In the United States, we have encountered many tragedies in the past several years including 9-11, church and school shootings, acts of terror at the Boston Marathon and the Orlando nightclub, storms, flooding, and hurricanes in the south and along our coastlines, and violence against police officers in Texas. We have witnessed both the good and the evil side of humanity. We have been faced with destruction and death, but more importantly with kindness and generosity. In many instances, people have come together to donate their time and money, as well as their blood, sweat and tears to those individuals to whom they did not even know. These people made a difference. These are the very people we associate with the word American.
On the Illinois electric cooperatives’ Youth to Washington tour it is hard to be anything other than proud, to be an American. The reverence that is displayed to those men and women, those Americans who have fought and sacrificed for our country in the many memorials is heartwarming and emotional.
I remember a picture placed at the foot of the Air Force Memorial, a group of young men all raising a glass in a toast, the note attached to the picture said “I still miss you.” It touched my heart not because my own grandfather served in the Air Force, or that I knew any of the men in the photo but because we, as Americans, have taken the opportunity to honor those who have chosen to honor us with their service, and their leadership.
Examples of leadership, both past and present, can be found on almost every corner in Washington, D.C. You see the works of imperfect men and women being driven by perfect intent.
While visiting the nation’s capital, I had the privilege to meet Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Darin LaHood, both from the great state of Illinois. While these men represent different sides of the aisle, they along with all the members of Congress have come together from all over this great land to work toward a common goal: improving our country. These individuals are not unlike the cooperative leaders across America who work for the common goal of improving the lives of co-op members.
However, we must realize that we cannot always look to others to make this difference in our world. We must look deep within ourselves for that “greatness.” This “greatness” can be achieved by any one of us. To begin we must start by opening our hearts and our minds.
To be “great” Americans in a “great” period of time, we must strive for excellence; our leadership must be dynamic, flexible, and democratic. We must respect the personalities of others, their ambitions, special capacities, and personal idiosyncrasies. We must recognize and deal sympathetically with the human element of leadership; it must be humane, kind and considerate. We must provide stimulus and encourage initiative, self-reliance, and individual responsibility in discharging our duties. We as leaders must provide opportunities for and encourage freedom of expression in all matters. We must emphasize the cooperative character of leadership where all people work together harmoniously for the improvement of all.
As a nation, we must find the greatness within each of us, for we are the leaders of today as well as tomorrow. We are Americans and we believe in the worth of the human race. We are Americans who believe in the responsibility of privilege. What we ask for ourselves, we are willing to grant to others; what we demand from others, we are willing to give of ourselves. Our creed is not alone, “live and let live,” but “live and help live.”
As Americans we act from faith in others, not fear of others; from understanding, not prejudice; from good will, not hatred. To bigotry we give no sanction, to intolerance no support. We are one people beneath the glory of one flag, the American flag.
The Youth to Washington tour inspired me. Thank you to all who helped make it possible. I hope you are inspired to look within for your own greatness and also inspire others.
John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States, and the man for whom my hometown of Quincy, Illinois was named said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.