April 28, 2014

Folly of letting others define our development

I believe that development is best defined as a process of improving the lives we lead over time rather than a process of getting rich. Historically this adjustment to live harmoniously with our environment has been what was sought by individual communities. They had always striven to live their lives in a more efficient and effective way to harness the environment they lived in. It was a process of surviving the life in that environment rather than to subvert it. At worst it was to change their living environment without hurting it.  Living in caves first to weather the storm or for protection from wild animals as abode and being nomadic rather than being sedentary or settled in our search for food. Even recreation and entertainment were sought from what their environment provided.

Our settlement into communities perhaps ten thousand years ago, that finally gave up our nomadic ways of existence was the beginning of selfishness and competition. Before that everything was "ours", not "mine". That all changed that day when that first someone or people drew a line and demanded that all that encompassed it was theirs rather than everybody's. Thus was born competition and greed that was the beginning of the destruction of our habitat and now our living Earth. From then on it has been history. Like the original sin, this avarice pervades our midst like a disease that never leaves us to consume us as we live our daily forays into self-destruction. This is the new development we have espoused. To be better than our brother, to be richer than him and even to kill and maim to get what we want.

In the midst of all this hate and resentment that lines our outside is smoothened by the new personality ethic (as opposed to the character or moral ethic) and we live a development that has been thrust upon us by someone else. In the glitter of it we forfeit our painstakingly eked out earnings to buy the goods that makes someone else rich. We are fooled into believing that globalization is the bandwagon we all have to jump onto when in fact we are ignorant of the accession we agree upon is to make others rich and us poorer. So we keep on earning to buy the goods that others produce and import laborers to do the work that we don't want to do. We invest huge amounts of money in the name of building infrastructure that takes lifetimes to amortize just to make way for espousing someone else’s development to give us the feeling that we are also getting developed. 

The infection is global and we in Maldives too are no exception to this pervasiveness. Yes, even we who must think differently because we who live in a supremely beautiful home, yet one precariously trussed to the vagaries of the environment and least self-sufficient, are also carried away by this behemoth of development that is too blinding to see beyond it. But we must strive to open our eyes out of this glitter, even though the deceptiveness of our egos vehemently militates against it.  If not we will be carried away by the commercial tsunami that sweeps our globe and from the clutches of which even those who created it seems unable to get out of.  Bloated egos, pride, avarice, jealousy, and competition seem to have spun over us a web of impenetrable mental incarceration.

We must find an alternative solution to development from this commercial one that is meshing us into an ever expanding divide of the haves and the have-nots, splitting and rifting a community of hitherto harmonious communities that lived in the bliss of sharing and cooperation. If national happiness is to be the indicator of development, then we need to introspect in dire urgency.  

April 21, 2014

Competition or cooperation

Some feel these are opposites.  While cooperation has been the hallmark of all our moral teachings of the past, competition has become part of our developmental lexicon perhaps after Charles Darwin's proposition which has by now become mainstream thinking as the human condition. Unfortunately the scientific world and so the generations that came in its wake did not perhaps read his origin of the species with the depth it deserved. Darwin did not just talk about the survival of the fittest but of the abounding love and compassion also embodied in nature and its species. His mention of love and cooperation more than competition is noteworthy. But we always seem to look at the interesting aspects of any writing or proposal in its move away from mainstream thinking. This difference is what makes anything or anybody interesting.  So Darwin’s theory was taken for what it said was different -- not for what he confirmed as the universal truth of cooperation also.

Cooperation breeds togetherness and harmony whereas competition tends to cleave us apart as the primeval desire in us takes hold of us. This happens as the worldview changes from people seeing that all around us is ours to a concept that defines everything around us as commodities -- something that can be bought and sold for the price that we set by whatever means. Perhaps the first such event happened when someone drew a line on the ground and claimed all within it was his. Thus was born selfishness and desire to have what should be ours. And since then settlements for living and economic paradigms for living has been expounded in the view that competition is what makes us excitable and what makes us tick as a developmental being, even when everything outside of us -- in nature and within us as God's creation as also a part of this nature -- shows us otherwise. The very cells with its billions of organelles and all of it that is in animals and vegetables work in perfect unison and cooperation to keep our universe alive.

So how can we be so swayed to negate all of this and believe that competition is the way for us? We have to open our eyes to the havoc competition is playing in our very nation of Maldives leaving us all perplexed as to what harmony democracy is bringing us. Yes, my friends we have got this all wrong. Democracy is about cooperation in its deeper sense, not competition.

April 12, 2014

Knead before the bread is baked

It is said that a child’s mind is empty and an adult’s is full. This is a very interesting difference. While we may know that this sounds reasonable we are often not aware of why this should be so.

The answer is deceptively simple. We know that our mind which is really an abstract contraption cannot really be physically full, but can certainly be metaphorically; the mind being an abstract entity is filled with the abstract entity called opinion. Contrary to popular belief, it is not information that fills the mind; it is really opinions that fill it allowing none else to enter. In the case of the child, that young mind doesn't have too many opinions to throng it. In fact it has no opinions at all until the adult world around him or her begins the filling process. So much so that by the time the child is a youth or adult, opinions are jam-packed so to say. And soon the process comes full circle when those now youthful parents begin filling their children with “pre-formed” opinions. And the cycle continues.

This is why it is so much easier for us to mould the young mind into right or wrong, pleasant or foul, good or bad, as the case maybe. Adults are in the driver’s seat in this period of our life’s process and without good conscience to guide us adults our world cannot be made any better.  In fact, because we create the universe we live in by our very own actions, this concept of a value-driven society to be nurtured by today’s adults becomes so much of an imperative.

This is perhaps why in Islam we have this call for moulding children into the right path so early on. Only then will they learn fully from their constant asking of "why bappa?" or “why mamma?" at this tender age. On the contrary, when this same query comes from a youth, it may not be to learn but to seek a way to keep the opinion they have formed. And by adult time the filled mind has no more space to accommodate anything beyond its close-to-frozen frame of perception. 

Thus good example must be taught when the mind is open to receptiveness. Undeniably, the parent is the role model here and what they don't demonstrate will be a non-entity to their children and they grow up to be just what they observed or felt. Yes, later there will be no room for crying over spilled milk. Or said another way -- "you cannot have the dough back again to knead once the bread is baked".

April 6, 2014

The evolving task of city governance

They have quite a job and they have to be in on the task if we are to have a sustainable clean city. My thought is particularly on the encroaching global culture and expatriate workforce that have a different sanitary culture to what we in Maldives has been taught in the past about what it is to be tidy and clean. We had been taught the values of cleanliness by our grandparents’ generation and many say that over the past several years, there has been an eroding of this value-base as evidenced by the increasing litter on our streets and in our watery surroundings.
Our past basis was mainly about keeping ourselves and our neighborhood clean. With this erosion is taking place, the addition of this other cultural variations that also don't see any issue with throwing trash or spitting on the street makes the municipal task and our citizen anxiety every more real. How do we deal with this issue? Especially in Male which is the face of our nation, our whole populace needs to be in on doing something about this as an imperative. Yes is it a social culture that has grown over time of eating and drinking outside the home, and the availability of packaged foods all which have wrappers and no place to dispose of these while we are on the move. Cigarette and gutka and Magnum wraps, plastic water bottles whose use is done, and
the empty cans of energy drinks of all brands and sizes line the street parapets and the tops of roadside switchboard boxes. Similarly, the litter thronged pits of the trees and drain tops that line our Capital’s avenues demonstrate either the lethargy of municipal authorities or irresponsibility of our pedestrians to put just a little more energy into making our house a home so to say. 

In time past there was no habit of eating and drinking while walking along the street. Perhaps our lifestyle has become so urgent that this needs to be done, or is it really so? Even if it was so, just as that urgency maybe rational, would it not be rational to not pollute our home?  Has Male become a place for everyone, such that no one believes it is his home anymore?  So no one cares, and we put it on to the shoulders of the City Council to clean up after us?  As parents we had attempted to make our children clean up after play. Perhaps such is not the case now where Aayas clean up after our children – given the notion that loving our children means having them become couch potatoes. And so it seems as I see giant kids stepping out of the schools with diminutive mothers carrying the school bag – perhaps the epitome of love.  Oh yes, I am straying from my point.  

Yes, gone are the days when we swept our little home-front with the view that it was then our responsibility. But now this seems not so. However, how easy it would be -- I ask myself -- if each one of us was responsible enough to sweep that not more than ten-foot- by-ten- foot space in front of our houses and keep the drains from clogging! That would certainly put a smile of respect on the faces of our touring visitors and save also for the nation an army of expat laborers who many say are siphoning our country of close to 50 million dollars each month as transfers to their home countries.

Good governance in a nation is about caring for the people’s sustainable future. And sustainability emerges from making people responsible; an ecological realization that everything is connected to everything else and so my loss is your loss too and vice-versa; that action impacts on another’s wellbeing in some way or the other. Therefore, the encroachment of both political and social cultures into Maldives should be managed assiduously. We cannot expect things to move in equilibrium when even one element of the system is upset. And our national chaos is not the upsetting of a mere element, but the result of a socio-political upheaval.  

If anything can save us in this political transition, it is the presence of social responsibility within our governance process and outside it. Without that there can be nothing but simmering discontentment.