More Than A Plan, More Than a Dream: A Belief
Martin Luther King didn’t just have a dream, he had a plan: marches, sit-ins, legislative advocacy. But no amount of dreaming, and no amount of planning, could comfort him when the death threats rained upon him, when the Churches were bombed and the dogs set loose; no, in those all-too-frequent (if not constant) moments, he needed something else: belief. Belief that was not always justifiable; belief that strained the bounds of credulity; belief that he almost certainly struggled to believe himself. Yet that belief remained, and it resonated in the hearts and minds of the countless thousands that risked their lives for justice, and it resonated even in the hearts and minds of those who would prefer to look the other way–but couldn’t, because the Civil Rights movement forced them to…forced them to believe that change was coming.
O, but it’s so hard. During the darkest days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the Battle of Britain, or the Civil War, or the American Revolution, or the myriad other events that shaped history, how many times did the way forward seem impossible, unthinkable? How often were the best of plans laid to waste, the best thinkers proven wrong? And yet sometimes, in the midst of strife–moments when all the roads to Justice have been washed away by a torrent of hopelessness–a path is forged. It is a path that defies logic, that shouldn’t work…and then somehow does.
Who Shapes History?
I’ve spent the last decade of my life wrestling with an existencial question, one that Tolstoy tackled in War and Peace: do great men and women shape history, or are they merely the products of their times? Tolstoy argued for the latter. The more I’ve thought about it, however, the more certain I am that Tolstoy is wrong. Sure, we are all products of our times, but some people rise above their times: indeed, one of the words we use to describe great leaders, great art, great moments, is timeless. Without time.
Why? What is the difference between the good and the great? I’ve come to think of it this way: the good leader has good ideas and good plans and inspires other to act, but the great leader has all that and one more thing–belief, and the power to inspire in others the belief that the impossible can be made possible. After all, NASA scientists were able to figure out how to get to the moon, but John F. Kennedy made them, and the entire nation, believe that they could, that they should and that they would.
Hindsight is 20/20, however. Looking forward, Who among us is willing to envision a world free of poverty, war, environmental devastation and injustice? It’s not that there aren’t enough dreamers out there; I recently walked past a shop in downtown Providence that was playing ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon, and when I paused for a moment to listen to the lyrics I realized that they were completely fanciful and easy to dismiss…’Imagine no possessions / easy if you try’? No it’s not! But then there are people like Dr. Muhammad Yunus, who speaks of putting poverty into museums. Yunus combines two things that are essential to making real and lasting change: as the founder of Grameen Bank, which serves over 8 million Bangladeshis, and the progenitor of what has become a worldwide microfinance movement, he knows how to get things done on the ground. At the same time, and also as a result of this success, Yunus is able to makes me believe that, no matter how distant and difficult the goal may seem, we will end poverty on this planet.
I jot down these thoughts because of late I too have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge, the stress of running an organization, and my own limits as a leader. To overcome this fatigue, I have to remember that Capital Good Fund has a plan for growth and a track record for impact, and that my job is to get myself, and everyone around me, to believe that we will end poverty in America. The plans are there, as are the people to implement them: my job is to raise the curtain that keeps the show going.
What I Want
I want to be a great leader. With a sense of humility and humor and joy and love and passion and compassion I want to inspire in others the belief that, together, we will do great things. And that is why, on days when I feel as though my heart is a machete cutting through an impenetrable jungle of dashed dreams, I have to believe, despite all the evidence before me, that I will get through to the other side, and there, roaring with beauty and hope, I will come across a waterfall that will carry us all toward a better world.