July 31, 2012

What nature intended

The purpose of life? My young friend says it is to be happy. I thought it was a good answer. Yet, I prod further and he blurts out that he felt happy when he had the most recent gadgets. That the latest peripheral “for humans” that Samsung had out was something he was itching to lay his hands on – if he had the money. I could not blame him for that response for it is indeed what the whole world is clamoring for and what the media in whatever form is splashing about. I knew that if I prodded further, he would say the purpose of life was to make money and get rich. So I let him be, and since I didn’t ask any more questions, he quickly proceeded to log on to Facebook to chat with his friends.

We are all mired in a world created by the industrial revolution. The mass production and marketing savvy that the world has got used to over these centuries has left us entrenched in this reality that we perceive. If we look back further – most of us don’t want to look back to the past, and that is sometimes good also, but that is another story -- we find that there is an evolutionary hitch here. Getting rich is a way to get lazy – predominantly. And nature did not intend that for us. When we have money, we get other people to do the work for us that we would otherwise do that would require movement and the expenditure of energy, both of which help us to be physically fit and healthy. While some of the rich may lean to compensate for their less than physically active lifestyle by their visits to expensive gyms or enrolling in exotic diet and exercise programs, most sit back and relax in the sedentary comfort that money buys. Children too, although instinctively lively and full of frolic, now become couch-bound with their video games and laptops and ipads. Nature did not intend for us to be inactive. We were meant to walk, run, jump, climb, stretch and then also rest. Our muscles, organs, and mind all function better when we are physically active and then get the right kind of rest. Yes, even the mind. You may ask any doctor, or if you like, even Google.  

So in a sense, one important purpose in our life is to keep ourselves healthy so that we can pursue the higher callings of our life – that of seeking spiritual bliss and contentment. Keeping healthy is, to the chagrin of the comfort seekers, nothing short of keeping active physically and mentally. Being healthy tells us that we are in alignment with nature. In the more traditional methods of health care, for instance, the main principle observed was to see that our body humor was aligned with nature’s humor. An easy way to know whether we are aligned is to visualize how we lived with nature during our primitive times and observe the degree to which we have given up these ways. That erstwhile simplicity is what nature intended. How closely do we emulate it? While some compromises must be made for using some comforts in life, it is our indulgence that makes us lazy and ultimately unhealthy. What we eat or drink, and how we behave, when not agreeable to nature’s intentions, make us sick. Eating excess of loaded fatty foods, not getting enough exercise, and engaging in harmful lifestyles all put us out of sync with nature’s vibrations.

Prevention is always better than cure. A body well looked after the first half of life, will take it upon itself to look after you the second half of your life. 

July 30, 2012

Home grown methods work best

Working with the public is an art our new democratic in Maldives must learn. The change in our system from an autocracy to democracy turns the governance pyramid upside down. Now the people are at the top and at the bottom of the inverted pyramid are the elected officials – now the servant leaders.

This change poses a great challenge to leadership. In the new frame of things, leaders must learn to acquire the mindset of servants and that sense of accountability. And equally so, the public must graduate from the feeling of being servants to feeling and acting more like leaders who know what they want. The sense of discretion, maturity and responsibility must also dawn on us as citizens, for, the nation must now become what we want it to be, not what the servant leaders want it to be. And, our vigilance to the performance of our elected public servants will determine the type of future course our ship will take.

In this new situation, a good leader will be one who will consult the public often and keep them apprised of the true course the ship of the nation is taking. Transparent government and an aware public will be the needed combination to chart that path. Thus, leaders should not pull the nation faster than they can make the public aware of new methods and processes of governance they wish to employ. While the leadership has the responsibility to find creative ways to lead, there is no need to hurry, for we are not in any race with another nation or people. There is no one at the end-line to see who comes first in the race. The servant leaders we elect are the flag bearers for the nation who must act within the limits of our public’s awareness. Public officials must be transparent in suggesting new ways to govern. However, this requires a whetting of such new approaches by the public and getting their acceptance before it goes to the legislature. Refusing to do so would indicate to us public that our executive mind is still arrogant, perhaps due to the reigning vestige of the autocratic legacy that says ‘the leader knows what’s best for the people’. For a transparent process, radical policies, especially those with implications for huge outlays of public funds, will need public scrutiny and discussion before it goes to Majlis. Their choice must reflect the public’s voice. If not something must be wrong.  

In respect to new governance methods too, the public’s familiarity with these must take precedence. When we attempt to fit and implement laws in Maldives that are made for foreign systems and cultures, our public is disempowered in its enforcement because these require drastic changes to our implementation mechanisms and skill capacities. The public must be comfortable with the system of governance that is suggested, and not have to grapple with an imposition. As society gets better educated and acclimated, rules and processes can be revised to fit to the evolving mindset.
So, should we not opt for our progress to be a progressive process -- not necessarily a drastic one? We need a nation that is happy. We need a nation in which its wealth is shared equitably with its citizens. And the truth that I see is that in a nation as small and homogenous as ours, this can be done. There is no need for our elected servant leaders to so eagerly lavish precious resources on huge or fancy investment projects for which our progeny will be kept in indefinite debt. Being in debt should not make us happy. Why not spend on social and human development programs that will make the minds of our future citizens more humane, loving and sharing? Those creative homegrown minds will build the nation of the future.

July 26, 2012

Prisoners of our mind

Democracy may have given us the frills of political freedom, but we are still prisoners of our minds. The demons of anger, hatred, jealousy, resentment and greed keep us incarcerated. When we are still slaves to these, how can we call ourselves free? Real freedom for us is when these are exorcised. But how do we make this happen you will ask.

So let’s think about this. What democracy has given us is the choice of voicing our opinions and gathering where we wish, to speak our mind individually or collectively, in silence or in clamor. Unfortunately, we have chosen clamor. Ironically, this can only worsen the status of our condition as these demons that burrow deep within us in our psyche unrelentingly goad us to be vengeful, spiteful and divisive as a community.  They push us to feel that freedom is about aggression, to win by hook-or-crook, and enjoy the moment. Their myopia is reflected in our trashing of any thought for the consequences of our actions in a tomorrow that must come inevitably, but just urge us to enjoy the spoils of today, and don the clothes of hedonism. They keep us mired in a dream from which they would not want us to awaken.

It’s time for us to realize that true freedom is achieved in our hearts – by the demolition of these demons of hate, greed, resentment and jealousy. And that can only be done through reflection on how these got into us in the first place, and through that knowing, accepting them as being in us, and deciding categorically to shred them, which is only possible through silence, meditation and prayer. But do we have the time for that? At the rate we are going, obviously not, for we are spending any free time we have from our daily duties to family and occupation, demonstrating on the streets or hurling unkind words and negative thoughts to each other in households, at street corners, and in coffee shops. Our minds are busy in chatter. With this restiveness in our midst, reflection may not reach even skin deep. There is a much deeper depth to delve and scour for us to reach these burrowing fiends whose affects are packaged in what we know as our ego. Fuelled by these dark forces within us, the arrogant ego compels us to go on rampage for its only goal is to win – at whatever cost. We must wake up from the dream and begin reflecting and praying. Let’s use the opportunity of this holy month of Ramadhan to begin the healing.  

July 24, 2012

In condolence

My heart goes out in condolence to the victim of the latest killing perpetrated in the spirit of our present practice of democracy! I read that this is the 9th in a spate of killings that have happened in this small population of ours in just this year. Yesterday was the latest. The innocent life of Lance Corporal Adam Haleem, of the Maldives police force who was stabbed to death as he went about his daily duty in Kaashidhoo island is an act that we should condemn with the harshest of remonstration. Emotions fanned by the callings of the mob pushes its members even outside its physical premises to answer its call. This cult-like following of our so called democratic movement is ironically being played out as a movement of vested interests. I feel ashamed and pained to witness such heinous debauchery being committed on our beautiful shores.

Again the moral emptiness of our party system comes to my mind. Don't we see it is the lack of a true ideology that makes for such inflamed action? A moral or social ideology that frames party ideals cannot take us to such decadent depths. Moral ideals bind, not divide nations, because the combination of moral exhortations can only strengthen the moral fiber of society. Don't we see that it is another power that is dividing us? It is the ego. In place of moral edicts and ideologies, our parties are made up of egos. And when there is a confluence of egos, it’s the power of multiple egos that dominate our thinking. The power of even a single ego is to divide. But when thousands are rolled into one, this doesn't just divide, it devastates. And we are seeing the results of this moral devastation. And if that is not enough, we now begin to also witness party members that contradict even the edicts of our Religion in the case of how to deal with heinous criminals such as murderers. Delusion has indeed set in. In solidarity with the thousands who detest this act, I join in support.

When anyone dies, someone cries and whether rich or poor it doesn't matter, it is a soul’s agony that is touched. And it is not just one but many -- those related and even not so related in blood and genes. We all are a family in our nation - extendable to even the whole of mankind. When we kill one, we are killing a nation or even humanity. We are desecrating Allah's established creation. It is He who gives us life and it is He alone who can take it away. None of us has the right to, except as the Edict dictates. 

I pray and supplicate and implore to the Almighty to please end this madness in our nation -- for us to wake up from this dream of deception in which we are mired. My heat goes out to the grieving family of  Adam Haleem            who are left to bear the remorse from the act of a deranged individual. Perhaps we are all blameworthy as perpetrators because it comes from the hate we create in society even though we may not be aware of it. By our condoning and our silence we become part of this madness.

May Allah Bless Adam Haleem's soul and bestow on him the Joys of Jannah.

July 20, 2012

Ramzaan Mubaarak!

Dear Readers, 

May this Holy month of Ramzaan bring into our lives, peace and tranquility. May this month be one that will help our Maldivian community to reflect on the futility of a politically divided nation and begin a process of true reflection on the folly of political parties in a cohesive community like ours  - a nation bonded by a common religion, ethnicity, language and culture. The Holy Quraan exhorts the virtues of oneness and the folly of division. It also exhorts us to that magnanimous practice of consultation in performing our daily duties (which we have adopted as the guiding paradigm of process in our Citizen's Majlis), the very essence of democracy. But we witness daily, the chaos of discontentment, anger and aversion on the streets of Male and several islands. The rifts we have precipitated in our close-knit society with the import of this method for the practice of democracy should signal to us the need for a rethink of the process. We have the solutions in Islam, but seem to be looking for a solution from afar while we have it at our doorstep. 

May Allah inspire us during this Blessed month (and beyond), to bring us back to our senses and instill the warmth of love and sharing among our brothers and sisters in Islam in this beautiful nation of ours!

July 17, 2012

Pleasure to joy: happiness is the final goal (Continued from yesterday)

In an argument for another paradigm shift, it is worthwhile to look the principles behind the GNH and the GDP paradigms to see how these relate to the survival related realities of today. The GNP is the child of the industrial revolution where the measure of output was the litmus test of productivity and development. And so our whole life was based on that principle of want and gain and greed. The more we had, the better we seemed we were, and so we work to get still more. And so life continued -- to have our schools also nurturing us to be successful in life; to get out of school and get a job to make money and be better off and thus better than the other person. So the 3Rs of the modern day education system (reading, writing and ‘rithmatic) became the leading edge of our class room lessons. This was good for the industrializing world, and has been the benchmark now for the whole world that is running after the same concept of development in the post-colonial age. The values that went with this system of education was also the plastic attitudes of the personality ethic that guided us to be good with our customers rather than with our community. The getting out school and getting a job was the goal here. 

The GNH in contrast, is about love and social harmony. The new schooling thus is recommended to change from 3Rs to 4Hs – or perhaps add on the 4Hs. The Hs stand for head, heart, hands, and home. The nurturing of the head here is no more for just as a repertoire of banked information, but one that will use this information for creativity and innovation, the hand is for learning to do things with our own hands, and learning life skills that will make us survive on earth even without too much money or hired help, the heart is for nurturing love and caring and compassion, and the home is for placing all the above in the context of the practice of everyday life. The schools of tomorrow need this approach for the society of tomorrow to be more caring and compassionate and thus learn to be happy and content and conflict free.

The search for a definition of development away from the present growth-dependent ideas will need a complete de-linking of our mind to the multiple possibilities on how happiness and wellbeing can be achieved. In particular, it will not be possible to re-conceptualize equity without unraveling the diversity of prosperity. Linking the desire for equity to economic growth has been the conceptual cornerstone of the development age, whereas now, according to new development thinkers, the linking of equity must be to community and culture-based notions of wellbeing in this post-developmental age.   But, dismantling the culture of consumerism will require major efforts to curb the callings of the ego -- curtailment in advertizing to curb or stall the greed generation process, or the establishment of a shorter work-week that will break the cycle of work and spend, and liberating that most non-renewable of resources – time, for family and friends and sheer enjoyment.

July 16, 2012

Pleasure to joy: happiness is the final goal

The way things are going in Maldives with respect to its development path brings many a thought to mind. While on the global developmental front, there are more than stirrings on the folly of materialism, when the witnessing of its ravages is at your own doorstep, more than just mere thoughts creep in. We have to begin groping for an alternative – all the better when its with the help of similar musings that are becoming pervasive.

Gross National Product (GDP) is the broad indictor that measures economic development. However, it is now generally understood that this is not a good measure of social equity. Given that economic development is the direction all nations are aspiring towards, and now seen as one of major contributors to various insidious ills such as global warming and resulting climate change, the future in a life-as-usual world will not secure a sustainable future for our coming generations. The economic behemoth is bound to founder in the not so distant future if our mindless production and growth policies continue unabated. And human health will suffer. And give all the global conferences that have mooted the subject don’t seem to give us any confidence that the haves of this world will relent one bit to that risks that they create for the have-nots by slowing down the bull.

That economic wealth and materialistic progress will not give us happiness is patently known. Our life is full of examples that attest to this. Stress of modern living drives up the prevalence of diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, cancers and asthma, and various other morbidities of newly named and nameless kinds abound. New emerging infections take toll of our populations in untreatable diseases, death and fear. Politically and culturally induced conflicts kill and maim on the one side, even as we promote disease protection and prevention through magic bullets and other technological innovations on the other. Yet, we continue to amass wealth in quantities that we don’t even use. In the victim that we are, the overambitious ego drives us to want ever more and more just so it can survive. We are the prisoner. Ironically, the economic development paradigm that is supposed to liberate us, keeps us a prisoner of the mind instead. With more than our wealth we can use in our lifetime and with none of it available for us to take it with us when we do depart, it just seems an experience in futility. Even purely from an economic point of view, a range of international surveys show that beyond an annual income level of US$ 15,000 per head, life satisfaction barely changes between countries with quite different levels of GDP. Thus there appears to be a clear point beyond which extra income does not deliver extra wellbeing.

So how can we stop this seemingly inexorable drive towards the precipice of life’s destruction? The only way is to adopt a shift of paradigm for development. The idea of gross national happiness (GNH) is one such possibility. Cynics and pessimists and die-hard consumerists will always disagree, even when the waters will threaten to consume us in a watery grave. But we need to start thinking of possibilities out of this morass if we want our progeny to survive on this earth. (to be continued in tomorrow’s blog inshaa-Allah)

July 13, 2012

They may say I’m a dreamer!

They may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one,
I hope some day you’ll join us,
And the world will be as one!

A verse from the Beatles from the ‘60s may bring warmth and nostalgia to those of my generation. But this is no less valid in this day of Generation Next; many of my young friends may also be humming these tunes under their breath even today and reflecting such emotions in their blogs. We all want peace ultimately, and we look for this in all kinds of ways that unfortunately, sometimes bring us the result in reverse. The situation in our country Maldives is a case in point. Perhaps our primeval juices are pumped when our desires of another kind are kindled in us by the goings on in the present ambiance. The materialism and competition that is pervasive in our society is no doubt blinding us to the sentiments expressed in this beautiful verse that the winsome four uttered so many decades ago. It just goes to show that the circle of life goes on and on – just like fashion or history that repeats through alternate generations.

Perhaps in our dream we can conjure up a more harmonious Maldives of the future. What do we want our Maldives to be perhaps 10 years from now?  --Just enough time for our present adult youth to have kids and feel a sense of protectiveness to their children’s future. Such scenario building can help us to feel deeply charged and to bring our thoughts and sentiments together to create the new future in our minds. Let’s think about it. It’s time we witness the impasse on the ground at our home-fronts and backyards to answer that longing in our hearts!

When we do wake up from our dream, we will then have something tangible and creative to work on. 

July 12, 2012

Democracy calls for players, not spectators!

When I posted recently asking readers to let’s begin a dialogue on the issues I present on my blog so that we could hope to generate some suggestions as solutions for creating a harmonious society in Maldives, a respondent quipped, "Sattar, social harmony in Maldives? Keep on dreaming!". This was a sad response indeed, for it indicated the grave state of cynicism our nation has dipped into. He is perhaps not alone in this sentiment but maybe it is a reflection of the collective chaos that is undermining the very fabric of our society. The endless and raucous street protests that seem to never end that frustrate parents because they cannot put their children to bed or have safe streets to walk them to school, the tired security forces who have to contend with the ongoing anger day in and day out and be patient to the demands and abuse of protesters, and a national executive that has to grapple with the confusion and allegations of a political fiasco that brought them to power, the truth of which is still to be unraveled, are elements of our present social and political system that need serious consideration by a responsible public.

Prolonged protests are a sign that there is pervasive discontentment with the framework of our present governance. The democratic process we all ushered in has certainly not brought in the dividends – some say as yet - we hoped for. At lest 90 percent of Maldivians want peace and harmony; not anger and turmoil. Investigation by a sober sector of our society, as to why this is so, is urgently needed, and the powers that be need to allow the space for such assessments to happen. It cannot let the sentiments of the masses be hijacked by the desires of a minority who may wish such chaos to persist for whatever windfalls they may reap from the results of societal disruption.

Unfortunately, our polity also seems ignorant of the fact that we are the players rather than mere spectators in a system we called in as democracy. By siding with parties that have no guiding philosophies or moral principles to back them, we are merely following pied-piper-like leaders who may trail us down to our own drowning. The situation is that of letting our vanity and greed sway us, through untenable promises or enticing largesse they offer, being the luring tune that makes us follow. It should not be that way. We are human being into whom God had inspired the power of thought and reflection. Being such vicegerents of this earth how can we be behaving in such decadent ways in what seem to be cutting the proverbial nose to spite the face.

The debacle at home can only be addressed not by being carried away with the masses of protests and inflamed feelings against each other -- that can only bring further chaos and a hardening of our selfish motives -- but by taking this time left for the next election to understand our individual role in a democracy and thoughtfully deciding on the next leaders that will help put this nation right. By general logic, wrong doers of the past cannot suddenly become good doers for the future especially with the glittering spoils of a nation at hand’s reach of such people in positions of authority. We need to bring in humility, fear and love of God into our hearts and seek to understand that we are not spectators in the spectacle of life. In the frenzy of our mob-based emotions we may indeed be forgetting that we are destroying the nation of peace that our forefathers created and that the world knew just about 10 years ago as one of the most peaceful corners of the world. Our leaders cannot waste a moment of their power and authority without being responsible for the chaos they generate by misplaced priorities, tardiness or inaction. 

July 9, 2012

Blowing one’s own trumpet

My young friend is a good sounding board on the attitudes of youth in Maldives. In today’s discussion he told me with delight that that many of them including himself admired luxury. Latest phones, laptops, ipads, itablets, designer clothes, perfumes, and even the features of the latest cars. Perhaps it’s not wrong to say, we admire luxury to some extent, we all do, but if the intensity of it is not kept in check, that admiration can lead to coveting and just wanting for the sake of wanting which never fulfils our craving. When needs and wants are confused, the seed of selfishness is planted.

Selfishness and individualism begin in childhood. While individualism is important to understand our roles and responsibilities in our society and to achieve individual excellence that can contribute to societal improvement, individualism when carried to levels of vanity and self importance, the collective attitude can make for a cynical society, where we become overly critical of the other person’s views to the point of even rejecting what someone else has to say because we truly believe that what we have to say is the truth. Consequently we become bad listeners with short attention spans who in the context of a conversation fidget in restlessness with an overpowering desire always to quickly shift over to our own story.

From an inter-personal point of view, no one really likes to be in such company where someone keeps harping about his/her own successes. But what is sad is that while we may not like the individual with this quality, subconsciously we too behave the same way when the opportunity to open our mouths arises – we too go on talking about ourselves without choosing to listen more than we speak. When such weaknesses in youth are not pointed out and sympathetically addressed by those with more experience and wisdom, these cynical and disruptive attitudes can become hardened as youth grow into adulthood and become the collective norm in our society. The signal that this is becoming so in our society - picked from my young friend’s sounding to me – is evident, and is a mix of many reasons. We should all reflect on this creatively to unravel the causes behind this pervasive attitude. To my mind, one reason may relate to doting parents who pamper their children without the requisite discipline needed to build a child's character (why a parent behaves that way also has its reasons that will have to be revealed and addressed). Another reason may be the lack of contact with grandparents who now live away from the nuclear family settings that new couples in Maldives have chosen to adopt in the pursuit of modern ways of living that our western world practices and which we take to as being modern and fashionable. Parents may not be aware that keeping grandparents at such distance is really a forfeiting of the immense lessons of life that grandparents have to offer their young grand-children. It is really a breaking of the bond that nature has devised for us to keep inter-generational knowledge intact.

So, while our youth’s (even adults, for such youth have become the parents of today) desire to be selfish is understandable, and young people cannot be pushed to take the blame for wanting the latest gadgets, be unhealthily competitive and wanting to show off and feel being better than their peers. The ego is at its deceptive work here, and because, somewhere in the past, it has been nurtured through the neglect of building more responsible character in our children. Without addressing a suppression of the ego, our future may well be chaotic societies. This is a nationwide issue for us in Maldives that our leaders need to understand and begin building our primary school systems and family values that will breed more responsible future generations of Maldivians.

July 6, 2012

On being non-judgmental

A young friend of mine told me the other day that our democracy in Maldives is defined by the freedom for anyone to say anything to anyone anytime.

I thought this was a very good opportunity to discuss with him, and through this blog on this negative and irksome human quality of passing judgment on each other. One of the most important tests of the maturity of an individual is the ability to control this urge to judge others. Of course a judge in a court-of-law will have to make judgments no doubt, or intellectual discourses of critical thinking would entail making judgment. But these are formalized processes that require analysis and synthesis arising out of processes that require meting out justice or forging innovations to our walks of life, as the case may be. These cases are about formative or summative thinking - not a nattering in our spare time about people in our lives. Judgment is also a natural step in taking daily decisions and we make many such decisions during the course of a day. Even to know what to eat for lunch is a judgment call to choose from all what's available on a menu or in our mind. That is fine because that doesn't involve another person on whom you opine.

But when someone else is involved as in how we saw someone did something or said something or happened to appear to us, unsolicited comments or advice doesn't merely fall on deaf ears but hurts and irritates. We know how it feels when we are commented upon and judged by others. So why should we do this to others? It is in fact a transgression of personal space, the protection of which is an individual right in a civilized society and so goes in a democracy that is exercised in a civilized manner. Our habit of constant judging or snarky remarks is more than liable to be taken as impertinence or something that can draw a response to mind our own business. Incidentally, the golden rule comes in very handy here to help us keep check of our own such breaches of conduct. Don’t do to others what you wouldn't like others to do to you!!

Learning to live a non-judgmental lifestyle can be a very hard thing - especially in a society where everyone goes by a tradition of not respecting each others private space or where gossip is accepted as entertainment. Whether done directly or indirectly, gossip is about passing judgment on others – most often in the negative sense. And even though some can laugh off the sting through a good dose of detachment, most times for most of us, these hurt and leave scars in the memory. Tit-for-tats may then lead to prolonged emotional distance and discord.

Nurturing a harmonious society begins with being non-judgmental. It is only then that we can open our minds to listen to another with deep attention, to listen and learn from tweaking out the wisdom in someone else's words, and allowing it to enrich us. It is then that we can begin to move forward on this path to social harmony. Just like each one of us feeling we always have the right opinions and answers, why should we not think that others may also have good ideas? Ultimately it is our ego that ties us to being selfish and divisive and not wanting to listen to others because the ego can survive only in divisive and competitive social conditions where it must win and others lose.

Being non-judgmental and acquiring a detached frame of mind can suppress such offensives of the ego. This is one sure test of a skill for a responsible individual in viable democracy.