Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

I came across this speech that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave after receiving an award form a New York Women's group on Thursday and it seemed like a good read for Mother's Day. Here is the main excerpt, with a little bit of politics, philosophy of governance and a little bit of her speaking about her mother's life.
I am so privileged to travel around the world right now as your Secretary of State, and to go – (applause) – to countries where we have the business of State to conduct – to go to official meetings, to sit across from tables, to go in and out of government buildings, parliaments, palaces, and do the best we can to promote American values and interests and promote our security.

But I try, whenever possible, to find time to meet with women who are trying to do, often under very difficult circumstances, what we celebrate here today – the work of this foundation. Because in places around the world, it’s almost unimaginable that there could be this large room of women and men who are supporting a foundation devoted to uplifting, empowering, helping, supporting, comforting women and girls as they make their journeys through life.

And so when I go somewhere, like I did last week to West Bengal in East India and had two remarkable experiences – meeting the newly elected chief minister, a woman who, on her own, started a new political party and built that political party over many years, and just successfully ousted the incumbent Communist Party that had been in office for 30, 34 years or so, and who is trying now to govern a state with 90 million people in it. And then I met with a group of women – mostly Indian, some American – who, along with some of the men who were running organizations to rescue girls from having been trafficked into prostitution – and I met some of the girls and the young women, and their stories sounded remarkably like the ones we heard this morning. And in particular, the very last line of one of our last presenters that change takes time and love makes the difference.

So when I – (applause) – was introduced to a young girl, probably about 10, who had, with her mother, been rescued from a brothel, who was dressed in her karate outfit and she asked me, “Do you want to see me do karate -- ” (laughter) – I said, “I really do.” (Laughter.) And she proceeded to perform a karate move. But it wasn’t so much the karate as it was the way she stood so straight, looked me in the eye, had a sense of pride and accomplishment about her. And that’s what we saw on this stage here, so many thousands of miles away.

The work that the foundation does is part of this remarkable combination of actors and institutions that we sometimes take for granted in New York and in our country. Many years ago, I talked about society really being a three-legged stool: You need an accountable, responsible government; you need an effective job-creating, prosperity-increasing private sector; and you need an active, dynamic civil society. And the civil society really fills the space that most of us live in every day – family and friendships and faith and volunteerism and all the community efforts that we are celebrating here today.

So I’m especially proud when I see what has been done in just 25 years, which is a blink of an eye in any historical sense, but I’m even prouder of what it represents and says about us as active, engaged, caring people who use our skills, our resources, to try to give back. And sometimes it is hard to see the changes. Maybe it is incremental, maybe it’s glacial, or maybe it’s like the Grand Canyon, but the cumulative effect makes such a difference. Those individual lives that are touched because of the outreach that your contributions make possible are irreplaceable. Even though we are living in a world of virtual reality, nothing substitutes for personal relationships. Nothing can replace that caring from one person passed on to another and another and another.

I learned this lesson very early from my mother, and since we are approaching Mother’s Day, I’ve been thinking about her a lot, since I lost her last November. And I was always struck at how despite a life that was much more difficult than anything I’ve ever experienced – abandonment and abuse and just really unfortunate kinds of early experiences – my mother had a resilience and a commitment to her family that she worked hard on every single day. And I often wondered – how did that happen? How could it be that you would be abandoned by your young parents and given responsibility at the age of eight to get on a train in Chicago with your six-year-old sister and take her all by yourselves to California to live with your paternal grandparents? How do you emerge from that emotional turmoil, that vacuum that still today too many children are placed into?

And when I got old enough to understand I remember asking my mother – how did you do this? How did you really survive without being paralyzed or embittered, being able to find from somewhere within the love that you shared and gave to others? And I’ll never forget what she said. She said at critical points in my life somebody showed me kindness; somebody gave me help. (Applause.)

Sometimes it would seem so small, but it would mean so much – the teacher in elementary school who would notice that she never had money to buy milk, who every day would buy two cartons of milk and then say to my mother, “Dorothy, I can’t drink this other carton of milk. Would you like it?” Or the woman who gave her a job in her house when my mother was 13 or 14 because she had to leave her grandparents’ home, and so she went to work as a full-time babysitter. But the deal was that if she got the children up and ready to go to school, then she could still go to high school, and so that’s what she did. And then the woman of this house where she lived would notice that she had only one blouse that she had to wash every day. All of a sudden, the woman would say, “Dorothy, I can’t fit into this blouse anymore and I’d hate to throw it away. Would you like it?”

Now, we think of those things as the kind of just personal connection and kindnesses that we take for granted. And in a time back in the 1920s when there weren’t a lot of formal organizations doing this kind of work, that’s what really mattered. Well, certainly today we still are primarily dependent upon individuals and institutions that are conveying the same level of kindness and caring.

And not all of us will be able to do what the groups behind us do every day, but all of us can support them and all of us can perhaps find a moment in every day when a kind word can make a difference, when a supportive pat on the shoulder can really speak volumes. Because in today’s world, which is so complex, so stressful, people need each other more than ever. (Applause.)
Have a good one.