Jan21200910:17 am

“As the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself”

A deliriously exhausting and exhilarating inauguration weekend has come to a close, and the whole of Washington, DC seems hungover. The Metro was still full this morning of slow-moving inauguration visitors, spinning in circles and trying to figure out how to get out of the city, and bleary local commuters too exhausted (and in most cases, too happy) to make a fuss and admonish them to stand to the right.

Much has been and will be said about President Obama’s inaugural address. A first reaction by many seems to be that it was good, but only good, lacking the power and greatness of, say, the JFK inaugural speech. I think James Fallows is often right on in his analysis of speeches and debates, and agree with him when he says that the speech was the right timbre for this moment and will, like many of Obama’s performances throughout the campaign, be viewed much more positively after a bit of time.

For those of us in the fields of international education, exchange, and development, I think the most important and inspiring section of the President’s speech were the following lines, acknowledging both the importance of our work and the breadth of the task that we still have ahead of us:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

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