First of all, they had a vision. That’s what’s so powerful about this speech, the “I Have a Dream“ speech. It was rousing, it was motivating. It didn’t focus on how difficult and impossible that vision was or that dream was. It focused on what that dream would look like. And I urge you to go back and watch the footage of that speech, and I challenge you not to be completely inspired by it. So the vision was there.
The second thing that stands out for me is they were prepared. So they had a strategy of how they would do this. And this involved non-violent protests in the form of marches, sit-ins on public transport. Non-violent protest was only ever going to be met with violence. And that’s the key to their strategy, was actually saying not just this is what we want, this is how we plan to get it, but anticipating what the challenges would be, what obstacles they would face. And those obstacles were really very real– violence, being thrown in jail.
Martin Luther King was arrested 29 times. They were ready for that. In fact, they actually trained in how to cope with violent aggression and how to stay peaceful. In other words, they were prepared and they practiced the skills that they would need to further their cause. And they kept on. Every time they were arrested and then released, they would continue their fight.
The second story I want to share with you is a story from childhood, the story of David and Goliath. Is everyone familiar with that story? Hands up if you’re not familiar with the story of David and Goliath. Great, so you all remember the story of David and Goliath. It’s from the Book of Samuel. And it’s the story about this fierce giant, Goliath, and how David, a small, innocent shepherd boy with a single slingshot was able to topple, to kill this terrifying warrior. And so win the battle for his people against the Philistines.
Now it’s hard to imagine a more intimidating foe or daunting prospect. How in the world did David do that? What was his secret? Was he just lucky, really? With one slingshot? This is the subject of a fantastic book called “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell. And in it, Gladwell seeks to challenge our perception of what makes us strong, what makes us weak. People and things we think would give an advantage, and those things that we think make us disadvantaged.
And what’s wonderful about the David and Goliath story, if you read behind the headlines, is David, that small, weak shepherd boy, he knew exactly what he was doing when he went to face Goliath. He knew that Goliath was this big warrior, that he would be decked out from head to toe in armor.
On the day in question, he carried a spear. Goliath carried a spear, he had a sword, he had a shield. He was there in all his glory. David knew this. He knew that Goliath would be slow because his armor was heavy. He also knew that Goliath was short sighted because Goliath had said, where are you? Where are you? Show yourself to me. Show yourself to me.
The other thing that David knew was that he was an excellent slingshot. He was very good at his skill. This is a skill he used everyday to protect his sheep against predators. He knew that that skill perfected was enough in one shot to topple the giant. That’s what happened.
The third and final story I want to share with you is the story of Victor Frankl. Victor Frankl is a Holocaust survivor. He died a few years ago. But he wrote a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which is one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read, and I highly recommend you read it. It tells the story of his experience in concentration camps and his fight for survival.
It’s hard to imagine circumstances that could weigh more heavily against you, the torment, the horror, the misery of being in a concentration camp. How did Victor Frankl and the very few that managed to survive when millions didn’t, how did he do that? What made the difference between those who kept fighting, fighting to stay alive, and those who didn’t make it? And this question, answering this question, is the subject of Frankl’s book. And he came up with one thing.
Despite everything that was taken away, everything physical, the emotional torment, there was one thing he discovered that could not be taken. And that was his attitude, his mindset. He realized the power of his thoughts, thoughts that he could control no matter what happened on the outside. He would always remain in control of those. And that is what he attributes to his and many of the others survival in those awful circumstances.
So those three stories have the following in common. They are all examples of people who faced extraordinary odds, people who wanted to fight the battle. They are stories of people who won against those odds because they focused not on the impossibility of the task, how powerful and overwhelming were the odds against them. They focused on what they could control. Focus your attention on what you can control.
I’ve already explained to you that that was an instrumental factor in my journey from then to now. There’s just one small problem, small blip in that journey. If only I’d remembered that lesson, that lesson that I learned all those years ago when I was a working parent. When I returned to Cleary Gottlieb, which is the law firm I was working in when my first son was born. Dylan was six months old.