As I am writing this it’s been 49 years since JFK was assassinated. Millions of words and thousands of hours of filming have been devoted to discovering who was behind his death. What is of greater interest to us, however, is not who, but why.
John F. Kennedy was driven by a sense of mission. He had a publicly shared vision of a world that was closer aligned between those in government and those being governed, connected by a more intimate sense of shared values and greater transparency.
In laying that vision out JFK created some seminal moments where he expressed clear, social media values:
01. Don’t Ask What Your Country Can Do For You. In his inaugural address JFK laid out the “Don’t ask what your country can do for you” speech. It overturned the traditional sense of entitlement which governed the push-pull relationship between people and their government and transformed it into a cooperative venture where the country itself is fashioned by its people and the people benefit, in turn, by the country. This was an early look at cooperative values and the culture of co-creation we are trying to develop through social media engagement and interaction.
02. Ich bin ein Berliner. When President Kennedy made his famous “I am a Berliner” speech it was a call for an abandonment of divisions based on national identity and an embrace of common goals in the “brotherhood of man”. At a time of deeply divisive issues it was groundbreaking to hear that, deep down, we were all like each other. It was a message way ahead of its time, its call lost in the fallout and confusion following his death.
03. We are as a people opposed to secret societies. JFK’s speech regarding an abolition of secrecy and the promotion of greater transparency eerily echoes the discussions we have in a social media environment, right now. It has taken us almost half a century and the near collapse of the global banking system to start asking the questions he started in a speech which many, suggest, was instrumental in getting him killed.
04. Communication is key. The establishment of a hotline between Washington and Moscow, following the events of the Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the very brink of nuclear disaster, was a first step towards clearer, more open communications.
The Kennedy Legend
JFK is always going to be hard to assess fairly. His untimely, tragic death arrested the narrative of his life and mythologized his every move. Ironically enough, he, himself, was often guided by a sense of the theatrical. He secretly taped high-level government meetings and structured his speeches and interviews with a full sense of historical posterity in mind. This, and the body of speculative literature that has grown around his death, significantly muddies the picture.
It is hard to deny however that in his public drives JFK championed concepts which are familiar to us today but which, back then, must have seemed a lot more threatening and radical than social media appears to our current set of leaders.
Have we moved any further forward? The very fact that we can discuss this now would argue that at some level, yes, we have. Reactions to social media some of which I documented in my book The Social Media Mind strongly argue that we haven’t. The call for radical transparency and accountability from the grass roots towards the top continues to be received as a threat and a direct challenge to the power and authority of those who govern.
Despite the last fifty years, it appears, that we are still balancing on a tightrope. Power still resides consolidated in the hands of the few. Misinformation and disinformation abound. Closed deals and secret procedures are still rife. The transition of our world from ‘then’ to ‘now’ has been slow, painful and beset by numerous setbacks.
The one thing we do have on our side is history. The ability to now look back with far greater clarity and perspective and actually see that had we stayed the course back then, it is conceivable that we would have had a better world to live in, right now. That should help focus the mind on what we achieve, each time we raise a tiny voice that says “no” to consolidated power groups, “no” to more checks, more controls, more restrictions, and “yes” to a more transparent world.
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