Dorene Koehler, PhD
Santa Barbara, Ca. 93103
January 22, 2013
Dr. President Obama:
I write to you today as one of your constituents—a supporter who believes in you and believes in the work you do for America.
Mr. President, I am tired, concerned, and anxious. I am concerned about our future as Americans, and I would like to ask you about some of what you envision for America.
As I write this letter to you, it has been approximately twenty-four hours since your second inauguration—a beautiful day filled with sacred American ritual. I want you to know that I heard your speech. I truly heard it! I have always known that one person and one administration alone cannot cure all the ills of the world and our system. It is a deep truth that we must act even in the face of the knowledge that what we do will never be complete, never enough. There will always be another day and another battle to fight.
You, however, must be aware of your own power as an iconic presence leading the changes we presently experience. The fact that you chose to be sworn in using both Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.’s bibles proves that you know the power of an icon—the mythic power of archetypal images—to move people.
And so I write to ask you: How are we going to begin to change our cultural understanding of the power of these archetypal images? How are we going to re-vivify the study of the humanities in America?
There were two studies released this year that really made the crisis in the Humanities clear to me (besides the fact that I’ve yet to find any kind of gainful employment utilizing my degree).
The first was the Pew Forum’s “Study on Religion and Public Life.” This 2012 study states that 1 in 5 Americans now claim no religious affiliation. That is a huge percentage of Americans with no organized communal outlet for their spirituality. American spirituality is in flux and in crisis. Large numbers of us seem to be abandoning old ways of connecting to the soul. Perhaps, in our secularized society, this may not seem like a huge crisis, but it is. We cannot afford to allow our need to act on our ritual impulses to disappear into unconscious careless action. At the very least, we are called to address these changes, for the sake of the future–our children. If Americans neglect connecting with each other for the sake of tending to our souls in community, how can we tend to each other in the material world? Why would it even matter if we did?
The second study was an article released by The Chronicle of Higher Education, which notes a 43% unemployment rate among PhDs in the humanities. 43%!! How can it be that America has some of the brightest, most educated of its citizens living in poverty because they are burdened by the debt of an education that has taught them what it means to be a human being, and because they cannot find a job sharing that knowledge with their communities?
I understand (and agree by the way) that mathematics, science, and technology are going to drive our next economic boom. Everything you said about this in your inaugural address is true. But, we cannot expect Americans to come together in the way we need to for prosperity if we continue to neglect our spiritual, psychological, and mythological needs as human beings.
Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
And, in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum wrote, “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
I believe that you know this instinctually and viscerally. That is why I trust you with my vote. I know you value the power of symbols, of culture, of the soul, Mr. President, and so I ask you: What can we do? What can I do? How can I be a part of reclaiming and healing the soul of America for the future?
Thank you for lending your ear,
Dorene Koehler, PhD