So I went to Arkansas last week to see the Clinton Presidential Library. It was on my list of things to do this year, and on an idle Friday I picked up the miner’s staked claim and travelled north in search of gold.
First time in Little Rock. Fourth time in Arkansas.
Once, I went with lovers. Once I went with friends. Once to retrace the ruins. And now to make amends.
It is a curious thing, libraries. You never know what you’ll find out. And while I knew a good bit about Pres. Clinton, I am always learning/overjoyed to see the ways in which he assembled a team around him.
As a schoolchild, a wee tot, a “man on the make” I found myself gravitating towards “team” and “teamwork.” A few times, I have had random strangers say that they felt a “strong leadership” on/in/around me (if you believe in prophecies, auras and personalities). I’m not sure if this is true. That is, what I mean to say is that I don’t particularly feel like a leader. John Maxwell once said, “If you think you are a leader and no one is following, you’re just taking a walk.” And I do a lot of walking. But a thing is a thing no matter what we call it (words being signifiers, not the signified) and I have found myself working in/with/among teams more than occasionally.
I love it. I love building up people. I love knowing and seeing them grow, developing, evolving, and knowing I had a hand in it. That I encouraged them at a sore time, that I believed in them. And that they are now doing well. I take great, deep pride in that – in seeing my people succeed. And, as long as I can remember, this has always been so. A faint memory of kindergarten: I gave someone a toy because I somehow knew it would make their playtime better, more imaginative. In fourth and fifth grade: I often was the “leader” of the “X-men” during recess (really, 10 to 12yo boys and the occasional girl. we ran around the playground “fighting” one another in pantomime… good times…).
I’m not sure why this was so. Perhaps sometimes we can be highly self-reflective and critical without truly examining the ins and outs of the internal. But there it is. Perhaps, somehow, this makes me a product of my generation. Pres. Clinton promoted teamwork and so I inhaled those waters like a sand-dweller, fire-dweller or bird of flight. It began to come naturally – but I never (to my knowledge) take it for granted. I enjoy it so much, and it is in such rare supply these days that it seems no one really knows any more what it means to rely on another person. We are so entrenched in “what about me” mentalities that we have forgotten what it means to sacrifice. Gandhi once said religion without sacrifice is no religion at all.
Which brings me back to the library.
Again, I’ll admit I am a product of my time. Like Adam of old, I don’t lament the “newer” model of Eve. I rejoice in her, calling out, “Whoa!” every time I see her. But still, I am that I am and here we both be. And when I find myself in a place like the Clinton Presidential Library, it is a temple of sorts to teamwork – entire rooms devoted to Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and the teamwork necessary to build a better world with names like Tony Blair, George Bush, Ted Kennedy, Ehud Barak, Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela. Each of the prime-time players were powerhouses unto themselves, but Clinton somehow found a way to unite them for a common cause and open channels of intercultural dialogue which were logger jammed previously. Whatever your political persuasion, whatever your view of his personal conduct, here was a man who aggressively sought reconciliation. I, for one, was impressed with the ways that the library focused their attention on teamwork and not the man, the legend, the savior of the world, William Jefferson Clinton.
To provide a bit of context, I was not always a Clinton supporter. Quite the opposite. My family was so conservative/Republican that my father cried the day Reagan left office. True story. And I naturally grew up suspicious of “the liberals” like Clinton and Gore. (ex: “Global warming? That’s for stupid weed-smoking hippies who need to get a job. Peace in the Middle East? Let the rag heads blow themselves up. Diplomatic relations with China? Fuck those slangy-eyed bastards.”) It was, shall we say, quite the volatile series of conversations around the dinner table when I chose to speak out against my father’s political and racial beliefs and call them what they were – ignorant, misinformed, and racist.
Here’s the funny thing: I don’t know where I got all my “crazy” ideas about teamwork and a better world. For years, I thought I had picked it up from reading X-men comic books. And then I thought maybe I was just wired differently than my father. Maybe he wasn’t even my father?!? (that’s impossible. we look exactly alike… except I have hair *haha*) But the last few years, I’ve really tried to figure this out and the only conclusion I can draw is that my parents taught me to read (educational literacy was another program Clinton was behind, by the way). They taught me to read and that changed everything. There were books, of course, which I’m sure influenced me. Documents. Internet articles. All of these leading to conversations among the idealists I knew. But there’s one thing I could never resolve: The world Clinton talked about, the world of teamwork, looked a lot like the one scripture talked about. It was a world that began with Hope.
(cont. in part II)