They The People

Lately, I catch myself avoiding the news. It’s not just that it all seems bad; it’s that I feel so helpless in the face of it. I realize that I can’t do anything about violence everywhere; the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer; recession, unemployment, and so on. Oh, I write my Congresswoman but she responds with platitudes and blames the administration for everything.

For a person who likes to fix things it’s very frustrating. Then I remember a lecture I gave many years ago. It was while I was teaching at Louisiana State University – Shreveport. The student government sponsored a “Last Lecture” series, in which they asked various faculty to deliver the lecture they would deliver if they know it was their last. I was flattered to deliver the first “Last Lecturer.”

I called it “They The People,” and began by referring to the United States Constitution and the powerful and dramatic beginning to the Preamble: “WE THE PEOPLE.” I talked about how this was the first time in history that the people had created a government, not had one imposed on them. I went on about how that spirit of “can do” had tamed the wilderness, built the Panama Canal and rescued Europe form the threat of Nazism.

I referred to “The Little Engine That Could,” a children’s book featuring the phrase, “I think I can, I think I can,” as the little engine pulled the train over the mountain.

But, I commented, it seems that today in place of “I think I can.” I hear more and more, “Why don’t they?” Why don’t they do something about the economy? Why don’t they do something about war over seas? Why don’t they do something about poverty and hunger?

And I confess that I am also guilty of this litany.


Then I realize that while I may not be able to solve the problems of violence, injustice, and poverty in the world, I can do something about it in my world. I live in a world that is bounded by what I can see at any moment. I call it “my sphere of influence,” and in this smaller world I do have power. I can do something about the hungry man on the corner. I can do justice and teach my children to do justice, I can be peaceful and a peacemaker. I can spread joy and happiness to those I come into contact with.

If we all did that, perhaps the world’s problems could be solved as well.


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