It’s November 22. Today 47 years ago I was sitting on the gym floor in high school physical education when a kid who’d been to the office told us President Kennedy had been shot and killed.
How important was this? How much did it change our history? I don’t know and people debate that still. But anybody American who was even partially grown up on that day can tell you exactly how and where they heard the news. The world changed on that day more than on most.
I’ve seen two different President Kennedy moments used as excellent examples of leadership that changed the world.
First, when in 1962 he challenged a nation to put a man on the moon before 1970. Speaking at Rice University, he said:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win . . .
Of course you know they did go to the moon in that decade. And Kennedy’s leadership is used as an example of setting ambitious goals and getting people to achieve them.
A prof I had in grad school used The book Thirteen Days, A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis to teach leadership. That was an excellent course, and it’s a fascinating book. It’s full of real leadership.
In the old days, leaders stood up against the wind and took on popular opinion and stood for what they believed. And, on the other hand, they weren’t subjected to public scrutiny of every aspect of their personal and private lives (the media chose not to write about Kennedy’s less-than-faithful marriage behavior). I like to think that there are still leaders around, but we don’t see them, or their leadership, because we don’t give them a break. Or we don’t believe them. Or we’re too damn polarized.
Final note: I was working on a different blog post for today but when I went to post it I discovered the date. Is there anybody American in my generation who doesn’t attach special meaning to November 22? Even 47 years later?