The Way Turned and Twisted

In The Hope We Seek, Rich Shapero assays human aspiration.

Says Rich, “There’s a clearly-defined moment for most of us when we enter the adult world. Often it occurs when schooling ends. It’s a threatening time, full of doubt, fears of the unknown, fears of failure. We know it’s going to be a long road. But we have aspirations. And most of us don’t have a choice. Earning a living is a matter of survival. So despite our dread, we plunge in. We find work. The work isn’t what we dreamt of doing, but we hope it will lead to something better. Our aspirations remain with us. If we grit it out we might get there. Somehow. Some day.

“I left home without a nickel. I scraped through college. My first job was digging ditches for the gas company. I worked the graveyard shift. Then I ran a printing press. I was hired by a computer company and after years in the trenches, I got the chance to run one. The company was successful. I became a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. Ultimately, I caught up with my aspirations. But it was a long journey. The way turned and twisted, and it was mostly in darkness. The Hope We Seek is drawn from that experience.”

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The Deceitful Vanguard

“Most of us have closely-held desires, things we put in front of ourselves and say, ‘This is what I want.’ Our culture, like most, celebrates achievement. Dreaming of a brighter future, realizing the dream, or trying to—that’s how we derive meaning from life.

“Aspiration can’t exist without leadership. When a group aspires to something, a leader is chosen to fix the goal. When an individual aspires to something, there is an internal ‘leader’—a part of that person’s makeup that runs out ahead of the rest, to focus his or her attention and point the way.”

Rich describes a “proclamation of omniscience” that, he says, goes hand in hand with leadership:

“The leader says, ‘If we do X, then Y will be the result.’ The leader doesn’t know that. He or she is guessing, hoping. The expression of certainty is a lie. But it’s a necessary lie. If we’re to throw all our energies at an aspiration, we need to know that the outcome is certain. We have to believe.

“On the individual level, we need a component of our personality to see the world through tinted glasses. That interior leader says, ‘If you do X, then Y will be the outcome. Trust me.’ And the rest of our nature signs up.

“Humans require prophecy and vision. There is an element of fakery in that. Prophecy isn’t based on fact. It’s the deceitful vanguard of wishing and wanting. But it’s not something we can do without.

“The miracle, of course, is where the imagined future becomes real. That justifies the guessing, the fakery, the deception. JFK says, ‘If we do this and that, we’ll put a man on the moon.’ And one day, there’s a man walking on the moon. When the aspiration was first expressed, nobody knew if it could be realized. But the voice spoke with conviction, and people devoted themselves to the vision.

“It doesn’t work for the leader—external or internal—to say, ‘I’m not sure we can do this. There are obstacles. There are questions I don’t have answers for. Maybe we should give it a whirl. What do you think?’ That’s not leadership.”