The Architecture of Life: February 2008

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Round Top Register Endorses Barack Obama

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I run a tiny rural quarterly newspaper that comes from a town with a population of 77 in central Texas. Our next issue goes to press early next week. The Texas Democratic primary is on March 4th, and we are endorsing a candidate for President.

This is what that editorial in the Round Top Register will say.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Things are changing fast in America. In November we will be selecting a new President. The odds are that either an African-American or a woman will be elected to the highest office in the land. That would be a truly "historic" choice that would say something profound about how far we have come.

As an American citizen, those facts make my chest puff up like a new father peering through the window as his first child. I am proud of my nation, amazed at how far we have come and very hopeful for the future. And that is a transformation I did not think was possible.

I am a hopeful person in my everyday life, but I had lost all faith that we would ever rise above the politics of fear and division promoted by the last administration, and the cronyism, deceit and excess of the one before. To me, the presidents that had come before those only looked better in retrospect. During their administrations, I was equally disappointed.

I was in the sixth grade when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Since that time, no candidate for the Presidency - nor any sitting President – has overcome the cynicism and sullen anger I have felt towards our government.

But that is all changed now.

I believe we are at the crossroads of what may prove to be the most significant period of constructive political change in our nation’s politics in the last fifty years. And all because one voice in this race has turned the anger and frustration of the American people into hope.

One voice has elevated the civility of our political discourse in a way that has changed the rules for what makes a successful campaign. One voice has found a way to inspire, to talk straight about our challenges, to offer compassion, and unbelievably…still win!

If there was one truth I held to be inalienable, it was that a politician could not be act like a good and respectful person – and win.

But that single voice has made it politically dangerous to “swift boat” the opposition. It has quieted the dirty cycle of character assassination that has defiled our nation for so long. It may not last, but we are the ones who allow such tactics to influence our votes, and we are being taught something new.

We need nothing more in this time than to be able to trust our leaders. Our nation faces many dangerous and complex challenges. The people are fed up with partisanship and gridlock, with ideology instead of results. They see our country’s wealth and vitality slipping away and they are in no mood for that trend to continue. They have lost faith.

Sacrifice will be needed – sacrifice by you and me – if we are to face and overcome our many challenges. And people will not sacrifice of themselves for a government they cannot trust.

Only one voice in this campaign tells the truth about that.

Only one voice says “…it will not be easy.” And that is the voice comes from a black man who has risen from humble beginnings to become the junior senator from Illinois.

That voice comes from Barack Obama.

No one wants to talk about race and gender. The media dances around it. The campaigns duck the subject as though it were an illicit affair or a charge of corruption.

But isn’t the fact we have come to the point in our history that a black man or a woman could become President what is most exciting about this race?

And isn’t that a powerful signal to the world that we are still the most vibrant, egalitarian, compassionate and politically advanced nation on earth!

Think what it will mean if and when it happens…about who we are!

Our country was founded on the principle that “all men were created equal.” But that was just a “pie in the sky” promise whose time had not come when it was written. In 1776, it was far from true.

If the truth would have been told, it would have said “all well educated white land owners of Western European lineage with considerable wealth” are created equal.

Women, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and immigrants of every shade and culture were not “equal” to most of our founding fathers, and African Americans were their slaves!

All of those “unequal” early inhabitants of the thirteen colonies were human beings with hope in their hearts, with children to raise and dreams they wanted to fulfill…but none of them had a place at the table when our constitution was signed.

But a small group among those privileged few shared a vision of a better nation, and put their lives on the line to give it a chance to rise to heights never seen before.

People have put their lives on the line to fulfill that vision ever since. Generation upon generation, people have suffered and died for the hope that it would some day become a reality.

Now, we are on the verge of making that dream come true.

And if we do, we will have broken the chains of thousands of years of history. We will have truly done something unparalleled not just in our time, but in the history of mankind.

And we, as a nation, will have accomplished that.

You and I.

Politicians arise from the people. Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton will not have made this happen, any more than John McCain created campaign finance reform on his own.

“We the people” sometimes rise up and propel the leaders we need into power…and we are doing that now.

And let us talk of leadership.

You cannot lead people where they will not go. You cannot trick or manipulate, frighten or cajole a nation into rising to challenges, particularly in this time when the electorate is in many ways more sophisticated and better informed than their politicians.

In an information rich nation of free people, you must lead by example. You must lead by building trust. You must lead by creating a big vision that people can believe in, and then walking your talk as best you can.

Arrogance will not get you there. Humility will be required, and forgiveness, and patience, and honesty about your own mistakes and weaknesses.

And now it appears someone has appeared who understands these things.

Barack Obama is charged by his opponents with not having the experience to be a good leader. Let us look at the facts as they are.

What kind of leadership does it take to create a campaign that has defied the predictions of every odds maker in the land from little or nothing, and to have effectively defeated the most powerful political force in the Democratic party?

What kind of leader does it take to craft a message that inspires a nation to engage in the political process to a degree not seen in most of our lifetimes?

There was no genius Karl Rove with a cadre of political operatives behind the scenes when this started. The fix was not in. There was no previous president in this man’s family with a political machine at his beck and call, and the power and prestige to pave the way.

Obama did this himself - he and his wife, Michelle - and so far they have done it without visibly sacrificing their principles.

And all of this was done in a nation which has not fully overcome racism and prejudice; and one obsessed with self interest and material gain.

Think what kind of leadership that takes.

And look at the tools he used to build this unstoppable political juggernaut. Think what intelligence, strategic vision, persuasiveness, planning and determination it took to make that happen.

Here is real leadership. Real results. Proof that anyone can see.

From my point of view as an independent, all four of the candidates still in the race are good people. I won’t be voting for him, but I have long admired John McCain’s record of integrity and independence. I won’t be voting for Mike Huckabee either, but he is a likable figure and I’d love to grab my guitar and sit in with his band, or go to his church to hear a sermon.

The grudge the electorate holds against Hilary Clinton involves the sins of her husband, not her own. The main thing we cannot forgive…is that she forgave him.

We blame her for the fact we cannot forgive the man she loves. That says something about us, not her.

I have been watching all these candidates for months, and my sense is that she is a talented, effective, focused and caring person who would make an excellent President.

And I for one would have been passionately excited to support a woman of her quality for many of the same reasons I now support Barack Obama had I had not heard that voice.

After all, an equally important “glass ceiling” would have been broken. A new day would have come, one that is still long past due.

But I did hear that unexpected voice crying in the wilderness.

Who could have known this would happen? From whence did this voice rise up?

I say the answer is within us.

We called Barack Obama forth because we were ready for a new day. And now we must take what we have created and use it step by step to make our country great again.

For all his eloquence and brilliance, Barack Obama is just a man. He will make mistakes. He cannot change America on his own. Nor can our government.

Alone, and without the patience and determination of the people he will only be one more politician who tried and failed.

But he offers us an opportunity to be a better nation, an opportunity to return to our better selves, an opportunity to shine our light once again to the nations of the world.

We should leap for this opportunity. We should listen to that voice within us - the one he is talking to when he says “…yes we can.”

Because he is living proof that it is true.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Designing and Building a Nation IV

Obama's Vision vs Clinton's "How To"

(Part of a series of related posts - First One here)

Much has changed in the race for the Presidency since my last post .

Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are now neck and neck in the delegate race...and the fickle but much desired "momentum" seems to be shifting to the candidate who is touting change and "vision," and away from the candidate who is promoting experience.

Which gives me the perfect chance to talk about the advantages of beginning a design process by seeking to understand the "vision" of a prospective client.

Though it may be presumptuous, I would suggest that the approach to architecture and interior design promoted on this blog in some ways suggests how "Barack Obama" might approach designing a home if he were to switch careers.

The methods I suggest are subject to many of the same criticisms made by Hilary Clinton and her supporters against Obama, and exhibit many of the same strengths of the ideology and tone of Mr. Obama's campaign for President.

For instance, Hilary points out fairly that Barack does not have her experience in national and international affairs. She implies he is naive and does not have the "how to" skills to get the job done properly.

Needless to say, there are many who suggest that the practice of seeking design criteria from the heads and hearts of your clients - particularly from their subconscious or emotional response - is similarly untested.

Hilary rightly warns that designing and building a nation is a project of profound importance - that it is complex, fraught with difficulty and full of risk - and therefore that sticking to tried and true methods is the best course.

Similarly, making major changes to a home involves critically important decisions, for many people the most important financial decisions of their lives. Such projects are often very complicated, and there is no question that the experience of those who "lead" the process matters a great deal.

Further, there are plenty of "tried and true" methods used in everyday architectural practice, and despite their limitations (and there are many), they do indeed have a proven track record.

So in both cases, there are legitimate arguments against the ideas of the agents of change.

Change is risky. Change can cause upheaval and disruption. Change requires people to learn new things, take chances, alter the habits with which they have grown comfortable, and in the end...change does not necessarily guarantee a better result.

So given that, why do so many people in America seem so eager for it?

Because they are not happy with the status quo.

The pundits always have a ready list of labels for why not - the state of the economy, the state of our various military adventures, the state of the environment, the state of social and religious values, the state of our civil liberties - but in truth, it is mostly about the state of our "feelings."

People simply don't feel happy, safe and secure. They are in a state of dissatisfaction because they feel anxious and threatened by how they perceive the state of the nation.

So these united "states" of being are making them feel uncomfortable - and when people feel uncomfortable for long periods of time - they get restless and want change.

The same thing happens to homeowners.

Americans in particular have always had a bad case of "greener pastures" syndrome when it comes to their homes. And when asked why - they also have a list of reasons why - but the real reasons often come down to they are just restless in their lives and want change.

And they make those changes in incredible numbers. Real estate, residential construction and home improvement constitute the biggest sector of the national economy outside of government. Just follow the money if you want to see where our priorities lie.

The entire sub-prime mortgage crisis is a testament to the fact that people will take almost any risk to acquire or upgrade a home.

And why? Because they think if they change their living circumstances, it will change their lives for the better.

And how will they know when that happens?

By how they feel. They know their lives are better when they feel that way. And changing your living space can make you feel better simply because your environment is least, for a while.

But Hilary would say creating lasting change requires knowing "how to" design and built a nation. She would say vision is all well and good, but if you don't know how to implement it, your efforts will be for naught.

So let's talk vision...and its ingredients.

Barack Obama's vision is one of hope. But the version of "hope" he is promoting "will not be easy." His definition of hope is not some insubstantial "dream," but a compass for action over time.

What he is selling is not just the possibility of a better America, but the truth that is will take sacrifice, intention and communal will applied consistently for years and years.

That is what makes his message so powerful.

After paying a lot of attention to him over the last few months I have come to the opinion that he could not have accomplished the near impossible task of bringing his "hope" of becoming President so close to fruition if his vision was not sincere.

People can smell insincerity in their politicians these days. We are cynical and suspicious. We assume anyone running for office is at the least, self interested...and possibly corrupt.

So Barack Obama is a surprise. He introduces new phenomena in the design and building project we call America - vision tinged with frankness - and we are starved for it.

It also suggests that he has mastered a lot of the "how to" of politics.

So what can we learn from Barack's incredible rise that you and I can apply to our own projects?

First, that you must begin with a clear vision. If you do not know your destination, you are likely to get lost in your campaign for a fitting home when things get tough.

Second, that "dreams" are always attacked by the status quo. If you are a design professional, you will have to overcome the cynicism and attacks of those in your own profession.

If you are someone intent on creating a house that "feels like a home," you must overcome the uninformed voices of of the status quo posturing as rationality and reason.

Those voices might be coming from your mate, the professionals you might hire, your friends and neighbors, or the pundits of real estate and home improvement - but one thing is for sure - your vision must withstand them. And you must have the determination and will to turn your vision into reality.

No one else will supply it.

Now let us look at the same issue from Hilary's point of view. I like Hilary and think like most people whose political views are to the left of Genghis Khan, that she would make an effective president.

But she has a "how to" approach to government. She is trapped by her own competence and experience. Despite her progressive agenda, she is an agent of the status quo.

And with that as her tool kit, she cannot possibly set a new course for America except in the context of the sad legacy of last administration.

And "different and smarter than last bunch of idiots" is not a recipe for transformational change.

It is not "outside the box." It is a reaction against, not an action for...

The same is true when you decide to change your living space. Yet almost everyone comes to a project thinking "how to."

When they should be asking questions like "...who are we now, and who do we want to become?"

"How do we live, and how do we translate the complexities of our lives into a criteria for a home that fits?"

"How can my home environment empower my relationships, my values and my life goals?"

Asking those questions seriously requires an underlying view of reality. They require that you consider it possible that changing your home can change your life.

They require you to believe in yourself. They require that you accept that you are valuable enough to deserve such a living space.

And that you can do anything you put your mind to...if you work hard enough, and keep your eye on your goal.

And when you stand in that place, you stand in the realm of visions that come true.

And best of all, you don't need to know "how to" do it.

You just have to believe it is possible...and take one step after another until you get there.

Click here to read the first post in this series.