Most leaders aren’t content with new path

What is a visionary? One definition is “A person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.” Another slightly different one is “One having unusual foresight and imagination.” Whatever the definition I think the word is overused and like beauty being in the eye beholder, a visionary is in the mind or eye of the person making a list of visionaries.

And believe me when it comes to lists of visionaries you will find list after list. There are lists of visionaries in industry, entertainment, American history, world history, Christian history, African Americans, women, and on and on.

I have my own criteria for what constitutes a visionary. To begin I don’t think that many, if any current American politicians or politicians in general are visionaries because their feet are solidly planted on the ground and their sights set on the next election.

Some politicians have short goals like Ronald Reagan’s winning the Cold War, or Franklin Roosevelt’s goal of recovering from the depression or winning a world war. Most politicians are not visionaries but rather reactors. Even Winston Churchill, the dynamic wartime prime minister did not come into office to remake British society, but to win a war. Even George Washington who established many precedents in the office of the American presidency was more reactive than visionary.

I think had he lived to serve his full second term that Abraham Lincoln might today be considered a visionary. His first term was focused on winning the war and saving the union, but we know his long term goals were to end slavery, grant them citizenship and reunite the nation in a fair and humane way.

I think there have been a number of visionary leaders in the last century. There was Vladimir Lenin the revolutionary leader of the Soviet Union followed by Josef Stalin. Then there was Adolf Hitler who came to power in 1933 in Germany. None of us would share their visions but they did have long term and well defined goals to remake the nations they led. Of course, in these cases their goals led to the death of over 80 million persons from government instigated famines, war, and the destruction of much of Europe. Being a visionary does not necessarily mean you work for the common good.

I would include visionaries Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela who sought to free their people from oppression and bring them into full citizenship. Gandhi led a movement using peaceful means that led Britain to finally grant independence to India in 1947. Mandela spent a lifetime attempting to end Apartheid in Soth Africa that included 27 years in prison but became that nation’s first black president. King led a peaceful movement to gain full citizenship in this nation for African Americans but had a long term vision that we would become a nation that was color blind where no one would be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Perhaps one day that will be achieved.

Among businessmen visionaries include Henry Ford, who was an unpleasant man in many ways but who invented the modern assembly line and impacted the way the whole world puts things together. John D. Rockefeller, the creator of standard oil, invented the modern corporation that develops the product, refines it, advertises it, and retails it. He was so good at it that the government broke Standard Oil up but, in the meantime, even before Edison “invented” the electric light bulb, Rockefeller brought better lighting to American homes with inexpensive kerosene.

There are industrial visionaries in the present day. Bill Gates, love or hate him, was a pioneer of the microcomputer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s and as much as anyone is responsible for all those desktops, laptops and software on the market today. There is Jeff Bezos who invented and created Amazon that has reshaped not only America’s retail industry but also that of the entire world.

Finally, there is Elon Musk who after I watched a movie on Netflix about Space X called “Return to Space,” got me thinking about what a visionary is.

He was born in South Africa to a South African father and Canadian mother. Taking advantage of his mother’s Canadian citizenship he acquired a Canadian Passport and at age 18 moved to Canada because it would be easier to enter the U.S. from Canada. He became a dot com millionaire, and subsequently bought Tesla, X formally known as Twitter and formed Space X.

It is plans for our future in space that has established him as a visionary in my mind. Space X has developed a rocket capable of lifting payloads into orbit and reusable rocket technology. Musk envisions soon establishing a permanent base on the Moon with eventual colonies on Mars. He is even giving thought to how those Martian colonies would be governed.

Who are your visionaries?

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com


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