President President Anibal Cavaco Silva invited me to visit him in his residential palace during my recent visit to Portugal. He began by complimenting me on my leadership abilities and said that he lacked my oratorical skills and charisma. I suggested to him that those qualities were not inborn, but came naturally as a result of a deep-rooted passion. I then asked him to tell me a little bit about his life, and he shared a fascinating story of an upbringing in a simple Portuguese village, and a long training as an engineer, and a career as a teacher, before becoming Prime Minister for ten years, and then President.
When I asked him about his life in the class room, he suddenly became very animated, and revealed his true love in life, which is, namely, teaching. Since I share that passion, we were able to focus on the joys, challenges and rewards of teaching, and as we did so, his eyes began to shine brightly, and his body language became more relaxed and articulate. I then suggested he was clearly indicating that the burdens of the political life were not rewarding in the same way.
A couple of business men I had met in the plane on my way to Portugal, had told me that it was extremely important that President Cavaco Silva be successful in his reelection campaign, because the alternative was, in their view, very unsatisfactory. I therefore took the liberty of urging the President to consider Portugal as his class room, and fire up the imaginations of the Portuguese people to creating a highly educated public, where everybody was considered a pupil in a national academy.
I would never presume to think that this could have had more than a superficial effect on his view of his role, but he promised me he would read The Art of Possibility and ended our interview with protestations of deep gratitude for having helped him see his role in a different light. I was deeply impressed by his grace, formality and charm. I secretly hope that I might have added an iota of fire and passion to his armory. Perhaps the results of the upcoming elections in Portugal will give us some clue.