January 18, 2016
It’s the vision thing.
Two weeks ago, Cheri and I were in Prague, touring the Castle Grounds: an incredible complex of buildings dating back a millennium, where the Kingdom of Bohemia – part of the Holy Roman Empire – had its political center.
In the collection of buildings is the Cathedral of St. Vitas. The construction of the magnificent structure began in November of 1344, under the direction of a French architect/master builder, Matthias of Arras. He created the plans and began the work. It was ultimately completed in 1929, almost 600 years later, true to the design conceived by Matthias, nearly six centuries earlier.
Though the architecture and art were magnificent in the Gothic structure, the message that impacted me was demonstrated throughout the tour: great vision outlives its human source. Matthias never lived to see his dream realized, but it had power beyond his lifetime.
Twenty-nine years ago – next week – Time magazine asked the question, “Where is the Real George Bush?” Then vice-president Bush was described by writer Robert Ajemian this way: “Colleagues say that while Bush understands thoroughly the complexities of issues, he does not easily fit them into larger themes. This has led to the charge that he lacks vision. It rankles him. Recently he asked a friend to help him identify some cutting issues for next year’s campaign. Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. ‘Oh,’ said Bush in clear exasperation, ‘the vision thing.’ The friend’s advice did not impress him.” (Time, January 26, 1987)
That quote haunted Bush through the rest of his political career. Bush suffered from his lack of what he called “the vision thing,” a clarity of ideas and principles that could shape public opinion and influence Congress.George Will: “He does not say why he wants to be there, so the public does not know why it should care if he gets his way.’”
The Vision Thing: the phrase is now used as a description “for any politician’s failure to incorporate a greater vision in a campaign, and has often been applied in the media to other politicians or public figures.” (Wikipedia)
Today – in America – the nation marks the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – August 28, 1963, 100 years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Declaration – King delivered what experts in rhetoric voted the “top American speech of the 20th Century.” He spoke for just 17 minutes, but his message redirected the conversation of the country regarding the rights of all Americans to participate in a nation formed with the intent to offer “liberty and justice for all.”
From his speech: “I say to you today, my friends… even through we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal…’”
Like Matthias of Arras, Martin of Atlanta set in motion a movement that outlived his short life (King died at 39). Unlike George H.W. Bush, he never struggled with “the vision thing.” He left no confusion regarding his dream: “When this happens… we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last… thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
Great leaders have great vision; powerful people have powerful dreams. What’s your vision? What are your dreams? Who knows it? Will it outlive you?