Though a lot of people disqualify it as a trite, modernist phrase, I think it's more true than not.
As Henry Ford said, "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." If you hold the view that you can't accomplish anything, you'll rise to meet that.
Along that same vein, Henry Ford also said, "I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can't be done."
Looking at the problems that plague our nation (the worst financial crisis since the Depression, rampant home foreclosures, radical climate change, a world that disdains just about everything we do), it's easy to succumb to the perception that it's not going to get better anytime soon.
And, while it will take a while to dig out of the messes (especially ones as big as ours), I think back to the day after the Election, hearing the reports of spontaneous cheering throughout the world (developed and undeveloped) about Obama's victory. While he certainly can't fix everything overnight, the perception that the rest of the world has is that we've elected someone willing to listen to the people and the international community. That shift in perception gives us a lot of goodwill from the international community and can definitely have a positive impact on Obama's honeymoon period as President. There's a decided difference in perception on the world stage between a country that's gone amok with a leader who is too stubborn to listen to any contrary opinions and a country that's gone amok with a leader who wants to implement the will of the people.
I was reading an interview with Obama in last week's Rolling Stone that had some very poignant thoughts. In talking about McCain's erratic behavior and response to crises:
RS: What makes you better prepared than John McCain to handle a crisis--whether it's a terrorist attack, a financial meltdown or a natural disaster?
BO: We've had two significant moments where the judgment of a commander in chief would have to be applied in a very deliberate fashion. One is the war in Iraq, and the other is what's happened just over the last three and a half weeks on Wall Street. In both instances, what you've seen is John McCain being impulsive, not getting all the information that he needs, surrounding himself with people who are predisposed to agreeing with him. And as a consequence, I think he's made bad judgments.
To me, it's a very similar M.O. to that of George Bush. GWB brought in the good ol' boys from his father's administration, who were the good ol' boys from Reagan, who were the good ol' boys from Nixon. Most of the advisers in the Bush White House have been around in Washington for 30 or 40 years.
While Obama will most likely bring in many from the Clinton era, I think you're also going to see a raft of prestigious scholars and professors in diplomatic and fiscal advisory roles. There is a multitude of wisdom in many counselors, and knowing what you don't know is really one of the first steps to being successful. It's important to have opinions and principles, but it's also important to be willing to be wrong and listen people who have more knowledge and experience than you do.
The comment about listening to people predisposed to agreeing with you is of preeminent importance to me, both in this discussion and in general life discussions. Frequently (especially as Christians), we surround ourselves with so many people that are like-minded that we lock out other points of view. It's great to build a camaraderie based on people with a similar vision and purpose, but if you all share the exact same ideas, what happens when that one idea is wrong?
It's kind of like watching the news channels. Republicans tend to watch Fox News while Democrats tend to watch CNN. Not because the news is better on either station, but the slant is decidedly more conservative or liberal. People don't watch news stations like Fox or CNN for information on issues, they watch news stations like Fox or CNN for affirmation that their belief structure is correct or acceptable or right.
I think it shows great wisdom, integrity, and maturity if you're willing to take advice from wise people--not just people who agree with you. Because every now and then, you're wrong.
So, back to perception is reality. Can Obama change the world? Maybe, maybe not. But what he's already changed is the perception of America, which may give him (and us, collectively), time to change the reality.