“People are constantly concerning themselves with what they do: have I achieved enough, written the greatest screenplay, formed the most powerful company? But the world will not be saved by another great novel, great movie, or a great business venture. It will only be saved by the appearance of great people.” Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
For a good part of the last 20 years, I’ve worked with Dave Baum to help people and organizations tell stories. They hire us for programs called communications skills, presentation skills or doing-business-with-the-media skills, but what we really teach is the power to connect with people through stories. I can hear Dave’s gravely voice telling people we’re a nation that has forgotten how to tell stories. Instead, we fall back on bullet points, silly things like paradigms and word-heavy PowerPoint presentations at the expense of being great communicators.
To hear a great story is a rare and good thing. To hear a great story about a great person is even rarer and even better.
Traveling through South Dakota’s Badlands last week, there were any number of good stories and great sights. But none touched me as much as the Crazy Horse memorial, which blends a great story about two great people. Crazy Horse was the legendary Sioux chief who defended his people and their way of life. While at Fort Robinson, Nebraska under a flag of truce, he was stabbed in he back by an American soldier and died in 1877. When the white man asked him derisively, “Where are your lands now?”, he replied, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”
Some years later, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, inviting him to the Black Hills to carve Crazy Horse, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes also.”
When he arrived in the Black Hills in 1947 to begin carving, Korczak was almost 40 and had only $174 left to his name. Born in Boston and of Polish descent, the sculptor was orphaned at age one and grew up in foster homes. He was completely self-taught and neer took a formal lesson in art, sculpture, architecture or engineering. He worked on the sculpture until his death in 1982, leaving detailed plans to be used with his scale models so that the project could be completed. Since his death, his wife Ruth with seven of their children, continue to direct the work, which is estimated to take another 50 years to complete. When finished, it will be the world’s largest mountain carving. The four heads of Mount Rushmore, for example, could easily fit on the side of Crazy Horse’s head.
Mostly, I have thought of stories in terms of written words. Now, I looked out to see stone tell a remarkable story — not only of a great Indian chief but of a great white man who dedicated his life for a worthy cause. If you go to Crazy Horse, you’ll see too that there is more than just the mountain sculpture. Korczak’s family maintains a private non-profit foundation at the site, housing educational and cultural programming, providing a place for American Indians to create and sell arts and crafts, operating the Indian University of North America and the Indian Museum of North America. A medical training center for American Indians is in the works.
When the course of history has been told
Let these truths here carved be known
Conscience dictates civilizations live
And duty ours to place before the world
A chronicle which will long endure
For like all things under us and beyond
Inevitably we must pass into oblivion.
Korcak Ziolowski, From a Poem to be Inscribed on the Crazy Horse Memorial