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Robert Kennedy: Quotes to Help Change a World

Updated on January 30, 2012

Baptism by Fire

He found himself in the center -- some would say the bull's eye -- of American politics when his brother Jack appointed him to be U.S. Attorney General in early 1960. His role became larger than simply leading the Department of Justice. He was to be the key advisor to his brother, the President of the United States.

In that job, Robert F. Kennedy helped guide his brother, and the nation, through a time of turbulence which included the Cuban missile crisis, turmoil over civil rights, a conflict in Southeast Asia, the dismantling of union corruption, nuclear brinkmanship and a space race. Bobby, only in his mid-thirties, had taken the job without hesitation.

When his brother Jack was assassinated in 1964, Bobby Kennedy found himself under a crushing emotional weight: a combination of a lost brother, a mission that needed to be carried on, a question of Bobby’s self-identity in a world without Jack, and speculatively -- guilt that Bobby’s actions as AG had contributed to his brother’s death, and the realization that a similar fate perhaps awaited Bobby himself.

Rather than succumb to personal crisis, Bobby re-grouped. He seemed to pull from his core, and from the ancient Greeks whom he admired, the strength and strategy to reconcile with each of the challenges he faced.

His life had been a crucible where the contents were changed by immense pressure and heat. He had journeyed through dizzying success and debilitating tragedy. And he came through the other side whole, stronger and wiser.

RFK Quotes: His Legacy

That would be the whole story of RFK if not for one thing: Robert F. Kennedy was able to leave us with his wisdom. He was a prolific writer and speechmaker, and no matter one’s views on the politics of his family, the ideas he left with us are profound. They are his legacy.

His words aren’t the type you find from current day politicians. They are more like the words you might find from Jefferson, Adams or Lincoln. They are ideas about democracy, responsibility and leadership.

Maybe the most important ideas from RFK are about survival and overcoming obstacles in a very tough world.

To get a sense of where Bobby plumbed for his answers, consider the speech he made announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King to a shocked Indianapolis crowd. The words Bobby recited from heart were from the Greek poet Aeschylus:

“In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

In the current day, when ideas about leading a country seem to be waning – overcome by bickering and posturing -- Robert F. Kennedy offers us plenty of useful guidance about how to lead ourselves when times are tough.

If only we will listen.

Good Reading at Amazon

What Every Man, and Every Country Should Do


It may have been Martin Luther King’s Dream speech that branded the 1960’s as the ‘Dream Decade,’ but the two brothers, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, certainly played a part. Certainly the two had learned from their successful father, Joseph Kennedy, about the power of dreaming big.

Jack Kennedy said in 1961 that the United States would put a man on the moon within the decade, and by 1969 he was proven right.

Bobby liked to recite a line from George Bernard Shaw as: “some people see things as they are and say ‘why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘why not?’”

If one is to do big things, one needs to first dream big things.

A country that has no dreams will not go far.

Bobby tells us the first step in an individual’s journey forward is to have a dream – a vision where you should be, and the steady practice of articulating and promoting that vision.

For leading a country, Bobby’s short-version guidance was simple: build a country you want your children to have.

For Bobby Kennedy, the dream was the first step. The next steps were about doing...

Continued: (Part 2) The Ideas of Bobby Kennedy

What were the principles that Bobby Kennedy lived by? What ideas helped him survive tough times? How would his ideas help us today? See Part 2 here: Robert Kennedy Quotes


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