Good evening, and thanks for coming. What you are about to experience will — I hope — entertain, perhaps enlighten, and maybe even move you.
To begin, I want to promise you what I won’t talk about. I won’t talk to you about current events. No talk of President Obama. Or Nancy Pelosi. Or the Senate Democrats. I won’t talk about the national debt. Or the rise of Islamism. Or the 2012 election.
I know. It’s sounding like a great speech already!
For the next 15 minutes, I want to free you from the present, from all the endless bad news that’s on Fox News, Drudge, You Tube, and Twitter.
Indeed, so many of our problems are rooted in our fixation with the present, with the here and now. So many businesses in our country suffer from this affliction. So worried are they about the next quarterly report, they lose sight of the next six months or the next year. It’s the same with our families and churches. We’re so busy living our lives moment to moment, we have no time to refresh, replenish, and reset.
It’s conservatism’s problem. We spend too much time and money on elections and worry too much about this or that county in Ohio, this or that set of tactics designed to outmaneuver Democrats on issues that we will soon forget. We don’t spend nearly enough time on our mission or on ourselves. In the pursuit of short-term advantages, we lose our long-term vision.
And then we lose ourselves.
There was a great book a couple of years ago by John Kay called Obliquity. The theme of the book was that we can attain a desired goal best by pursuing it indirectly — or not pursuing it at all. Kay explains in the book how GE CEO Jack Welch performed so well for shareholders. It was simple: He didn’t worry about shareholder value. Indeed, he once went out of his way to call shareholder value “the dumbest idea in the world.” Welch did something radically different: He spent his waking hours thinking about his workers and his customers. And what happened? Precisely because he didn’t worry minute to minute about shareholder value, he delivered shareholder value!
Even happiness, John Kay said, is best pursued indirectly. He quoted John Stuart Mill, who framed what we’ve come to call the “happiness paradox.” Mill wrote: “Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.” Like the man who gets high blood pressure because he takes his pulse all the time, we seek cures that don’t work; entertainment, vacations, a round of golf, letting off a few rounds at the local firing range. We then return to our lives, still worried about our future, our families, and our country.
Which is why this speech is not about our present. It’s about our past — and our future. I want to talk about who we are, how we got here, and who we might become.
George Orwell said this about the future: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their understanding of their own history.” Orwell was right. Battles about the past — over history — are always about the future.