Stories that aim for the heart and head to reach the soul


Before Cal Fussman interviewed Mikail Gorbachev for Esquire magazine he was told that he only had 10 minutes with the one time Soviet Union leader. Instead of jumping in with a question about nuclear disarmament, the Cold War, or Ronald Reagan, he asked this question:

“What’s the best lesson your father ever taught you?”

This turned into a long answer about how Gorbachev’s father took his family to get ice cream before he went off to serve in World War II. When the publicist showed up ten minutes later Gorbachev wasn’t even finished with the story, much less deeper answers. Fussman thought he’d blown his opportunity.

But Gorbachev said he wanted to speak with Fussman further and ended up connecting the ice cream story—and fears that his father could be killed during the war— to Ronald Reagan and ending the Cold War.

“What I realized was the power of the first question going straight to the heart and not the head. Because it was that first question that went into his head that took us to that very deep place and enabled the interview to continue to go. And because the interview could go, I was able to fill out the page for Esquire. Otherwise that would have been it, there’s no way the interview would have run. So lesson number one is aim for the heart, not the head. Once you get the heart, you can go for the head. Once you get the heart and head, then you’ll have a pathway to the soul.”

- Cal Fussman

P.S. From the unlikely places file, Gorbachev was from a remote farm in the Soviet Union and Reagan was raised in various Midwestern towns in the United States, but mostly in the small town of Dixon, Illinois. Both would rise up for a season to be the two most powerful people in the world. And for what it’s worth, Fussman went to journalism school in Columbia, Missouri.

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