Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The American Experience

Last night, in the wasteland that is cable television, Satan and I lucked up on a gem. The latest installment in the PBS Series, The American Experience, on RFK.

I've spent most of my life fascinated by all things JFK-related probably because my birth and his assassination happened only a few months apart. I'm all too familiar with all the details of the events of November 22, 1963.

I'm a little hazy on the days and years that followed the assassination. Last night's program really brought home RFK's struggle first with the grief and devastation that came as the result of the loss of his brother and best friend and then the further monumental struggle he went through to be transformed from a right-hand behind-the-scenes man to being a out-front leader and visionary in his own right.

What really struck me, perhaps because it further reinforces a belief I've come to have over these last years, is RFK's ability to be thoughtful. To take responsibility. To change his mind, to become, to evolve, in a word, to LEARN.

It's a quality that seems to be in short supply in our country's current leadership (if you can call it that) today. Everyone is so sure they are right, that they have all the answers now. Today. No one, it seems, is willing to concede that they might have been wrong, ever, and to be open to a new paradigm or a better idea.

When RFK finally came out against the Vietnam war, along with suggesting a new course of action besides the endless slaughter of American troops, he took reponsibility for the role he played, during the JFK administration, in starting that war. He had learned, he had moved on, and realized there was a better way and wasn't afraid to say it.

There are lots of qualities that make a great leader. But I really think the most important quality in a leader is the ability to learn. Really absorb the lessons that life teaches and change tactics and even one's mind entirely if that's what the situation calls for.

To be fluid. To be open. To be thoughtful. To have the courage to change. Even when you're the guy (or woman) in charge.

Last night's special really brought it home to Tom and I what was lost in the Ambassador Hotel that day in the summer of 1968. The hope for an end to that terrible war, and racism and poverty. A leader who cared about all these things who had been through the fire of loss and self doubt, and having suffered himself, was ready to address the suffering of others.

A leader who wasn't afraid to change, to do the right thing.

Have we ever really recovered?

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
(Inscribed on RFK's tombstone.)

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