It's my personal soapbox, a place for me to express thoughts and feelings, musings and rants, reflections and recollections; to have fun with words -- about things spiritual, environmental, social, political, economic, and, from time to time, personal. And of course about peace. Soapboxes are in public places (as London's legendary Hyde Park) on purpose, and so I invite conversations with you, for it is through civil discourse that we can gain some perspective on the seeming chaos of these changing times and learn together how to shape a positive future for ourselves, our communities, and the generations to come.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Service, Service, Service: Sargent Shriver and Peace Corps

I entered Peace Corps service in late February 1966 (for posting in Nigeria), less than a month after graduating from UCLA. Three days later, the Peace Corps’ founder and first director and JFK brother-in-law Sargent Shriver left the Peace Corps. Sarge Shriver died four months ago at age 95.

In the photo at left, Sargent Shriver talks to a group of potential Peace Corps Volunteers in 1961.

By exiting the Peace Corps when he did, Shriver set the precedent for a Peace Corps policy, still observed to this day, that staff members, from the director on down, would serve no more than five years with the agency. That way, there would always be fresh energy, fresh ideas, and no entrenched bureaucracy.

This year the Peace Corps is 50 years old. And we celebrate. The more than 200,000 Americans who have served as Peace Corps volunteers and staff, the millions who have been touched by them in 140 countries around the world, and the millions more in the United States who have been touched by their post-Peace Corps life of service, celebrate.

In a life dedicated to service, after Peace Corps Sargent Shriver went on to create and lead Legal Services for the Poor, VISTA, Head Start, Job Corps, Upward Bound, Community Action, Special Olympics, Foster Grandparents, and more.

The Peace Corps posts a tribute to Shriver, telling the story of his seminal role in its founding and of his tenure as its first director.  The National Peace Corps Association, a nonprofit organization of former Peace Corps volunteers and staff and of other friends of Peace Corps, remembers Shriver, as well, including a biography and links to resources and reflections available on the internet.

Joby Taylor,  Director of the Shriver Peaceworker Fellows Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, in his “Remembrance of Sargent Shriver: A Twentieth Century Giant” in the Spring 2011 issue of Worldview, the magazine of the National Peace Corps Association, says of Shriver:
He imbued programs with the overarching idea that because service highlights our common humanity even as it solved real and pressing problems, it was a primary pathway to peace. Far from the common negative view of peace as the absence of conflict, Shriver exemplified a richly positive vision of peace whose key qualities included happiness, joy, and love. His natural skill as a social entrepreneur was to scale up these peacebuilding opportunities – to create service settings that called others to get engaged and realize this truth for themselves. “Serve, Serve, Serve” and “Shatter your mirrors!” he charged; and in response to the question of how we should begin, he said, “In a phrase, the cure is care. Caring for others is the practice of peace!
Service and caring. This is what the Peace Corps is about. This is what peace is about. This is, indeed, what life is about. More about that in posts to come.

This one’s for Sarge.


  1. Thanks
    It is good to be reminded that this movement is not just now but built on the efforts of uncounted and often unsung heroes.

    His understanding of the importance of preventing entrenched bureaucracy might be his most important contribution.

  2. Ah, entrenched bureaucracy! I love Sarge, but the 5-year-rule, to the extent that it's been implemented, hasn't stopped ossification. Peace Corps in the 60's, when I first joined, and Peace corps in the 2000's, when I went back in, are two different entities. The new one is run by a bunch of cold and frightened bureaucrats that Sarge would hardly recognize. Peace Corps gave me the greatest experience of my life, but wow does it need to change now.