Dear Colleagues, Members & Friends of the English-Speaking Union,
I decided to delay my New Year's message to The English-Speaking Union of The United States for a number of reasons. With the plethora of wishes and communications that flood our computers and mailboxes at the end of the year, I thought I would give you all a break, and pen something further into January, when things were quieter and more settled. So today, on the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, I thought to send out a message.
On our entry into 2021 we find ourselves and our nation gripped in the uncertainty of a pandemic, which has not gone away, and which, by all accounts, will be with us for at least another year, in one form or another. We are racing towards confronting half a million of our fellow citizens lost as a consequence. I know that many ESU members have been deeply and personally impacted by this awful disease, and my heart goes out to each and every one. We mourn many things in life, but the untimely passing of so many good and loved people is a hard cross to bear.
As a nation that was built on notions of freedom of speech and expression, it should be no surprise to us that our differences of opinion occasionally reach boiling point as we stand our ground for what we firmly believe is best for us, individually and as a country. John Winthrop, a Pilgrim and one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, famously gave a sermon in 1630 in which he said the following:
For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.
Those words were echoed by many after him. Ronald Reagan went further and called us a 'shining city'. The shocking images of the storming of our Capitol, broadcast throughout the world over these weeks, are a reminder that our city is vulnerable and is in danger of losing its luster. The eyes of the world saw America at a particularly low ebb on January 6th. It is up to us, as Americans, to ensure that we do not become a 'by-word', that we re-assert our global leadership and that our aspiration for greatness is something that others can, and will, aspire to, not denigrate. We are not the stuff of conspiracy theories, of falsehoods and bogus claims. As the founders of the English-Speaking Union reiterated many times, we are citizen diplomats...on a mission. And our mission is as necessary now as it was when we were founded a century ago. We are part of a global fellowship, respectful of our history and tradition and the language we all share, but, more importantly, we acknowledge that our language enshrines and perpetuates those great ideals that prompted our Founding Fathers to build that city. A city of the people, for the people, free of Kings and Potentates, their subjugation, their pomp and their false promises. We encourage fluency and honesty in debate and discussion and, above all, civility and respect for each other. We seek to understand why meaning attaches to some ideas and not to others, to sift the grain from the chaff of our thoughts and, above all, to be open in our minds and in our hearts. These things are at the core of the English-Speaking Union, and are the reason why we still have a pathway to forge and a contribution to make.
I doubt that the incoming administration would be remotely interested in anything I have to say. But if asked, I would defer to Winston Churchill, when he referred to governance, and remind those taking the reins of power that 'There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hope, soon to be swept away'. Acting on that simple truth will do much to evaporate that cloud obscuring our city upon the hill.
Best wishes from Kathy and myself and our hope for a year of peace and wellness.
Ambassador Paul Beresford-Hill, CBE
English-Speaking Union of the United States