need a “federal” and “united” response to these challenges.

Franklin D. Roosevelt inherited a mess. The economy was in shambles. People were starving. The US was a wreck. To fix it he enacted the greatest level of govenment-led social programs this world has ever seen. He got people working again. He gave people a reason to work. He put comfort and security back into the collective consciousness. Without the New Deal, the vast majority of the people of this country would have reverted back into a third world level of subsistence. We would all be farmers and buggy drivers now. We would not be a superpower. And, then, he took us into a War. Without the US involvement in WW2, the world would have fallen into a morass of fascism and communism. Our isolationism and lack of involvement would have enabled the suffering of billions. And, if not for FDR, we would have been pulled into it eventually anyway…but, wothout the moral and right position. He saw that. He saw that we couldn’t let our allies suffer. He saw that we were obligated to help. As it stands, we were still very ill-equipped to fight a war upon entering it. It took two years to achieve a level where our participation was effective. The lasting effects of the depression were still being felt in 1941. The war enabled the US to finally escape the depression. The fact remains, though, that FDR set the US on a course to save itself and the rest of the world.

Years later, we sometimes question the lasting effects of his social programs. The sense of entitlement that came once people were secure again has persisted to today. Social Security is now considered one of our basic rights. The attitude that people have about social programs is hard-wired into our consciousness. And, it is now accepted that FDR was aware that the Japanese were planning an attack. He could have averted Pearl Harbor. History could have been changed. But, again, he saw that we needed to get involved. He saw that we needed to save ourselves by helping others.

What did Ghandi do? Ghandi defeated the greatest imperialist nation the world has ever seen by merely sitting down. He defeated them without violence. He did it without weapons. He did it by believing in a higher purpose. He led half a billion (or more) people to freedom from oppression. He wasn’t the president or the king or the fanatical revolutionary. He was a simple man with a simple goal. He enabled democracy. And, he changed an entire culture. Ghandi provides probably the greatest example of how right action can change the world.

Martin Luther King will be remembered in future generations as the person that said, “I have a dream.” That one line is probably enough. Sure, his dream was for people of every color and creed to all have the same rights. Sure, he was leading African Americans in their struggle for equality. But, the essence of his message and his legacy is that all people are equal…all people are the same. We aren’t different. We aren’t divided. We should all share his dream.

That JFK wasn’t intended to be a politician…or a president for that matter…is worth remembering when considering his worth as an example of right action. His brother was the one chosen by the family to be the leader. That the brother died and JFK assumed the role is important. He could have been a business man. He could have been a no name lawyer. He could have been a fisherman. The hands of fate, however, dealt him the right hand. And, it is what he did with that hand that is so appealing. It is what cements his legacy. Some people are born great, some people choose greatness, and some people have greatness thrust upon them. How the greatness happens shouldn’t diminish its effects and example. Yes, he was a flawed person. Yes, he failed at times. That we know this…that we have this asterisk when discussing his legacy…is a testament to how humans sometimes can’t handle greatness and right example. We are all flawed, though. And, some would say that the great ones are infinitely more flawed. But, their triumph over those human flaws is what makes them great. JFK inspired a nation. He challenged people to think big. True, he didn’t necessarily save democracy. He didn’t save the world from itself. He didn’t look down the barrel of British power and take a seat. He didn’t lead the march in Selma. But, he did utter the most famous of words for a politician, “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do For Your Country.” And, in that same inaugural speech, he called for the nations of the world join together to fight what he called the “common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” He created the Peace Corps. He proposed the legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act. And, he is responsble for humans setting foot on the moon. Just one of those achievements is enough for most people to use him as an example of right action. Yes, his legacy will always be in doubt. It will be in doubt partly because of his failures and partly because of his assassination. And, for that matter, partly because of the influence and role that his brother, Robert, had. Maybe Robert was the true leader and example. But, what is important is that the example that JFK provides, in the face of adversity and failure, is something to which all humanity can connect. His legacy is that even the flawed can achieve greatness. And, if he were giving his inaugural speech today, it would be my hope that he would say, “Ask Not What Your World Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do For Your World”.

These five people are deliberately not in any type of order. I don’t believe that any one is more or less important. (Alright, maybe Ghandi is at the top of the list.) I think that all exhibit an example of what I believe is “right human action”. They provide examples to us of what a higher purpose can and should be. Yes, there are lots of other people that also could be cited. There are lots of women that could be on the list. There are lots of anonymous people that have done noble and humane things throughout time. There are lots of everybody. Don’t get caught up in the list above. Instead, consider what all of the right-thinking and noble people down through history have done. And, upon doing so, consider what still needs to be done.

The journey is just beginning…

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