Abraham Lincoln truly inspired me. It wasn't just the freeing of the slaves, he kept the Union together. Some people even forget that today. What I think inspired me was the fact that in spite of being the President of the United States he retained a certain down-to-earth quality. He never got to be a big shot, and he cared about people.
Was there a book that inspired you?
One of the historians here in Williamsburg talked about War and Peace. I had to read that in school. It was an inspiring, lengthy treatise. I read it twice. It taught me a lot about life. There was a marvelous book by Salinger called Catcher in the Rye. There was a book about discrimination called Gentleman's Agreement. These books I think helped shape my life. But to be honest with you, not one book stands out as the defining book for me.
Was there an experience that changed your life?
I think the major event that shaped my life was being a Naval aviator. I got my commission and wings at 18 years old, and then I went into combat at 19. And I think, as I look back on it, that whole experience probably shaped my life more than any incident, or any event. Although...
Then we lost a child, there was that incident, a four year-old little girl. It had a profound effect on me and on Barbara. You know,
There's a common wisdom that the loss of a loved one for parents divides them later on. People cite divorce statistics. In our case it was just the other way around. And our family has been close, close, close. And Barbara and I have been married for over 50 years, and I think that horrible incident drew us even closer together.
If I were to give advice to young people, high-achieving young people for example, I'd have to say, don't neglect your family. Politics is important, sitting at the head table is glamorous. Traveling around the world, trying to do something for world peace was wonderful. But...
...family and friends and faith are what are really matters in life. And I know that. I see it so clearly now. And so, as they climb the ladder of achievement, I'd simply say, remember what Barbara Bush told those girls at Wellesley:
And it's true. It's so 100 percent true. And that means we -- each of these achievers -- must find some way, not only stay in touch with family, but to help others who might not be blessed with family. To strengthen the American family.
It's family, and it's faith, and it's friends, and it's not the glamour of the Presidency, or the wonder of going to receive the Nobel Prize. All those are important, of course. But maybe it's just that I'm 71 years old now. It's family, and it's faith, and it's friends. I would tell them that. Don't forget that. In your brilliance, don't turn your back on your friends. Don't think you're entitled to something, because you're smarter than the next guy.
What does the American Dream to you?
The American Dream means being what you want to be. Achieving something. Giving it your all to achieve. But it means helping others. It means understanding that we are the kindest and most generous nation on the face of the earth. We've got huge social problems, I'm afraid that some bright young people today, and older people, don't really appreciate the blessings of living in the most decent, strongest, fairest, most generous country on the face of the earth. And I say that with some historical perspective.
The American Dream means giving it your all, trying your hardest, accomplishing something. And then I'd add to that, giving something back. No definition of a successful life can do anything but include serving others.
Passion is terribly important. You've got to feel something strongly.
You're not going to go the extra mile. Passion is important in relationships. It's important in a man/woman relationship. Letting the other person know that you really love her and that you care. And so, it's a power word, but without passion, without really believing something, it's hard to achieve.
Vision is an interesting word.
And we did something to say to a totalitarian dictator in Iraq, you're not going to take over your neighboring country. There's a vision there, which was peace. So, I'm a little defensive in the use of the word. Because I think the pundits had it down that I had no vision, but I did. You need a vision, you need a central core. You need to say, "Here's what I'm going to try to do to make life better for others."
It doesn't have to be proclaimed in the fanciest prose. It doesn't have to be done with the most rhetorical flourish. It has to be your inner self. It's got to drive you. And it can be a personal thing. It can be your set of values. Your vision can be, "I want to live to this code of behavior."
It can be so many different things, vision, for one person or another. But I think you need it. I think you need to have an idea of where you want to be the next day, and ten years from now. I've got a vision now. I've been President of the United States, and my vision is being the best grandfather in the entire world. It's a good vision. You let all these kids talk about all these marvelous books they're going to write, Nobel Prizes they're going to win, political mountains they're going to climb, but I can tell them, having been there, it's family that's important.
My vision is to stay the hell out of the press and to be a good father and a good grandfather. That's a good vision, because there are families under great stress these days.
Preparation is an important word. I guess what I'd say if I had to sum it up is:
Get out there and do enough homework, have enough background, understand enough history so that you're prepared for what you face today, and prepared to achieve your objectives. So, preparation is important. And it could be erudition, studying, so that you're bright. It could be being schooled in values, so you can be kind and gentle, it could be a lot things. But preparation - particularly for the younger people who haven't really experienced the real business of living -- it means work and it means broadening yourself so that you can better perform, better achieve objectives.
Courage is a terribly important value. It means you don't run away when things are tough. It means you don't turn away from a friend when he or she is in trouble. It means standing up against the majority opinion. In a fundamental sense it means: are you willing to give your life so somebody else can save his or hers? Courage is terribly important. There's a lot of people who won't wear it on their sleeve, or display it through some heroic act. But courage is having the strength to do what's honorable and decent.
The word integrity to me means being honest. It means that your word is good for something. I was in business years ago out in west Texas in the late '40s, and early '50s. You didn't need escrow agreements and 25 lawyers. Your word was your bond. You shook hands with a person and the deal was kept, it was made. Nobody would run away from a handshake. Integrity is having your word of honor so sacrosanct that others trust you.