MORAL CHOICES LECTURE SPRING 2015 Presentation by Dr. Timothy Shriver
April 23, 2015 - Bertschi Center and Technology Commons
REMARKS OF THOMAS P. FOLEY, JD
President, Mount Aloysius College Welcome, everybody, to Mount Aloysius College. Welcome to our 9th Annual Moral Choices Lecture. Welcome to our Year in “The Good Life,” which has been our theme all this year at the College. I think Mount Aloysius is fairly unique in the annals of higher education institutions in that we choose a theme — a theme with a value quotient — each year. And we try to build a lot of activities around that theme, from Connections coursework to Orientation and right through our Speakers Series — even our Little People’s Place gets into the act as they try to teach everyone something around that single idea. And our theme this year has been, “The Good Life.” The Greek word eudaemonia is commonly interpreted as happiness. Its root words are significant. Eu, for good, and daemon for spirit. When Aristotle, Epictetus and the Stoics began parsing this notion of eudaemonia, they aligned it with Greek words for character and argued that eudaemonia signified not just happiness, but the highest human good.
intent in 1776, public policy discussions of the good life today tend to focus far more on metrics like economic growth and average annual consumption than on any values like happiness or the common good or even liberty. In fact, at this point in our approach to the theme, sometimes it’s easier for us to identify what isn’t “The Good Life.” It’s not fame or wealth or celebrity or a new word, celebritude (which I think means being famous just for being famous). In Mahatma Gandhi’s pursuit of peace, he actually identified a litany of destructive traits that he viewed as the polar opposite of “The Good Life.” His Seven Social Sins included wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science without humanity, knowledge without character, politics without principle, commerce without morality and worship without sacrifice.
There’s a long history of intellectual and moral thought on this idea of the good life. We had a short course in that thought in our Fall Honors Lecture from Dr. Larry Jackson, on The Pursuit of Happiness: From Aristotle to America. There is an American history to this idea as well.
Many of you have had the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of some of these giants on our theme in your classes and through our Speaker Series, and through a recent exercise where we even tried to define “what is the good life by the decades.” And we had a lot of fun trying to figure out what was the good life in the 1960s compared to the good life, say, in the 1990s. And undoubtedly, you know, part of the good life for each of us lies in our interactions with others and how much of our happiness we share.
The Declaration of Independence gave us a signature definition of the good life as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Whatever the
And maybe that’s the real calculus of happiness — a rationale well known to ancient philosophers, familiar to our founding fathers, but distant to
us, as we speed ever faster and maybe inevitably at increasingly shallower depths into the future. We’ve had several resets on the theme already. Your Orientation discussions on the Ten Golden Rules for Living The Good Life — all of our first-year students went through that. The first Connections class introduced us to the theme. Some of you have had the chance to peruse Pope Francis’ 10 Secrets to Happiness, and Thomas Jefferson’s 10 Rules for a Good Life. Many of you heard Father Bryon, Sister Sheila, Dr. Jackson and others, who came to our campus and shared their thoughts on the topic. Well, we’re going to let you hit that reset button one more time tonight. And it’s up to us to take that discussion one step further, to plumb our own depths and find our way, if not to true happiness, at least to our own version of “The Good Life” and a meaningful existence. So, welcome once again to this Year on “The Good Life,” where we wrestle with themes with which the ancient Greeks first grappled over 2,000 years ago. And we’re happy to have you all here this evening. It’s now my pleasure and my honor to introduce a very special Special Olympian who is going to tell us about our speaker tonight. Steven Boysza, would you join us?
REMARKS OF STEVEN BOYSZA
Special Olympics Global Messenger
Good evening everyone. My name is Steven Boysza and I am a Special Olympics PA athlete and Global Messenger from Cambria County. I would like to thank President Foley and Mount Aloysius College for inviting me to speak. I have been involved with Special Olympics for 15 years. Special Olympics has provided me with the opportunity to participate in competitive sports, build friendships and be trained as a Global Messenger, so that I can share my story with others. Tonight I am honored to introduce Dr. Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics International and son of Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Special Olympics was started in Mrs. Shriver’s backyard as a way to bring people with intellectual disabilities out of isolation and give them a chance to experience inclusive sports and social activities. From the first Special Olympics games held in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago to now, the organization has grown to serve more than four million athletes in 170 countries, touching the lives of many. Dr. Shriver has taken his mother’s vision of Special Olympics further than anyone could have ever imagined. What started as just a summer day camp is now a global movement. That global movement is what we refer to as the Dignity Revolution. Special Olympics does not just promote tolerance of people with intellectual disabilities, but encourages acceptance and respect. On behalf of my fellow athletes in Cambria County, and in all of Pennsylvania, I would like to thank Dr. Shriver for coming here this evening to talk about his new book, Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most. Through Dr. Shriver’s lifelong commitment and successful book, he is helping the general public to see how individuals like me have turned our seeming shortcomings into a power of our own. Through sports, we demonstrate our abilities. We become mentors for other athletes. We train to become coaches and officials. We also become spokespersons and leaders within our communities. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking and welcoming Dr. Timothy Shriver.
REMARKS OF DR. TIMOTHY SHRIVER
Chairman, International Special Olympics Let’s hear it for Steven. Let’s hear it Mount Aloysius. So I’m sitting next to Sister Eric and about one minute into your introduction she had already said, “God bless him” about 14 times. And then you finished, and she says, “May the spirit be with you trying to follow him.”
Steven, that was beautiful. I would be more than delighted to sit down and say that the lecture on “The Good Life” has already been given tonight. And if there is anything we will remember six months or two years or three years from now, trust me, we’ve already seen it. So, I have all these jokes which now, of course, I can’t use because I’m just totally blown away by your remarks, Steven. But when you said that this is a movement that is revealing that you have a power of your own, I hope everyone heard that. There was no charity, there was no pity, there was no sympathy in Steven’s remarks, there was no diff-ability, to be honest, not an ounce. There was a power of your own. And in having the guts and the courage and the strength and the spirit to share it, you have changed a lot of us, deepened us, invited us to a different place, speaking for myself, at least. So, thank you. Steven. Thank you. And thank you all for coming tonight. Thank you for taking the time. I know some of you have finals, some of you have children, some of you have duties and responsibilities. Some of you have many other things you could be doing. I appreciate you all coming here, coming to the Mount, for those of you who have come from a distance, and joining me.
rugby player. Maybe you all know this, that we once played rugby together. He once had knees that had not been operated on. He once had shoulders big as the walls of this room. And he once played a very vicious, mean and competitive game of rugby. And I still miss it. I think this would be a great fundraiser. How many people would contribute in order to see him play rugby? Wouldn’t you? An immediate boost in the alumni fund, if you would just put on cleats and shorts, Mr. President. Also on the way over, someone said, “You know, you can’t not look like a Kennedy. You know, you just couldn’t get away with it.” And I was reminded of a story my Uncle Ted told. He said he was down for the dedication of the first Bush Library, down in Texas. And he got in the hotel elevator to go up to the ballroom for a speaking program. Well, a guy gets in the elevator with a big Texan 10-gallon hat, and a big silver belt buckle on his blue jeans. And he pushes the 18th floor and my Uncle Teddy is going up to three. And the guy looks over at him and he says, “Anybody ever tell you you look like a Kennedy?” And my uncle said, “Well, you know, as a matter of fact, they have.” And the big Texan said, “that must piss you off, doesn’t it?” But it doesn’t upset me. I’m happy to be here in some ways representing a family. A lot of people say, “You’re one of them. Which one are you? Which one are you related to?” And that used to upset me when I was in my teens and 20s, wanting my individuality. But at this stage of my life, I’m very proud to be part of a team and part of a family.
I want to thank Michele Foley who came and drove me all the way from Washington, D.C. On the way out here we were playing with Wikipedia and I was looking up the history of Saint Aloysius. Maybe you all know this, but we found out that Aloysius is actually the Latin name of an Italian boy. Can you guess his name? Aloysius is Latin for Luigi.
So I want to try to build on Steven’s beautiful words and share a few thoughts on “The Good Life.”
But I want to thank you again, Michele. I want to thank President Foley. We’ve talked several times today, and I can’t get him to admit that he once was a
When I was a kid, moral choices were all about what you ought to do. Right from wrong, good from bad. Things that you wanted to do you were not supposed
The title of this lecture series includes Moral Choices. In an age of distraction, in an age of stress, in the age of selfies, what can we say about the moral life, about moral choices?
to do. The moral choice was almost always considered to be the thing you ought to do. The thing that you would be punished for not doing, either now or, God forbid, in the afterlife. There were a few sisters who would remind us of the ought of the moral life and the risk we ran — both to our present happiness as well as to our eternal happiness — were we not to choose the moral life, the moral choice, the right thing. I want to share a different perspective. I want to invite us to think that the moral life might need a shift in focus, from ought to want. Isn’t it possible that the moral life, the good life, happiness — as the President has invited us to reflect upon — is just as much about what we really want as what we ought to want? Isn’t it possible that the moral life is not so much about duty but about desire, real desire, the deepest desire, the part of desire that animates our lives? The great Jesuit Pedro Arrupe, some of you may have heard or read his
work, has a beautiful prayer which I’m going to read a few lines from. He writes: Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and love will decide everything. The moral life animated — if that is possible — by what seizes your imagination? What amazes you with joy and gratitude? Another way of asking the question for yourself — is what seizes your imagination? What amazes you with joy and gratitude? What makes you feel fully alive? I have asked many people — because it’s the title of my book— what makes you feel fully alive? When were you
last fully alive? What do you think would help you to be more fully alive? And I’m sorry to say, many people don’t know. They pause, they take a deep breath, and very often they say, I’ll need to think about that. What brings it to mind tonight for each of you? Maybe you have a quick answer. Maybe you remember it was a time in your childhood. Maybe you remember it was a time recently. Maybe you are fully alive right now because of someone you’re sitting next to, because of someone you hope to see, or because of who you’ve become. Maybe fully alive is something you anticipate when you graduate, when you find the next prize in your life. But it seems to me that if we want to answer questions about goodness, about morality, we ought to know deep down what makes us feel fully alive. A friend of mine, a priest, once gave a homily asking a similar version of the question, and he remembered that in 1969, Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell — many of you are
too young to remember either — but they were great singers of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and to some extent the ‘80s. They went out for coffee one morning in Santa Monica and returning to their house, wrote a very famous song of that era. And it goes, “Our house is a very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard. Now everything is easy ‘cause of you.” For some people, maybe an image of that fine house, that beautiful gathering, that sense of peace and domestic bliss — maybe that’s part of what would animate feeling fully alive. Or maybe it’s the quote I saw up on a wall here. It says, “Dance as if no one is watching and sing as if no one is listening.” Maybe you all have seen it. And perhaps it is saying something like, if I could only be myself and not worry about everybody seeing me. If I could only dance... That’s why people sing in the shower right? They want to sing, but they want to sing where no one’s listening, so they’re not embarrassed. Maybe that feeling is about part of what would make you feel fully alive. But I hope it’s not guilt and I hope it’s not morality in the old sense. I hope it’s more imagination and love and amazement and joy. My own journey from ought to want, from duty to desire took turns that I could never have expected. I was a little boy when my mother started the camp that Steven spoke about. Children, about 100 of them, coming into a big farm-type property. They came mostly from institutions, where they would have been labeled with words that are painful even today. Many orphaned, almost in the neonatal ward, where their mothers were told, their fathers were told, give us this child. Move on with your life. Don’t worry, don’t look back. Pretend this never happened. Those
children that the world had seen, had determined, had looked at and said, invalid, moron, retard. Those children that had been pushed away were all of a sudden in my back yard. And as far as I was concerned, I had 100 new friends. We had kickball games everyday. We had swimming races everyday. All of a sudden, we had pony rides in my back yard. It was a bonanza. It wasn’t duty. It wasn’t responsibility. It wasn’t guilt. It was fun, to be honest. Confusing, a little bit. Some people I was playing with didn’t necessarily speak the same way I was expecting people to speak. Some people had helmets on their heads. Some people’s bodies moved in different ways. But we had a good time. Later on in my life, the journey took a different turn. In my 20s, searching
still for that sense of being fully alive, I found myself confronting silence and being told, well, you’re looking in the wrong places. You keep looking out there, the books told me, the centering prayer tradition told me. And all of a sudden, I discovered people like Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich who said, “God is at home and you are in a faraway country.” Or later, the same Eckhart wrote, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.” And I was totally knocked off my horse. Never had I imagined that in the pursuit of silence, in the pursuit of unknowing, in the pursuit of selfemptying; I would not earn my way to finding what mattered most. Instead, I would discover that I already had it. That set me off on this question that Eckhart implies. If he says, as he does, “The eye with which I see God
is the same eye with which God sees me,” I thought to myself, how do I see like that? What would it take for me to tap, to realize, to use, to sharpen, to get the kind of glasses I would need to see with my eyes the same way God sees? My goodness, what an invitation. And in some way, that led me back to the athletes of Special Olympics. And one of my favorites stories from our movement, one that moved and changed me. It took place at one of our larger events. As Steven said rightly, we have four million athletes. Last year — Steven, you haven’t seen this number because it’s new — 80,000 Special Olympics games were held all over the world. In India, in China and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, places like Syria and all these countries all over Latin America — 80,000 local games. But every four years we have the big one, and on this particular year, 1995, we were up at Yale Bowl, the old stadium, filled with 80,000 people and the President, President Clinton at the time, became the first President to attend a Special Olympics Opening Ceremony. But the security was pourous at the Yale Bowl, so the Secret Service had him stay at the top row of the stadium where he was to give his speech. So, the President is at the top row. Down on the field, you’ve got 6,000 athletes from all over the world. They’ve just paraded in. They’ve all been given goodie bags and single-use cameras, the old kind. Some of you may remember, you used to get them at the drug store. Anyway, down on the field, you’ve got 6,000 athletes. They’ve got their cameras. The President is at the top row and he begins his speech. One of the professional photographers who’s volunteering looks over and he sees a delegation from one of the African nations. He can tell
because of the very colorful outfits. And he looks at them and they’re all trying to get a picture of the President. And he looks closer, and he sees they’ve all got their cameras, but they’re all aimed backwards. So he realizes they’ve never used a camera before. They’ve come from a country where they’ve never used these devices before. So he goes over — this is the middle of a stadium with 80,000 people — and he says to one of them, “You’re trying to get a picture of the President way up high.” And the athlete kind of gestures. And the photographer says, “You have to turn the camera around, and then you push this button and you look through this little hole.” And the athlete says, “Thank you, but,” he says, “if you look through the viewfinder backwards, it works like binoculars, and you can see the President perfectly clearly.” Now, I love that story for many reasons. But the most powerful part of it to me, is that the photographer, like so many of us, got it wrong. How many times do we look at one another and we just get it wrong? We miss each other. We miss who we are. We miss what’s going on. He’s a good man, the photographer. He’s a volunteer. He’s not a bad guy. He’s not a malicious person. He’s not a bigot and he’s not racist. I mean, as far as we know, he’s just a good guy. But he thought he saw a disabled person. He assumed incompetence. He didn’t assume creative use of a viewfinder. He didn’t look beyond the surface. He couldn’t see clearly. And you think to yourself, he came to volunteer, to serve those athletes. But who received and who gave? Who was seeing clearly and whose lens needed a change? He couldn’t yet see without judging, as so many of us can’t see without judging.
In so many ways, the experience of trying to learn about the moral choice, the good life, happiness, has come to me from people who have said to me over and over again, “You’ve got to change your lens. You’re not looking properly.” Think of the athletes in Chicago at Soldier Field for the first formal Special Olympics event. Again, 1,000 people, 20-some states and Canada, came. Most, again, from institutions. In 1968, three months after the death of Dr. King, only less than two months after the death of my uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, and there in Chicago’s Soldier Field comes the first Special Olympics event. Just as a point of reference, by 1968 the population of people with intellectual differences being put into institutions is growing. Getting bigger. More people are moving their children into institutions at this stage in our history. So we’re not on the decline. We’re not at deinstitutionalization. Institutions are growing across the country — 1,000-, 2,000-, 4,000-, 6,000-, 8,000person institutions, growing. Fifteen, 20, 30 people to a room. People in chains, tied, bound, medicated. Growing. And in Soldier Field we have 1,000 of these human beings, and they’re told they’re Olympic. And you have to assume a lot of people would have said — come on. That’s a sweet line, but they’re not. Let’s be honest. Maybe that’s a nice way of putting it. But Olympic is higher, faster, stronger, the biggest, the toughest, the most powerful. Rafer Johnson was on the field, fresh from having won the decathlon — the greatest athlete in the world. That’s Olympic. These bedraggled children who nobody wanted? Come on.
The first day, a 400-meter race, six or seven runners — unfortunately, the names are lost now — go down the backstretch of Soldier Field and they’re running around for the full length of the track and there are volunteers from different organizations — the Lions Clubs and the Jaycees and the Civitan, and people like that are down on the field volunteering. Sisters down on the field volunteering. And they come down into the homestretch, and the athlete in first-place is headed towards the finish line and he stumbles and falls. Wipes out. The other six athletes continue on, except the one who was in second place, who continues on and then stops, turns around and goes back and picks up his, as it turns out, best friend, and puts his arm around his shoulder. And just stop yourself for a moment and imagine that’s you. Never having been seen anywhere in life, never
having been appreciated, never having had a chance to run your race. Never seeing the finish line, never being able to cross it, never being cheered. And that runner in second place sees that finish line. He’s in the stadium. He’s ready to cross it and he stops. And he goes back. And he crosses the finish line in what place? Last place. Last place? Or first place? All of a sudden we begin to understand and hear the voice, see the experience, and feel the power of people who see the world slightly differently. Who see that winning can also be looking out for your friend, even if it means you don’t come in first. Healing a friendship, believing in a friendship, is another way of winning. And before you know it, all around the world, people with intellectual differences — diff-abilities — all of a
sudden reveal that there is a way of winning without defeating anybody. Fast forward a few years. My wife, Linda and I, we have five kids. And we’re still trying to learn and the kids are playing in what we call unified sports. I hope some day there’ll be a unified sports team that will wear the colors and the mascot of Mount Aloysius, and compete in interscholastic competition just like other teams. But at this point in life, my children are playing on our local unified team, and we’re driving home one morning after practice. I’ve got my two sons in the car and I’m thinking to myself, these boys, 12 and 14 years old, they’re volunteering every Saturday morning. Why would they like this? I mean, the kids they’re playing with, they’re double dribbling and carrying the ball, and missing the basket. And I’m thinking to myself, what am I setting my sons up for? Are they really getting something out
“Well,” he says, “when we go to Special Olympics, it’s different. It’s the kind of fun that lasts.” He says, “Now turn the radio back on, Dad.” The fun that lasts. What had he seen in that gym — with double dribbling and people carrying the ball and shooting at the wrong basket, no fans, just a bunch of 10-, 12-, 14-, 16-yearold kids playing together — that had already awakened his eye to know that there is one kind of fun that you get at Disney World, and we all like it. He didn’t say he wouldn’t have fun. But it’s temporary. And there’s another kind of fun that’s not.
of this? Or is it, God forbid, that they are doing it out of guilt or duty? So I turned to the boys as we’re driving the highway on our way home from practice in the February cold and I say to them, “What do you guys think of how this whole thing is going?” The radio is blaring and they’re like — yeah, it’s fine, Dad, it’s fine. You know, three men in a car, how much conversation can you hope for? And I say, “No, no. I’m serious. I really want to know — what do you think about this whole Special Olympics thing, unified sports? Are you getting anything out of it?” They say, “Yeah, it’s fine, Dad.” And I was looking at them, and they’re completely zoned out. So I turn off the radio. I turned it off, and they said, “Dad, why are you turning off the radio?” And I was like, “Okay,
because I’m asking you a serious question. I want to know what you think about this whole experience, this Special Olympics stuff.” And so my son, Sam says to me, “Dad, you’re so annoying,” he says, “but I’ll explain it to you this way.” He says, “If you told me right now we’re going to Disney World, I’d be the happiest person in the world. We’d go down there. It would be warm. We’d go on roller coasters. We’d have so much fun. We’d go on all the rides. And,” he said, “there’s only one problem.” I have no idea what he’s talking about right now. I’m just looking at him like, what are you talking about? “There’s only one problem.” he says. “When it’s over, it would be horrible. I have to come home. I have to go back to school. And I’m more depressed than before.” So, yeah, I get that...
What had he seen in that place, being around others without any judgment, no bias? I think he sort of thought to himself, wow... that’s a different kind of fun... that fun doesn’t have to stop. You could take it with you wherever you go. You could have it right here. You could look to your left and your right, and say, I’m having the kind of fun that lasts — if you felt that way. My final story in these lessons. So, if Chicago showed that there’s a way of winning that’s about friendship, if Sam’s lesson was there’s a way of having fun that can last, Donal Page’s lesson was still more powerful for me. Donal was a little boy born into a family in Ireland — Dad is a dairy farmer. Mom is a mom. Eight children. A healthy little boy until he’s about 18 months old, when he got a very serious disease which resulted in a powerful fever that spiked on Good Friday afternoon. And his parents took him down to the doctor. The doctor sent him to the hospital and within two hours, he was being administered the Last Rites of the Church. He survived that night, only to have the same attack of fever and sepsis overtake his body, his little,
tiny, less-than-two-year-old body the next day. And again, he was administered the Last Rites of the Church, but survived. And his mother took him home to raise him. He became unable to move, unable to control his hygiene, unable to eat. And she dedicated her every day to Donal, her little boy. When it came time for us to have our big celebration in Dublin, we were there at Croke Park in 2003. The PSNI, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, marched in to Croke Park for the first time in history together with the Garda, the police force of the Republic of Ireland. Historic moment. Bono sang. Mandela spoke. Muhammad Ali entertained people. Pierce Brosnan paraded in and so did the Riverdancers. And three days later, I get a call from the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, saying she’d like to go out and look at some of the competition. Would I escort her? And I thought, my God, what a huge honor. I’d be thrilled and honored. Let’s go to the track. We have terrific athletes in track. In fact, we have athletes in track who could complete in the Olympics. Most people don’t realize that. And I thought, I am going to take her there and she’s going to see these sprinters doing 100s in 10.5 and 11 seconds. She’s going to see people running the mile in under four minutes. I mean, we’re going to blow her away. And the assistant says, well no, she’s decided she’d like to go to the motor activities, which is close to her office. Motor activities, I thought; that’s the competition for people with the most severe challenges. Almost everyone in a wheelchair. Almost everyone nonverbal. Almost everyone unable to walk. And so the tasks are the most simple possible tasks; pushing a ball off a ramp, lifting a foam ball,
moving a beanbag. I pushed back — I thought that’s not going to work. I want to impress her with our athletes. I want her to see people who can do extraordinary things like Steven did today. No, they insisted. She’ll meet you there at 10:00 at the motor activities. Now, the motor activities in Dublin was held in a room almost exactly this size. And I met the President at the door at nine o’clock and escorted her in. And she sat down right here where Steven is sitting and I’m right next to her. And the first person to come out was Donal Page. He was, at this time, 18 years old. He’d left on the wheelchair van at about 5:00 in the morning from his house in the south-central part of Ireland. His parents left in their separate car to give him a chance to go with his teammates to Dublin for the first time where he would compete in the beanbag lift. And the miracle of the place, at least at the moment, as I could discern it, was that it was packed. Many of
our venues are not packed. But this particular venue, through the grace of God and the goodness of the people of Dublin, was swarming with people. Don’t ask me how they came, but they were all there to watch motor activities. And Donal was wheeled out. His coach was with him and his coach stood back. And I’m sitting there where Steven is, right up front, and I’m watching the coach. And you could see an energy field — if you had one of those StarTrek sensors — you would have seen like a huge tube of positive energy flowing from this woman to this young man, Donal, who now has a tray in front of him. And a beanbag is placed on the right side of the tray — the side where I’m sitting. And the announcer says, “Off you go.” And Donal Page takes in the room. He looks around and he sort of has a little bit of a smile on his face. And then he goes to lift this bag. And the room is silent, like it is now. And you can watch him trying to move his arm and it won’t go. His body moves, but his hand won’t go. And I’m sitting there thinking, oh, my gosh. And
there’s not a pin-drop sound. This goes on for a minute and a half... that pause I just gave you was less than 10 seconds. And then slowly, at about a minute and a half, the fingers start to move just a little bit. And at about four minutes — four minutes — his hand finally falls onto that bag. And a cheer comes out of the crowd. “There you go, lad,” someone says in the back. And Donal Page gets his hand on that beanbag. And over the course of the next 12 minutes, his hand comes across. Now the crowd starts to go crazy. And later I interviewed his dad. And his dad said to me, “You know, every time I took Donal to a doctor — I even took him to a doctor all the way in Dublin — they would always be telling me what Donal couldn’t do. Donal won’t do this and Donal won’t do that. And I always was after them, saying to the doctors, just give him a bit of time. He can do more than you think.” And his dad said to me, “I just knew if those people in Dublin would give him a bit of time, he could do it.”
Donal Page puts that beanbag down at the 18-minute mark. And the crowd explodes. I mean, Final Four on steroids. Screaming. I’m standing, screaming. The President is standing, screaming. I look over at her. There are tears streaming down her face. I have tears streaming down my face. And I thought to myself, I still got it wrong. You know, I had thought it would have been better to take her to the track. I thought it would have been better to see someone who runs the 100 in 10.5 than to see Donal. I had it wrong. I had never seen, and to this day, still have never seen an athletic performance that comes close to matching the courage and the strength and the power of Donal Page. You remember that line — you’re singing and nobody’s listening, or you’re dancing and no one’s watching? Not Donal. He was dancing and everybody was watching. But he succeeded in trusting all those people enough to think they wouldn’t judge him, that they wouldn’t call him a name, that they wouldn’t say what he
couldn’t do, that they’d just give him a bit of time. And with a bit of time, he could show the world what excellence really is. You know, excellence isn’t me beating you or you beating me, or me getting an A and you getting a B, or me getting ahead of you. It’s not. That’s a ridiculous definition. We bought into it as a culture. We think it’s better morally to beat the other person. People might even say it. Even educators would say it. Excellence is only doing your best. That’s the only definition that makes any sense, whatsoever. And yet, how many of us — if tomorrow you found yourself in a wheelchair, if tomorrow you found yourself losing your ability to speak, if tomorrow you found yourself unable to move your arms, if tomorrow you found yourself unable to measure up in school — how many would say, put me in front of the room? I’m ready. I’m still ready to do what I can do, the best I can. How many people believe that it’s okay to just do your best? How many of us understand that? I don’t
think the moral life, The Good Life, is defined so much by our house is a very, very, very fine house. The walls are up. The domestic situation is bliss. We all love those moments. Yes, we do. But as my friend who gave that homily said, the better definition is a different song that came out that same year, Born to Be Wild. We live in an age where selfies and distraction, where competition and loneliness are epidemic. We want people to get more and more information but the moral life is about transformation. We want people to achieve and get to places that will make them happier. The moral life is about understanding that the place where you already are has everything it needs. We want people to do all of these things to earn value. The moral life is about accepting that you’ve already got it. In so many ways, it’s a complete reversal of all the things the world tells us. Maybe that’s why they call it conversion. You don’t earn anything of lasting value. You’ve already got it, and until you and I actually believe that, we will never feel, in my view, fully alive. The great Special Olympics athlete, Frank Stevens, from the State of Virginia, is an articulate self-advocate, much like the great Steven you heard tonight. He was challenged two years ago when political commentator, Ann Coulter, referred to the President of the United States in the last election as a “retard.” Frank wrote an Op-Ed piece asking her to understand that the use of that language, regardless of her political persuasion, was hurtful to people and painful in that it carried a very ugly past with it and was often used to humiliate. Frank’s Op-Ed did not result in her responding. She refused to take his
call or even to discuss it with him. But he became a huge sensation on social media. And so one night Piers Morgan, the former CNN host, invited Frank on to talk about his fight, if you will, with Ann Coulter. She refused to join the show. And at the end of the show, Piers Morgan looked at Frank and said, “Frank, if you could say anything to Ann Coulter, what would you say?” Frank has Down’s syndrome. He’s 4’11 and one-half inches, which he will remind you, if you say 4’11, that it’s not true. He is 4’11 and a half. He has a beautifully happy countenance. And Frank looked up at Piers and he said, “I would say, thank you for giving me three million friends on Facebook.” Later that same year, we were up on Capitol Hill lobbying for support for people with intellectual differences, including higher ed support. And it had been a tough day, didn’t get very far, didn’t get very many good meetings. But we had a little reception at the end of the day. And a few senators and congressmen came by, Steny Hoyer and Roy Blunt. Republicans and Democrats came by to congratulate the Special Olympics athletes who had spent the day knocking on doors on Capitol Hill. And one of the people who came by was my cousin Patrick, a congressman at that point. And Patrick got up and got very animated. He said, “You know, we have a big problem. The NIH is putting all of its money into the identification of genetic syndromes and early detection, but nothing on treatment and care.” And the message wasn’t so subtle. The medical establishment, Patrick was saying, is pushing towards eliminating these disorders and the implications of that are quite terrifying, if you have one.
So Patrick finished and toward the end of the night I asked would anyone else like to speak. Frank raised his hand and came up. And the podium looked almost just like this, and Frank’s head was just over the top of it. And he said, “I want to thank my mother and my father. I want to thank my coaches. I want to thank all of the congressman and the senators.” And then he said, “I heard what Patrick said, and I want to say one other thing.” And he looked up and his glasses are down towards the bottom of nose. But he looked strong and he looked ahead, and he said, “My life is worth living.” My life is worth living. My life is worth living. To me, that’s the secret of the moral life. Arrupe said fall in love with God. Fall in love in an unconditional way. Not just fall in love with someone or something, but actually, as crazy at it sounds, fall in love with all things, all people, unconditionally. Recognize the spirit in each of us and let that animate your every choice. Let that animate your every decision from a place of depth, from a place of silence, from a place of humility, from a place of simplicity. You will choose the moral choice. You don’t need to be told, and you don’t need duty, and you don’t need another lecture. But thank you all for listening to this one. And thank you, Mount Aloysius. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
QUESTION & ANSWER What, in your opinion, is the greatest obstacle to overcoming stigma? DR. SHRIVER: Great question. What’s the path to overcoming stigma, basically? What’s the path to overcoming it’s manifestations; bullying, exclusion, labeling? What’s the path to overcoming finger pointing, pity, condescension, humiliation? It is a gigantic problem, and people with intellectual differences — I prefer the word diff-ability, because anything that starts with a dis, you automatically are concluding... the language is already setting you back. But, if I say diff, how many people have different abilities? Everybody has to raise their hand right? How many people have some abilities that are better than others? Everybody has to raise their hand. How many people can do some things well and not other things well? Everybody has to raise their hand. So there are a lot of barriers that have created the stigma that we currently deal with. So what’s my solution? My solution is — I think we need a whole revamping of the way in which we educate children. We want children to be forgiving. We don’t teach forgiveness. We want children to be understanding of difference. We don’t teach understanding of difference. We want children to be self-aware. We don’t teach silence. Every religious tradition in the world that I have been able to discover has a practice of silence. How many religious schools — forget religious institutions — actually invite and teach silence? I don’t mean to 16- or 20- or 30-year-olds. I mean for four-year-olds, six-year-olds, eight-year-olds. You want children to be self-aware, you have to give them
silence. You have to. There’s no other way. So I think we need to teach peace. We teach war like crazy. Everybody in this room can name all of the generals of the Civil war. How many people can name the great peace leaders of the 20th Century? How many people know who led the peace protests in Denmark that kept the Nazis from overtaking —? Nobody. Nobody. None of us. I didn’t learn any of them. How many people know Ulysses Grant, and how many people know Dorothy Day? The numbers are crazily disproportionate. We don’t teach Dorothy Day. We don’t teach nonviolence. We don’t teach peacebuilding. I like to think of it as a school of the heart. That word comes from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who called monasteries schools of the heart. And in their roots, the religious traditions were designed to sharpen, to refine, to deepen the sense of understanding that comes from the heart or the soul. But now we educate children as though they’re like little cranial machines that move through an assembly line, and we latch on mathematics and then we latch on the periodic table and then we latch on a little bit of punctuation — here is where the period goes and here’s where the comma goes. And we expect them to learn in that way how to get along with one another. How to look at one another with open eyes. How to understand the difference between winning by defeating, and winning by doing your best. We don’t teach any of it. So everything else is playing catch-up. You know, we can use public awareness campaigns, billboards —
we do all of this. We make movies. We put people like Lauren Potter on television, shows like Glee. We try to reverse the role models. We try to do all that and we will continue to do it. We will continue to invite Steven to speak anywhere that will listen to him and his many, many fellow heroic Global Messengers. Think of the title. We use that title deliberately. A messenger. Did you get the message? So we have to do all of this. But in general most schools, most places — I don’t know how many of you would say this — but in most audiences like this, more than half of the people have never heard a person with an intellectual diff-ability give a speech. None. Now, again, I’m just guessing that at least half of you have never heard that. So that’s not the way it should be. We all should have heard that when we were six. We should hear it again when we’re eight. We should play on teams that are inclusive when we’re seven, nine and 11. And then we wouldn’t grow up getting to the point where we’re in our 20s or 30s or 40s — God forbid, 50s and 60s — still excluding people out of ignorance and fear because most stigma is rooted in ignorance and fear. We wonder why we have intolerance for religious differences. Race is back — to the extent it ever left. What do we need to do? We wanted to desegregate schools in the ‘50s. So we said, well, let’s put all the kids of color and the kids who are not of color, we’ll put them in school together and everything will be fine. They’ll just sit there across from each other — they’ll look at each other and, all of a sudden, racism is going to go away. Are you kidding? White folks in general have no appreciation of the depth of racism and how deeply ingrained it is in the culture. We just
don’t see it. It’s just an incredible blind spot. So anyway, that’s a long answer. We have to do a lot of things differently. And I would start with kindergarten. QUESTION: You conclude your book with a clarion call of sorts: Whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, there’s a castle close by that only you can attack. All it takes is a willingness to enter the game and believe. Just by playing, you’ll surely win the medal that matters most. How can we inspire others to answer the call to attack when some of us might not know what castle we’re attacking in the first place?
DR. SHRIVER: Good question. My kids say that to me, so I’m sorry you asked that, because it’s a very difficult question. So two things. First, we do place a premium — and I do make this mistake, I would say it’s a mistake in the book, to act as though everybody knows what their passion really is. And again, I would do this by a show of hands. If we were honest, a lot of people don’t know what their passion is. They may say, I’m taking English, I’m taking math, maybe I’ll be a nursing major, maybe I won’t. I don’t know. You know this is a good job. I should do it because it’s a good job. Passion? Who knows? So we’ve made ourselves a little bit of a trap because finding your passion is a very individual pursuit.
Historically, passion was not individual. Passion was tribal. Passion was collective. Passion was our passion. Not just my passion. It wasn’t as though you and I would have different passions. We would have the same, a shared passion. Passion was joining yourself to something bigger than yourself. And I think we’ve lost that. Again, selfie culture, individualization culture. It is almost the deification of the individual as the center of meaning. I think the thing to do in order to find the castle that is your castle, is to join. There are so many wonderful things in the world that need joiners. And you don’t have to say, oh well, I really want to educate children in Kenya. That’s my passion. Maybe there is an organization desperate for you that wants to educate children in Kenya, or educate children in Pittsburgh. Or clean the stream or whatever it is.
I think part of passion comes from being together. In some ways the Catholic tradition did this well. It always told us, it was us. It wasn’t me. We had to do it. It was the Church. The Church is this big giant collective. We move along in this massive team of people. We join. So I think the level of despair and loneliness in the world is... heartbreaking. I’ve got to be honest. I travel — one of the great honors of my position is that I get to visit people all over the world who are some of the most extraordinarily holy and generous and courageous people in the world. But I tell you, the struggles they face are heartbreaking.
I have sometimes come home and I just — I just have to take a breath. The world needs you desperately, desperately. Your roommates need you. We’re all so stressed out. Maybe the castle in front of you is sitting next to you. Maybe it’s just a relationship — somebody who wants to be seen or heard. Maybe Steven should come back and talk to your class and you’ll find that, wow, when he comes back and talks to your class, a whole new level of understanding comes. Gandhi knew what he wanted to be when he was eight, and Steven Spielberg ran around when he was six with a movie camera. Okay. But for most of us, that didn’t happen.
Most of us just look at where we are and look across at someone else and almost always see someone who’s desperate to been seen. And sometimes just looking at them and not missing them is storming a big castle. — — — — — — — I’ll close tonight with a special story, shared with all of you because it affected me in a very special way. I was in South Africa and we were doing a lot of events, including one with President Nelson Mandela and others. It was quite a remarkable time and many new people were coming into the movement and getting started. There was a lot of
momentum to grow the Special Olympics movement in the former homelands and places like Soweto. At one point, I went out to a small institution about 20 miles outside of Cape Town for people with very severe challenges. And one of our coaches, one of our volunteers, had arranged to have a motor activities day, the same type of event as the one where Donal Page had done so well. And so we go. This institution is very poor and the floors are concrete and most people are sitting on the floor barely clad. It was, to be honest, very grim. But in the all-purpose room they had arranged to have these activities, and so we went in to watch. One of the residents brought in a little pretend flame and we started. I was sitting in a folding chair and next to me was one of the residents, very severally disabled seated in a chair with a neck brace. And sitting next to him was his mother. I could tell it was his mother because she was holding and scratching his neck and rubbing his arm the whole time. And we’re watching and I’m thinking to myself, well, I’m going to get the chance to meet in the next couple of days with the mayor and all these other different officials and I want to have a story to relate. So I said to the women, “My name is Tim and I wondered if you could give me some insight — what could we do? What could be done differently in South Africa for people with intellectual challenges?” And she said, “Oh,” she said, “Nothing. Nothing. It’s fine.” She’s scratching her son’s arm and rubbing his neck and I’m looking at her and it’s very tender. And I’m embarrassed again this evening to tell the story because I was so intrusive. I really felt like I was intruding. But I was so determined
to get a good story to tell when I went to meet with officials later. And so I said to her, “No, no, but seriously I’m sure this institution itself needs help. It doesn’t have very many resources and the conditions here are not that great. What would you recommend be done differently?” And she said, “Mr. Shriver”— I can still hear her voice — “We’re fine. We’re fine. My son, Daniel and I are fine.” And I said, “Well, I know you’re fine, ma’am. But there are problems in this country.” And she turned to me and she said, “Mr. Shriver, Daniel has taught me a lesson most parents never learn. He’s taught me the meaning of unconditional love. Mr. Shriver, we are fine.” And I looked at her and her son, and I have to say that I thought to myself — I don’t know if I’ve learned that lesson. I had, at that time, four children. And I wasn’t sure I understood what she was talking about. I could say the words. If you ask me about my kids, do I love them unconditionally, I would answer, yes. They would, I think, answer, yes. But I think she’s right. Most parents never learn. And I think most of us don’t learn the difference between earning somebody’s love, working to get love, and feeling like we deserve to be loved because we’ve done something — versus unconditional love. They’re not the same. And one is worth learning about more than the other. And I thank her for her lesson. For reminding me that unconditional love is something that I would do well to think more about and pray on and try to understand. And so, I thank her, and I thank you.