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Lessons of leadership: Why do our politicians fail?

Anand Khrisna

The Jakarta Post  |  Thu, 12/17/2009 8:59 AM  |  Opinion



In spite of their “purportedly” common vision toward a better and more livable world, our politicians have failed. Certainly not all of them were, or, are insincere.

Nevertheless, they have failed to deliver. Today, we live in a more comfortable, but not a “better” world. Conflicts and wars are tearing us apart – whereas, peace and harmony remain issues for discussion among our elites.

In his historic speech in Cairo on June 4 this year, President Obama spoke about the need to “have the courage to make a new beginning”.  

Later, during the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, he emphasized, “The time has come for the world to move in a new direction.”

Interestingly, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose speech was boycotted by many, also expressed hope for “a global community filled with justice, friendship, brotherhood and welfare”.

Not long after, speaking at Harvard on Sept. 29, President Yudhoyono proposed the reinvention of “a new world”.

More recently, speaking in Egypt on Nov. 9, Chinese Premier Jiabao hoped the cooperation between China and the African countries would “contribute to the effort of building a harmonious world
of enduring peace and common prosperity”.

I do not doubt their good intentions, but neither can I close my eyes to the fact the world envisioned by them is still a far cry from their hopes.

Why?

President Sukarno, one of our founding fathers, found flaws in the way we handled our problems.

Speaking to the 15th UN General Assembly on Oct. 4, 1960, he said: “Any effort to solve our problems with violence, threat, or force would not only fail, but create problems of a more serious nature.”

He cited “equality” as the only solution. To him, equality was the quintessence of all human rights. He hoped for certain universally accepted guiding principles to usher in a new era of equality among nations. It was on these grounds that he wished to “build the world anew”.

Sukarno was a man of vision.

He was a dreamer, but not an unrealistic one. He knew the realization of this dream would only be possible if we all let go of our “petty grudges, and ill feelings toward each other…

“Eliminate the cause of war, and peace shall reign. Eliminate the cause of tension, and life shall be easy…

“It is not only to ensure the survival of this world, we have the task to build the world anew!”

Sukarno often cited Neo-Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism as threats to world peace and true emancipation. Many of us then, and even now, scoff at him, and consider his fears unfounded.

History, however, has proved otherwise. Neo-Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism are not only a living reality, but are also thriving at the cost of our ignorance.

To make things worse, even our politicians and highly paid diplomats are often unaware of this.

They still relate Neo-Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism with certain western powers.

They cannot see the tables turning. The imperial powers colonizing us are no longer western, but also eastern, and perhaps, our next-door neighbors, and darling friends.

George Bernard Shaw was, perhaps, right in saying that: “He knows nothing; he thinks he knows everything – that clearly points to a political career.”

Sukarno offered an indigenous “Indonesian Solution” to face the challenges ahead: Pancasila.
“When I speak of Pancasila, I am actually speaking of our nation’s, at least, 2,000-year-old civilization.”

He was bold enough to challenge the assembly to point out any flaw in what he offered; or, anything disputable or irrelevant to the modern age and its challenges. The entire assembly, instead, applauded “Sukarno of Indonesia” as he was then known.

Alas, we Indonesians have lost our self-pride. We no longer believe in the ideals of Pancasila, and in the virtues and values of our age-old civilization.

Our leaders find it more civilized to connect with much younger and less experienced civilizations. They forget that when those civilizations lived by raiding caravans, and had to have the divine guidance to divide their booty, we were already shipping our spices using our own flag carriers!
Sukarno explained the values imbibed in Pancasila in few simple words: Religiosity, Nationalism, Internationalism, Democracy, and Social Justice. These are universal values, and no man in his senses would possibly oppose these values.

Yet, I say, we have failed. Where have we gone wrong? Let’s move from being positive thinkers to having a positive and holistic attitude toward life and ask of our conscience, “Are we in a better position today than we were at the time of our independence?”

Simple mathematics: consider the current value of all the wealth, all the natural resources we had on Aug. 17, 1945, when we proclaimed our independence.

And, consider the remnants we have, add the numerical value of all our developments, our reserves, add anything, everything, and consider all the loans, all the interests, and all the aid and charity we have received so far. You will be ashamed of calling yourself a son of the soil, as I am.

Once, again, where have we gone wrong?

We are busy planning a new world, building, and reinventing it. Our orientation is outside. We want to change the world by changing the conditions outside, and by changing others.

I am reminded of a famous Jacob M. Braude quote: “Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.”

President Mandela says the same thing: “One of the most difficult things is not changing society, but to change yourself.”

So, what do we do? Let us not despair. “Change your thoughts and you change your world,” says Norman Vincent Peale.

And, Mahatma Gandhi resonances, “Be the change in the world you want to see.”

As a nation, let us first of all agree that Pancasila is the only sane and viable solution to the challenges we face. Moreover, Pancasila connects us to the rest of the world, including those who follow different systems of governance.

Next, let us change our orientation from the outside, to the inside. The change must happen within us. For, it is when the individual changes, that society changes. And, when society changes, the nation changes. Finally, when nations change, the world changes.

Yes, we have to build the world anew, reinvent a new world, make a new beginning, move in a new direction, work toward a global community filled with justice, friendship, brotherhood and welfare, and a harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity. Yes, yes, yes, but we must begin with ourselves. You and I must change first!


The writer is a spiritual activist and an ambassador for the Parliament of World Religions, meeting in Melbourne from Dec. 3 to 9 this year (www.anandkrishna.org).