Fifty years ago tomorrow one of the most well-loved presidents of the United States said, “Ask not what can your country do for you but what can you do for your country.” It is a matter of debate as to if John F Kennedy was the first to say those words. Cicero said something very similar in the first century BC; similar quotes have been uttered ever since. Credit most likely belongs to Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “Recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return” in 1884.
So what does this have to do with you or me today? More than we all can imagine. It is time, as it always should be, to give back to our society and to our fellows. We can do that by joining the armed forces, giving to charity, working for a common cause, helping those less fortunate than ourselves; we can even give back by just being honest on our taxes.
The question is not how; that is as different as each reader of this blog. The true issue is why should we give back to our country? Aren’t the politicians and the government here to serve the public? In fact they are here to serve the country as well. (Someone should remind them of that BTW) But you want to know what you get in return for all this giving. The answer is simple; Security.
By giving back, by helping our friends as well as our foes, we create a country and a world that is secure in its own growth. By taking time from our lives to give to the whole we begin to support the network that holds us together as a society. You see it in nature all the time. No single honey bee can make a hive, nor can it make the honey. It takes thousands of bees to make a hive and more to create the honey. Ants work together to build a colony; monkeys, chimps and gorillas build complex societies to assure that all can be safe from predators and have plenty to eat. Even predators form prides to support each other.
So why is it that we as the most developed species are always asking, “what have you done for me lately?” Perhaps it is time to stop asking what is different about each other and start asking what is it that I have in common with him or her or them. Perhaps when we see the similarities and let go of the prejudice, greed and fear, will we all see that what each of us has to offer.
Where do we start? How do we do for our country and our fellows? It can be as simple as opening the door for the person behind you; giving a coworker the benefit of the doubt and helping them complete their work. The point is that each of us doing a little will result in all of us doing a lot.
Today I challenge you. Take a few moments to see the similarities between you and the person nearest you. Then say to yourself, Ask not what this world can do for you, ask what you can do for this world.