I recently asked George Shultz, “Are there any statesmen left?” Without skipping a beat, he responded, “No. Because today’s politicians don’t listen to each other.”
He went on to talk about how trust is established when two people can have an open dialogue, not trying to use the information to do something behind each other’s back. We spun that concept into a new project for students with a working title of The Art of Statesmanship. We thought it would be great to have Sec. Shultz do a zoom conference with teachers across America to show them how to teach statesmanship, the art of listening, and the responsibility of negotiating from the moral high ground.
This was late autumn 2020, and George Shultz was a mere 99 years old. I’d broached the idea with him earlier that year when The Mont Pelerin Society met at the Hoover Institution and was looking forward to tackling this new project. Now, for most people that age, planning out a multi-year project would seem as likely as taking out a new 30-year mortgage. But this was George Shultz. The man was downright strategic in his way of thinking and always looking for long-term solutions to problems. And why would anyone think he wasn’t going to be active for another 4 or 5 years? Heck, his 100th birthday celebration was just around the corner, and his wife, Charlotte, assured us they were looking forward to celebrating in person for the 101st … Rest assured, Mr. Secretary, we will figure out a way to move this project forward.
Whenever I was on the Stanford campus, Sec. Shultz would always take a meeting. And George would gladly offer to autograph his latest book or another souvenir as I was leaving, but I would always wave it off and say, “Not today, George. I know I’ll see you again on my next visit.”
I wish I could say that just once more.
George Shultz, former Secretary of State, and Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union, were responsible for the initial meetings that led to melting the ice of the Cold War. In this conversation, the two diplomats talk about their first meeting and the impressions each had on the other. Their candid exchanges made it possible for the United States and the Soviet Union to begin the process of communication. You can sense the beginnings of a mutual respect. "This is a different man. This is an agile mind… you can have a conversation with this man. He's terrific." This was George Shultz's first impression of Gorbachev, and what it led to is discussed in The Art of Listening, originally recorded in 2009.