On Friday, I shared the story of the President of the Quaker College during the Vietnam War. He was about to practice adaptive confidence by confronting two groups of students who were planning a protest at the flagpole that might lead to violence.
As the president was interviewed about this story he appeared to be a strong-minded man. Yet as he came to this moment in the story (where he left his office, not knowing what he would do) he begins to weep. He says that as he arrived on the tumultuous scene, he heard a voice say to him, “Tell them to wash the flag.”
He turned to the demonstrators and said, “Why don’t you get a box of detergent and a bucket of water and wash the flag. Then when it’s clean, run it back up the flagpole.” Both the demonstrators and the football players found this to be an acceptable option. The flag was washed and put back up.
This was one of those moments of inspiration that often occur when we are in the state of authentic engagement and are moving forward in adaptive confidence. The initiator or leader articulates an image that transcends differences. It is a moment of extraordinary impact. But where does the key idea come from? It comes from outside the conscious mind. The president hears a voice in his head. At that moment, he knows he is connected to something greater than himself. He knows that greatness in not “in us but through us.” That is the reason for the tears when he tells the story. When we experience that flow of revelatory greatness, the memory moves us even years afterward. When such greatness flows through us, we tend to become an instrument of integration and oneness. The extraordinary person integrates that which is differentiated. In this case, the image of the flag needing washing lifts the conflicted actors toward a more integrated and complex way of seeing and being. They too have a transformational experience.