Power of Vision

Feb 12, 2012, 06:56 IST | Devdutt Pattanaik

Visualise this. A slave in Egypt in 1500 BCE (Before Common Era, formerly known as BC or before the birth of Christ).

Visualise this. A slave in Egypt in 1500 BCE (Before Common Era, formerly known as BC or before the birth of Christ). He hears a man, once a prince, now an outlaw, declare that God has instructed him to take all the slaves to a Promised Land where they can be free. He watches this man do powerful things -- draw swarms of locusts and predict deadly plagues. Everyone around him is impressed.

Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

They start believing in what is being said: the man is chosen by God to be their deliverer. Slowly, the slave lets himself dream of a Promised Land. Finally, he decides to follow the chosen one, out of familiar slavery to an unfamiliar future that holds the promise of freedom. The man he followed is known to us as Moses. And out of his vision was born the nation of Israel that till today forms the cornerstone of Jewish belief. 

Now visualise this. A bonded labourer in India 1930 CE (Common Era, formerly known as AD or since the birth of Christ). He hears a man, an educated householder who looks like an ascetic, telling him to fight oppression not with violence but with the sheer belief in the truth.

He watches this frail old man do powerful things --shake the mighty British Raj by simply picking up salt, anger the white sahibs by simply wearing white cotton cloth spun by himself. Everyone around him is impressed. They start believing in what is being said: it is possible to change the world by having faith in the truth. Perhaps this man is what they say he is, a Mahatma, a great soul.

Slowly, the bonded labourer lets himself dream of freedom. He decides to follow the ascetic. Walk with him, fast with him, follow him till the British are driven out and a new nation state is born, India, where there is hope of freedom for the smallest and simplest of men.

Both these are stories of leaders. Moses and Gandhi. One comes from a religious tradition and the other from a political tradition. One draws strength from God, the other from truth. Both are able to communicate their vision to the people so effectively that soon they have hordes of followers. But is the vision real?

In hindsight, it is. The followers of Moses did find the Promised Land and the followers of Gandhi did free India. But when it was being communicated, it was just a vision, a dream the leader first believed in, and which, eventually, the followers believed in too.

This belief made the vision real. In other words, belief transformed the vision into a subjective truth: a truth that had no evidence but was very real for both the leader and the follower, defining and driving them in life. Those who do not believe in this vision call it myth, from the Greek word 'mythos' that means story.

The Greeks separated this from logos, knowledge based on evidence. But everything in life does not need proof. Every company in the world begins with a 'vision statement'. It is what motivates organisations to make plans, allocate resources and go to market. It may be myth, but it fills the believers with purpose, and eventually brings fulfillment.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at devdutt@devdutt.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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