“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product… if we should judge America by that — counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in world. From the beginning our proudest boast has been the promise of Jefferson, that we, here in this country would be the best hope of mankind. ”
Robert F. Kennedy, in his March 1968 address to the students of the University of Kansas.
This excerpt appears in the book I’m currently reading, Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy, Maxwell Kennedy’s collection of his father’s speeches and the quotations — from the Greeks, Romantics, Bible, and elsewhere — that Robert recorded in his journal throughout the 1960s.
Listen to this portion of the speech here: