When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were locked in the most critical period of the Cold War in 1986 they arranged for a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. Reagan had been developing the “Star Wars” project and the ante was upped on the nuclear game. Gorbachev, for his part, knew that fighting the Cold War was costing him the opportunity to make economic reforms at home. Gorbachev came to Iceland wanting to go deep into the relationships between the two superpowers and he was prepared to make Reykjavik a watershed event. To the surprise of many, apparently Reagan got on board with that intention too.
The summit had all the makings of the typical Cold War summit, with some kind of arms reduction treaty at the end of the day. But Regan’s advisors were worried that the USA would give up ground just for appearances. Indeed, a treaty did come out of the summit, and it was a treaty that was further in scope and range than anything either side had been prepared for. It saw the elimination of all short and intermediate range nuclear weapons, and it began to address the deeper implications of fundamental change to the strategic relationship between the United States and the USSR.
Gorbachev later said that the Reykjavik was the turning point in the Cold War. And when asked why, he said it was because the two leaders had a real conversation, and not just talk about stuff they had been told to talk about, but about the core things, the things that mattered.
This morning I ws listening to an excellent little podcast from The American Experience about this story, and I was reminded of a post at Doug Germann’s blog earlier in the week where he simply asked “When have you even got anything significant done without a conversation?”
It is not just that significant things require conversations, but that significant things can also arise from conversations. We need to be open and listen deeply into that space, but we can nonetheless find generative dialogue to be the thing that unlocks even the tighest knots we tie ourselves into.