In anticipation of President Elect Barack Obama’s inaugural address, WBUR’s Bob Oakes recently interviewed Ted Sorenson, who helped craft JFK’s memorable 1961 speech. In case you missed the broadcast, a couple of things all creative people can take note of. The first is that both Kennedy and Sorenson solicited input, lines and ideas from as many as 40 friends, historians, writers and economists. John Kenneth Galbraith contributed the memorable line “We will never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate.” Walter Lippmann changed “those who would be our enemies,” to a far more poetic “those who would make themselves our adversaries.” The lesson? Others can make our ideas better if we’re willing to listen.
Secondly, of course, is that the most quotable line was borrowed from Jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes who in 1884 said, “It is now the moment when by common consent we pause to become conscious of our national life and to rejoice in it, to recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return.” And it was virtually lifted in form and structure from a eulogy given by the mayor of Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1940 whose version of the same line was modified to, “Here may we be reminded that man is most honored, not by that which a city may do for him, but by that which he has done for the city.” The lesson here? Collect, save and yes, borrow material from the best sources available. Providing you add something to make it your own.