13 April 2012

Just checking: would you like to be a king (or queen)?

Imagine a world full of doctors.  Visualize a hospital in a world made of doctors.  All the patients would also be qualified physicians, specialists in this or that, surgeons and such. There would be no nurses or attendants.  Doctor would have double up as nurse, attendant, ambulance-driver, lab technician, receptionist, record-keeper, cashier, pharmacist, electrician, mason, cook, cleaner, plumber etc. etc. 

And it is not just about hospitals and attending to the sick.  We will have doctor-presidents, doctor-ministers, doctor-mayors, doctor-engineers, doctor-accountants, doctor-teachers, doctor-bakers, doctor-journalists, doctor-administrators, doctor-jailors, doctor-prison guards, doctor-actors, doctor-singers, doctor-teachers, doctor-bums, and doctor-children. Infants would come out of their doctor-mothers’ wombs carrying an MBBS and who knows, perhaps even with a stethoscope.  They would grow up eating food produced by doctor-farmers and sold by doctor-vendors.  They would marry other doctors, in ceremonies presided over by doctor-marriage-registrars and doctor-kapuwas,  When they die, their corpses would be dressed up by doctor-undertakers, the paansukoola presided over by doctor-bikkhus and buried or cremated by doctor grave-diggers or crematorium-keepers.

You can replace ‘doctor’ with any other professional title, skilled or unskilled, with or without certification, and end up with a world that is as unpalatable and untenable as what I’ve described above.  The world is not made like this.  Thankfully!

An occupational hierarchy in terms of preference can be constructed, this is true, but we all know that not everyone wants to be a doctor.  Still, if the choice was doctor or coolly I think most would pick the former.  Few would spurn riches.  Few would say no to power.  Not many would decline the crown if offered, what do you think?

I was thinking of Victor Ratnayake’s endearing and hopeful ditty ‘Api Okkoma Rajawaru’ (We are all of us kings) recently.  It is not impossible, I believe.  I mean, it is easy for everyone to be ‘king’ and for a king-ful society to be tenable compared to a doctor-world.  The important thing to remember is that ‘king’ is less title than metaphor. As metaphor you can be king of any number of territories, geographical, professional and personal.  You can be your own king, the king of the household, the king of the village.  You can be queen of a professional association, corporate entity or a court of law.  The nice thing about ‘king’ or kingdom (if you will) is that crown is as conferred as it is self-made and worn, and not just in a self-delusional manner.

The problem is that when someone says ‘king’ we immediately picture an all-powerful man, sitting on a throne, passing judgment.  When we hear the word ‘leader’ we associate the title with power, an apex position in some structured hierarchy and not as ‘person achieving excellence of one kind or another’.  So when we think of ‘leadership training’, it is more about training to become a person who leads others, who gives orders, makes plans, executes, hires/fires etc., and not about being the best we can be. 

Our education system does devote much effort to training people to be leaders or to help children acquire leadership qualities.  There’s one thing missing.  They are not taught that being a leader does not mean you should not allow yourself to be led.  The king of tennis is not necessarily the king of filling tax forms.  The king of lawyers is not necessarily able to dress a simple wound.  The queen of chess might not know how to cook.  The king of the word might have fingers too twisted to even play the arpeggio on a keyboard.  The king of thieves might not be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and the king of clowns might not be able to piss straight. 

It is about learning which territories one can ‘rule’ best and of course the ‘how’ of it all.  It is about learning humility too; of acknowledging that being great or good in something doesn’t make you expert on all things.  It is also about learning that kingdom and kinghood are not synonymous with ‘happiness’ or contentment, that a crown is not guarantor of joy and peace.  It is about figuring out what we can do best, what would sustain our interest over a relatively long period of time. 

Not everyone can be king, either in a chosen field or in a political territory.  Countries have kings, yes. They also purohitha bamunas (Chief Advisors), court jesters, architects, engineers, farmers, teachers, fathers, mothers and children.  We play multiple roles.  Our roles are sometimes assigned to us; often with little reference to proven skill or training. 

It is rarely that the right person gets the right job.  Crowns are tossed around and the person who grabs them are not necessarily the best person for the relevant job.  There is no point in lamenting that which one cannot change.  We can consider for a moment the ata lo dahama, the vicissitudes of life and try to treat them with equanimity.  That’s one way of acquiring wisdom, divesting ourselves of ignorance, doubt, fear and the burden of ego.  This way we acquire new eyes, see territories we did not know existed and crowns too, those that truly fit our heads and hearts and are ‘tailor-made’ to our skills, attitudes, energies, goals and relevant humilities. 

Do you think you are a king?  Think again.  Do you think you are not?  Think again!  We are all kings and citizens; we are all mothers, fathers and children.  Some are crowned kings and some not. All kings. All citizens.  We can all be tall, as long as we know how short we can be and indeed are. 

[First published on September 30, 2010, in 'The Daily News']


sandika said...

This is a lovely and a great piece of writing.

sometimes the society accepts and expects and respects the ones with unique talents and abilities. And that has become a never changing thing in most of the societies/ communities. Sometimes the personal goals of a person is different to the expectations of a parent or of a society.

it is not possible for a person to learn everything that they like and become a king/ queen of that particular field may be due to lack of abilities or due to lack of chances or may be due to lack of appreciation. identification of ones talents is a great help for someone who likes to be a queen/king of his/her own world of imaginations/ dreams/goals.

this is a good article.