George Santayana, “Reason in Common Sense”
Residents and visitors and the generally curious have a chance to relive history this Sunday, when Franklin Reeve recounts his epic visit to the Soviet Union (see David Amato’s article on the front page).
What makes this relatively-forgotten incident in history relevant today is the parallels it offers to politics and leadership in today’s world. Leaders often spend so much time posturing over their entrenched positions that they are unable to see there may be alternatives.
So it was in 1962, when Krushchev and Kennedy hardened their positions over Cuba and escalated the Cold War. Frost, as is often the case with artists pressed into the service of their country, was not an experienced diplomat, but rather a man who saw the complexities of a complex world and tried to make sense of those things. But few seemed willing to listen, or understand, what Frost was saying. What a shame, and what a missed opportunity it was.
There are parallels with our world of 50 years later. Too often, leaders and want-to-be leaders posture and pose, instead of working to find real solutions. Those leaders forsake the advice of those who are best positioned to offer firsthand knowledge, and instead play to popular opinion or staid cliché, or simply seek the media limelight with little regard to the effects of their actions.
In reality, good governance often requires subtle understanding, an ability to read nuance, inflection, and intonation, much like the ability to comprehend good poetry. The best leaders often understand that.
Could the world have been a different place had the results of Frost’s visit to Russia been interpreted differently? Perhaps. We will never know.
But what we can learn from that incident, even now, is that openness and discussion, even in the face of extremely differing philosophies, usually lead to better governance. Posturing, inflexibility, and hard-line attitudes can often lead to the opposite.
So for those who are willing to learn from history, who understand that art and power can often intersect in a positive way, we urge them to take some time on Sunday and enjoy Reeve’s discussion.
History can’t be changed, but with a better understanding of it, the future can be nudged a little.