The Common Good

Obama: 'Talk is Cheap'

For millions in the U.S.A. and hundreds of millions throughout the world, the much anticipated inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama, has come and gone. For some this inauguration is a dream come true and promises a hope of a better future, while for others there is still great doubt and skepticism. There may be those who are even dismally disappointed, but whatever the case and wherever people find their political landings, it is clear that the 21st century has witnessed a majestic, miraculous, and mystical moment. It is in many ways a global moment of hope and the dawn of a new day in world leadership and politics.

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In The Audacity of Hope, Obama explains,

I believe a stronger sense of empathy would tilt the balance of our current politics in favor of those people who are struggling in this society. After all, if they are like us, then their struggles are our own. If we fail to help, we diminish ourselves.... No one is exempt from the call to find common ground. Of course, in the end a sense of mutual understanding isn't enough. After all, talk is cheap; like any value, empathy must be acted upon. (2006, p. 68)

Obama, in his earliest remarks as president, has stressed the need for diplomacy and development in the forefront of U.S. foreign policy to ensure success of reshaping and rejuvenating the U.S.'s global image. Obama is taking the lead in displaying empathy by bringing an end to torture tactics as a means to pursue U.S. ideals. Obama has stated clearly that U.S. values must match their ideals. From rhetoric and actions, one can affirm that President Obama is enacting empathy and not just allowing it to be a case of "more was said than done."

In a post-Obama inauguration era, Sekunjalo ("now is the time") for leaders and people to get engaged in moving from justice pursuit with their lips, to justice pursuit with their hands and feet. Now is the time for our values, morals, and ideals to be immersed in rolling waters and mighty streams of empathy.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reached back to the prophetic words of Amos as referenced during his prophetic projection of "I have a dream." King told of a day that in some ways was realized on January 20th, 2009. Amos 5:24 as recorded by The Message Bible states:

Do you know what I want? I want justice--oceans of it. I want fairness--rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want.

The voice of Amos and the voice of Rev. MLK Jr. spoke truth to power in their time, and they speak truth to power today. In a world where developed countries live in luxury while people in developing countries are stricken with chronic poverty -- Sekunjalo -- for oceans of justice and rivers of fairness. In a world where the gap between the rich and the poor is further increasing -- Sekunjalo -- for empathy that is followed up with action to right the wrongs. Sekunjalo -- for securing human rights and equitable living conditions for all people.

May the hope for and pursuit of change as propelled by President Barack Hussein Obama provide a new stimulus, which will propel leaders and people all over the world to enact empathy, diplomacy, justice, and peace.

Seth NaickerSeth Naicker is an activist for justice and reconciliation from South Africa. He is currently studying and working at Bethel University, in St. Paul, Minnesota, as the program and projects director for the Office of Reconciliation Studies. He can be reached at or

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