Tuesday, May 10

The Power of A Vision

Many thanks to former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry for joining my guests and me here at the Schiller Center for a dynamic and informative discussion about his Nuclear Tipping Point project. Along with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Senator Sam Nunn, Secretary Perry has formed a movement, Nuclear Security Project, to galvanize global action to reduce urgent nuclear dangers and to build support for reducing reliance on nuclear weapons. They believe global terrorism heightens the threats beyond what people realize. Their film, Nuclear Tipping Point, has been used by President Obama to focus his defense team on this danger and motivate them to take every step needed to dismantle nuclear weapons and safeguard existing stockpiles around the world. Secretary Perry has committed the remainder of his career to this initiative. Guests commented that his talk, followed by a lively Q&A exchange, was informative, scary, and inspiring. We all felt fortunate to be able to learn about this complex and often hidden danger, what is being done about it—and what each of us can do. For starters, consider hosting your own showing of the film followed by a group discussion.

Perry’s talk has led me to reflect on the power of a really large, seemingly impossible vision. Many people would say that it’s impossible to eliminate nuclear weapons from the planet, so why even talk about it? But who knows the obstacles better than Perry, Kissinger, Shultz, and Nunn? Yet, they have dedicated their lives to this initiative. There are even signs that some progress is being made, although way too little and too slowly to assure a nuclear-safe future. Yet, where would we be without their vision, shared through their film, writing, teaching, and activities around the globe? Perry’s compelling message is that we can and must create a positive tipping point globally which, when reached, will lead to the rapid and complete dismantling of all nuclear weaponry. Without that vision and the actions to realize it, a nuclear incident is almost certain in the not too distant future.

Can you imagine taking on as a “retirement project” the goal of ridding the planet of nuclear weapons? Yet, here are four very intelligent, dedicated people doing just that. If we are able to divert a nuclear incident, I can’t help thinking that it will be in large part due to their vision and actions. This power of a truly large vision is behind all great advances that are made, personally, organizationally, or globally. Look at the stir the book Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is creating about turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. Kristof and WuDunn point out that at the time a few abolitionists began speaking out against slavery, the majority of people around the world imagined the elimination of slavery to be impossible. Now, they ask us to tackle the oppression of women around the world so their potential can be unleashed for the benefit of all. And it seems their vision is creating a critical mass for changes in human trafficking and other practices that only a few years ago seemed intractable.

What is your vision—for your organization and for yourself? The great 20th Century theologian Harry Emerson Fosdick liked to talk about the power of ideas in the air—great positive ideas, evil ideas, even small unworthy ideas. As he spoke out against the spread of Hitler’s ideas at the time, Fosdick challenged people to pay attention to the ideas in the air which they serve. He believed that people can be measured by the ideas they choose to serve in their lives. To a great extent, the Schiller Center’s work focuses on helping people in organizations serve great, positive ideas—ideas like purpose and harmony, cooperation, trust, and benefiting all stakeholders as well as the planet. By Fosdick’s standards—and my own—Bill Perry is living a life worth living—serving a great positive idea that could not only improve the planet, but assure its existence. Thanks to Bill and his partners for taking on this monumental challenge, and encouraging us to be informed and engaged. You inspire us to ask ourselves daily what ideas we are serving in our own lives.

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