The One Thing Barack Obama Says We All Must Have To Create Change

"I know that this feels like an uncertain and even perilous time."

Former President Barack Obama accepted the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in Boston on Sunday night. He delivered a speech that touched on everything from the country's current divisiveness to House Republicans' recent decision to potentially repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"For many Americans, I know that this feels like an uncertain and even perilous time," Obama said, adding, "Our politics remains filled with division and discord, and everywhere we see the risk of falling into the refuge of tribe, and clan, and anger at those who don't look like us or have the same surnames or pray the way we do."

He went on to share the quality he believes is necessary in times such as these — appropriately, courage.

At such moments, we need courage to stand up to hate, not just in others, but in ourselves. At such moments, we need the courage to stand up to dogma, not just in others, but in ourselves. At such moments, we need courage to believe that together we can tackle big challenges, like inequality and climate change. At such moments, it's necessary for us to show courage in challenging the status quo and in fighting the good fight, but also show the courage to listen to one another, and seek common ground, and embrace principled compromise.

Obama drew from Kennedy to emphasize that courage is not about fearlessness. "True courage derives from that sense of who we are," Obama said. "What are our best selves? What are our most important commitments? The belief that we can dig deep and do hard things for the enduring benefit of others."


Obama went on to apply this lesson in courage to the members of Congress who voted to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010, at the risk of their political careers. "These men and women did the right thing," he said. "They did the hard thing. Theirs was a profile in courage. Because of that vote, 20 million people got health insurance who didn't have it before. And most of them did lose their seats."

It's these values that Obama wishes to see today's politicians display as the debate over health care continues.

"I hope that current members of Congress recall that it actually doesn't take a lot of courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential," Obama said. "But it does require some courage to champion the vulnerable, and the sick, and the infirm — those who often have no access to the corridors of power. I hope they understand that courage means not simply doing what is politically expedient, but doing what they believe deep in their hearts is right."

Obama's speech marked one of only a few public appearances since he left office in January. He shared similarly inspiring words last month during a panel on civic engagement at the University of Chicago. When speaking about what his new job should be now that he isn't president, he shared that "the single most important thing I can do is to help, in any way I can, prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world."

Last night, he gave us the courage to do just that.

Cover image via  Evan El-Amin /

(H/T: NBC News)


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.