April 25, 2004

POSTSCRIPT: C. Martha Nussbaum, Ph.D.

About a year ago, I heard University of Chicago philosopher and author Martha Nussbaum speak at a Chicago Club luncheon. She described how good, healthy experiences very early in childhood help to build a strong, ethical and just society. During her talk, she cited narrative examples from Marcel Proust and the Roman poet Lucretius, as well as scientific evidence from psychologists Donald Winnicott, John Bowlby, Daniel Stern and Christopher Bollas. Dr. Nussbaum ended her remarks by asking a fundamental question: "Are we striving for American preeminence or are we striving to be part of a world in which people support and urge human beings to be together?" The question underscores the paradox at the core of our nation -- we are, after all, a union of bullies and peacemakers, motivated by crude self-interest and true generosity. Our nation's president can often tip the balance one way or the other, summoning the worst in our collective nature or inspiring us toward greatness. It has been a long, long time since any president has inspired the best from his fellow citizens.


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