Last Saturday, being the all-consuming celebration of freedom that it was, saw our group of friends parked on the beach all day. We grilled, played games, threw the frisbee, and generally had a day of it until the darkness overcame our game of Cosmic Encounter and the fireworks began. We also utterly failed at putting up a self-designed tent. On the third, my visiting brother and I, decrying the evils of an E-Z up (the primary evil being its $120 price tag), declared our independence from such frivolities and journeyed to Home Depot to purchase materials used in construction of our own version of the snap-up shelter. Made from PVC, fishing line, drip line stakes, and a tarp, this beacon of freedom would rally our partygoers in shared pursuit of the glory of thrift. We’d get shade, we’d support the ideals of individualism, and we’d feel pretty dang awesome about our ability to back-yard engineer. Nothing could go wrong.
On the surface, the setup was simple. During testing, we clocked about 130 to click in all the PVC struts to their couplings and raise the frame; believing it trivial to add the tarp, we surmised that our architecture was sound enough for the next day’s activities. When the fourth did roll around, my roommate and I confidently used the PVC to stake out (no pun) an area of the beach for our usage, then went to go collect the various chairs, blankets, and foodstuffs we would need for the day. By the time we got back, a few people had already shown up and were trying in various ways to set up the tent – and failing. The factor my brother and I hadn’t counted on was the wind, much gustier at the beach than at our apartment complex. The tarp, too large for the frame, was getting broadsided and breaking the PVC struts out of their couplings. Everyone involved had a different idea on how best to attack the problem, and consequently nothing was getting done.
Thus I stepped in, and with all the consummate skill bestowed upon me by numerous years as an engineer, began pushing my own silly agenda for how best to set up the tent. Clearly, since it was my idea, I would know how best to troubleshoot the failing design. I began retying the tarp, resticking the stakes, and generally attempting to bring the frame and the tarp more in line with my perfect vision. Others were warning me about how my methods had already been attempted to no avail, but I simply thanked them for their input and continued. It was then when a smart young friend of mine who had just returned from the Middle East brought me back to reality with a single sentence: “You tell me what to do and I’ll just let you be the guy with the vision.” This was of course the role I had unconsciously set for myself from the very beginning, but my friend’s acknowledgement brought it to the forefront of my attention.
Short of having a “vision” for the tent, however, I had simply plowed ahead with it because, more than anything else, I wanted to be right about it. I wanted the tent to work because of the aforementioned ideals of individualism, and because my pride as an designer and an analyst was at stake (again, no pun). What I had been trying to pass of as pursuit of a “vision” had simply been arrogant pride. I have been wondering since how often in my leadership capacities at Westmont I had mistaken the two.
What constitutes “vision”? How do you know when you have a “vision” and when you’re simply passionate about something? If I now numbered off the times when, having accepted a goal, I was able to step back, flawlessy approximate the best possible procedure for accomplishing that goal, and follow through seamlessly, I would be done immediately with a count of zero. Much more numerous are the times when I perceived a way I could acheive the goal, convinced those whom I could that I knew the best path, connived the rest into supporting it anyway, and set off, letting others make mistakes for me and claiming the whole time that I had it “under control.” In these cases, “vision” was simply a convenient tool to bring people under my fold.
Without getting too much more introspective, I would like to ask the 3.5 people that read this blog what their thoughts are on “vision.” (I will continue using quotes to differentiate from sight, unless a better system presents itself) As “visionaries” become more and more prevalent in our society, do we need to become better and better at discerning, at having true seeing? How will we know the correct vision, and more importantly, what will enable us to know when the wool is being pulled over our eyes? This is a bigger issue than I think most people give it credit for, and more than a tent is at stake (still no pun. Well, maybe that time).