What Al Gore's Really Saying

While channel surfing last night, I stumbled upon Al Gore's endorsement of Barack Obama. At first I wanted to listen to Obama's response to Gore, but then I found myself enveloped by the power of Gore's comments and his stature. Be clear, I'm not writing to underscore Gore's endorsement; rather I want to take notice of Gore himself and to heed what his journey potentially means for each of us. For one of the first times in this campaign season, I heard a public figure stand up before an audience and articulate a clear and compelling view of the challenges we face and the need for a different approach to address them. His comments were not wrapped in poetic words or raw partisan appeals or a litany of policy proposals. Instead, Gore outlined his cogent view of the challenges before us in the 21st century - from climate change to international affairs to energy to the economy.

I found myself drawn in by a man who still cannot deliver soaring rhetoric or move people to their feet in rabid applause; but he has something different, something potentially more powerful, and something that is proving to be more enduring. Al Gore has his integrity and a clear sense of mission.

Like Gore, not all our dreams work out, and sometimes our paths take us in unexpected or even unwanted directions. In June 2006, I wrote a blog called "The Al Gore fable," in which I talked about his redemption from the 2000 presidential campaign debacle through his efforts on global climate change, Hurricane Katrina, and his launch of a new cable TV station and other private sector ventures.

So, last night, I found myself again thinking about his journey, and about our respective journeys.

  • While Al Gore has regained a significant public profile, he is no longer the central character in national politics or even within his party. So, in our own work and lives, what is the difference between having to be in the lead and being a good leader?
  • While Al Gore sought to be "leader of the free world," he has found other outlets for his energy and work. So, for each of us, what are the different ways in which we could exert leverage for the kind of change we seek - and where do we need to stand to achieve that change, especially if our initial dreams are dashed?
  • While Al Gore seemed to lose his bearings and voice during the 2000 presidential race, he has rediscovered them over the past eight years. So, for you and me, what does it mean to rediscover our own sense of mission and purpose, especially at those times when we feel rudderless, or out of control, or even lost?

In looking back, one cannot underestimate Al Gore's fall from glory. He was the sitting vice president with the world seemingly at his fingertips, but who seemed during his race for the presidency utterly confused about his priorities, who was openly belittled for reportedly saying such things as he "invented the Internet," and who changed clothing-styles so often during the campaign that he appeared to be going through a mid-life crisis before our very eyes.

For me, Gore's words last night were powerful and moving because I had some understanding of where they came from - of the journey Gore has made, the ideas he has sought to fulfill, the humiliation he's endured, the commitment to public life he has maintained as his own life has evolved. For these and other reasons, his words had a ring of truth and conviction that seemed to rise only from the depths of his life experience. As his voice filled the arena, he was speaking not only to voters, but to each of each of us who dare to step forward to create hope and change. Each of us is on a journey that we need to understand and engage.

Download a free copy of Rich's latest essay Make Hope Real and begin to step forward to create hope and change