When the Authentic Was Not a Mirage

Robert Kennedy, campaigning in 1968

Robert Kennedy, campaigning in 1968

The authentic is an elusive quality in public life today, like a shimmering mirage on a summer day that continually retreats into the distance until it disappears over the horizon.

I was reminded of this absence, by contrast, last evening. While surfing YouTube, I stumbled upon a clip of Robert Kennedy speaking to students at New York’s Columbia University when he was running for Senator. I had forgotten how unimpressive a figure he cut. Bobby had a bad haircut, his rumpled suit hung limply on his spare frame, and he seemed to protect himself against the crowd by hunching his shoulders. He nervously clenched a rolled-up paper in one hand. His speaking style, sometimes hesitating, never with an easy flow, revealed he was not really comfortable in this kind of crowd scene.

The unscreened questions from the students, while not hostile, challenged Kennedy on key issues of the campaign. As he answered each question, occasionally jabbing the air for emphasis, he won the students over. While watching, I soon understood why they responded. It was not on the basis of his policies or proposals, but due to the feeling with which he touched them. The students sensed something about Bobby Kennedy, something palpable, based on his plain words and on his prior record as Attorney General during the early battles for civil rights. Simply stated, Robert Kennedy meant it. Whether they agreed with him or thought he was a reckless liberal, the students realized after a short time that they were seeing a public figure who meant it.

When Kennedy left the auditorium, the students stood and applauded. They felt connected to the authentic.

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4 thoughts on “When the Authentic Was Not a Mirage

  1. freudandfashion

    wonderful post that made me even question my own authenticity. it’s challenging enough even on a personal level to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self let alone being a public figure. authenticity in many ways (ie social media, reality tv) has also shifted from elusive to illusive

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    1. Tom Schultz Post author

      thanks for your comment, and can I use “elusive to illusive” or have you copyrighted that phrase? 😉 while on youtube, I watched a clip of another Robert Kennedy speech. He spoke to a crowd, mostly African-American, the night of Dr. King’s assassination. The news cycle being what it was back then, most heard of the tragedy for the first time from Kennedy. He had written the speech himself on a piece of notebook paper. In the clip, you can see him tightly clutching the paper, a nervous gesture or two, the hesitation in his voice–all things I’m sure you can appreciate in your profession. The shooting must have brought back a flood of memories of his brother’s assassination, as he alludes to, making it doubly hard to control his emotions. Here’s a link if you want to watch….BTW, while almost all US cities exploded in violence that night, there was none in Indianapolis where this speech took place.

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      1. freudandfashion

        thank you for sharing the video — a wonderful, authentic, inspiring speech amongst tragedy which truly transcends time. i was intrigued especially after reading your comment “while almost all US cities exploded in violence that night, there was none in Indianapolis where this speech took place.”
        And of course you can use “elusive to illusive” — pretty creative huh? 🙂 yet, so true of our present day. we need more speeches like robert kennedy’s

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