The phrase “speaking truth to power” is actually of Quaker origin from the fairly recent past — 1955 to be exact. It was the title of a pamphlet published by the Society of Friends that suggested to the two major superpowers nonviolent means of resolving the Cold War. If it appears cliché to the reader, that’s because it’s been used in so many contexts to characterize behaviors that did not require sufficient courage to merit the phrase. (For example, Speaking Truth to Power was chosen as the title for Anita Hill’s memoir concerning the sexual harassment charges she leveled against now-Justice Clarence Thomas.)
I use the phrase appropriately here, in my opinion, because in addressing those assembled at the National Prayer Breakfast, a crowd which included the President and Mrs. Obama and Vice President Biden, Dr. Benjamin Carson spoke his mind and his heart directly, even eloquently at times, and without malice or contentiousness. At the same time, Dr. Carson staked out positions on a few political issues of the day with which he clearly knew the president would disagree.
But by calling what Dr. Carson did “speaking truth to power,” I do not consider the “power” to have been President Obama. The “power” I think Dr. Carson spoke in spite of was the censorship of authoritative and opinionated speech effected by and through political correctness. He actually confronted that issue first, before he moved on to discuss the debt and the deficit and suggest the tax and health care reforms that garnered him so much media attention.
The entire speech is well worth the 27 minutes of your time it will require to listen to it.
Perhaps because I’ve been writing a lot recently about the moral hazard presented by entitlement programs, I particularly appreciated Dr. Carson’s comments concerning personal responsibility and the power unleashed when one refuses to be a victim. In a television interview he gave subsequent to his noteworthy speech, Dr. Carson mentioned a poem that his mother quoted to him when he was a boy that proved to be a major influence in his life and thinking in this regard. It’s called Yourself to Blame. 1
“If things go bad for you –
And make you a bit ashamed,
Often you will find out that
You have yourself to blame . . .
Swiftly we ran to mischief
And then the bad luck came.
Why do we fault others?
We have ourselves to blame . . .
Whatever happens to us,
Here are the words we say,
“Had it not been for so-and-so,
Things wouldn’t have gone that way.”
And if you are short of friends,
I’ll tell you what to do –
Make an examination,
You’ll find the fault’s in you . . .
You’re the captain of your ship,
So agree with the same –
If you travel downward,
You have Yourself to blame.”
Dr. Carson is the author of several books that are worthy of your attention, including but not limited to the following:
If you’re inclined to be charitable, here’s a link to Dr. Carson’s scholarship program that he discussed in his speech:
- The poem, written by Mayme White Miller, is reprinted in one of Dr. Carson’s books along with the following narrative, apparently written by Carson’s mother, putting the poem in context. Along the way, Mrs. Carson gives a wonderful lesson in common sense parenting.
“I don’t remember whipping either boy more than once or twice. Because I vividly remembered my own childhood with its regular beatings, I did not want Curtis and Ben to have that kind of memory. If I talk to them enough, I decided, I could help them to do whatever was right and not have to punish them.
“‘You can do it,’ I would tell them. ‘You try now. Let’s try and see how well you can do it.’
“Both boys responded. Sometimes their work wasn’t up to my expectations, but they did their best. In those instances, I’d say, ‘The next time you’re going to do it better.’
“At one point, the boys wouldn’t get both their chores at home and their schoolwork done. One time, Curtis said, ‘Ben did not want me to do my work, so I did not get it done.’ ‘What Ben wants for you isn’t important. It’s what you want for yourself. Nobody can hinder you from doing what you want if that’s what you set your mind to do. You can always find a hook to hang excuses on, but they’re only excuses. You don’t have anyone to blame but yourself. Nobody else makes you fail.’
“A few days after I said those words to Curtis, a man came by the house, selling books. One of them had a poem in it that I liked. I bought the book and memorized the poem, “Yourself to Blame.” I quoted it often to the boys because it says what I really believe.” ↩