President Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech is a truly remarkable piece of writing. He manages, in an incredibly conflicted moment, to neither dodge the conflicts nor let those conflicts define the possibilities of our time. It is a speech that is honest, humble and at the same time profoundly high-minded. The last few lines, in particular, reveal a sentiment that's critical for the era of instability we know we're headed into:
So let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he's outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.
Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.
This is a set of ideas very much the moral core of the politics of optimism that I've written about before. There are going to be very difficult days ahead for those of us who have compassion for the suffering and a love for the planet, who believe in freedom and progress, who would like to see our generation meet its challenges fully. We need not to lose sight of "the world that ought to be."