23 June 2012

Good Governance V: Gentleness and Kindness

Majjava: the kinder, gentler elements of governance

Liberty, equality and fraternity,’ was the preferred scream during the French Revolution. The Bolsheviks went for ‘Land, peace and bread’.  In the eighties we had another great line from a not so great individual, George Bush (Snr): ‘A kinder, gentler nation’.  Given his trigger-happy, guns-in-booty-out thinking, I doubt if Bush was inspired by anything other than profit-making (for his friends) and securing territory in the global political economy for the United States of America, even at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. 

Kindness and gentleness, Bush’s rhetoric and politics clearly indicates, are easy words.  They roll off mind and tongue smoothly, and in these days of heaven-and-earth promising appear to have been divested of meaning.  This does not mean however they the concepts are irrelevant as far as individual and collective are concerned or, indeed, as far as specific individuals and collectives such as rulers and governments respectively are concerned. 

In his incomparable treatise on good governance, the Dasa Raja Dharma, the Buddha Gauthama makes special mention of these two qualities, which, for him, were non-negotiable.  A ruler or a government, then, needed to be endowed or endow themselves with the quality of Majjava or Maddava, i.e. kindness and gentleness.

Rulers certainly don’t have it easy, but on the other hand, these ‘difficulties’ are outweighed by enormous and very tangible benefits that most citizens do not enjoy nor have access to.  It is not easy to be firm, to make and uphold laws that control, regulate and punish, and at the same time maintain a genial temperament.  Rulers have to make tough decisions, they cannot please everyone, and yet they are required, in terms of the tenets of the Buddha’s principal treatise on good governance, to be kind and gentle. 

How does a ruler exercise kindness and gentleness when protecting a citizenry from a terrorist?  It requires a certain amount of resolve, an acceptance that blood would probably have to be shed, that non-combatants would have to suffer displacement, dislocation and other unhappy realities of violent military intercourse and that personal and even political freedoms will have to be compromised in the short-term (which, as Sri Lanka’s struggle to rid itself of terrorism showed, can last for more than 3 decades).  There is a balance that has to be sought and this is never easy for the ruler for he/she is, in the final instance, humanly frail, a prthagjana, prone to error and handicapped by the unwholesome roots, lobha (greed, desire, craving, attachment), dosa (anger, hatred, ill-will, aversion) and moha (ignorance).

Still, these are not uncultivable qualities, not for rulers, not for corporate heads and not for citizens.  The key is to treat things with equanimity. A ruler has to declare war at times. A leader has to defend the citizenry and protect resources.  In engaging the enemy, the employment of reason and a determination to footnote if not totally eliminate emotion would naturally enhance the chances of success.  A leader cannot allow him/herself to be influenced by hatred and should not rejoice at the vanquishing of detractor. The process has to be seen as necessary and dispassionately executed. 

In a sense, the ‘humanitarian operation’ to ‘liberate’ the people in the North and East (and of course the rest of the country) from the clutches of terrorism can be read as ‘rhetoric.  On the other hand, there is no denying the fact that there was kindness and gentleness in the treatment of non-combatants during and after the battle that is by all standards exemplary when considering how others have executed similar operations across time and space.  We are in the early post-war days, yes, even after a full year after the defeat of the LTTE and much remains to be done, but there is enough reason to conclude that the above qualities are not absent in political leadership.

Kindness and gentleness are not about being able to smile, hug a villager, kiss a baby etc.  That’s ok, of course, but I believe what the Buddha envisaged was the cultivation of empathy for the most marginalized, most dispossessed sections of the population and especially those who are more likely to get left behind in the implementation of policies that are seen to be in the interest of the majority and the country as a whole.

A leader needs to be considerate when contemplating actions that benefit some and hurt others.  He/she needs to compensate and more importantly be transparent and honest about intention. The trust and understanding of those who stand to lose must be obtained. Kindness and gentleness are prerequisite in this.  They are not sufficient of course, for some cannot be asked to pay so others benefit without adequate compensation.  The easy example would be ‘mega development’.  Who benefits, who stands to lose?  These are questions that need to be factored in at the point of plan-design.  That is kindness.

If a ruler commits himself to the congealing of kindness and gentleness in all policies, from planning to implementation, subsequent assessment and correction of flaw, then the overall collective necessarily benefits.

Finally, there is kindness and gentleness required in the treatment of political opponent.  A good ruler would not employ all means at his/her disposal to best a detractor. Instead, he/she would ensure that equal space is provided for articulation of dissent, ensure that logic and not strength (political or otherwise) is the determiner of victor and always, always, always, be cordial and respectful in all engagements. This too is kindness. This too is gentleness.  It cannot be legislated, but this does not mean that Majjava is a non-starter or a useless value/principle in the matter of statesmanship. 

Cruelty and vindictiveness, both of which can be articulated in violent ways and even legitimated thanks to the particular configuration of power, are antithetical to the principle of Majjava.  Good governance, in such situations, is rendered impossible.

May our leaders and governments, now and always, be mindful, be kind and gentle, to their enemies, to the most vulnerable, to those who might be left-behind by well-intentioned development strategies, the environment, the fauna and flora, the natural resources and the generations yet unborn who will inherit this piece of earth, its history, heritage, its serendipity and its scars. 

May all beings be happy!

The following is the complete set of articles on the Dasa Raja Dharma

Dana: the virtue of giving

Sila: the moral component of the Dasa Raja Dharma]

Pariccaga: the third element of the Dasa Raja Dharma

Ajjava: the discourse on honesty and integrity in governance 

Majjava: the kinder, gentler elements of governance

Tapa: the virtues of austerity and restraint 

Akkodha: the need to eschew enmity

Avihimsa: incorporating non-violence into good governance

Khanti: the virtue of patience and tolerance

Avirodha: a must-cultivate for the effective and benevolent ruler



Anonymous said...

How does a ruler protect his people from his own men? Athauda Seneviratne in his dotage creates havoc depriving several families of their water project. For sure there'll be a party inquiry from which he'll be exonerated. And the courts will throw out the case for lack of evidence or witnesses.

Ramzeen Azeez said...

How does a ruler protect his people from his own men? Athauda Seneviratne in his dotage creates havoc depriving several families of their water project. For sure there'll be a party inquiry from which he'll be exonerated. And the courts will throw out the case for lack of evidence or witnesses.

Shaik Ahamath said...

Does anybody really know why the US invaded Vietnam. I know they achieved nothing except perhaps humiliation after being effectively challenged by barefooted soldiers. But the human tragedy that befell these harmless innocent Vietnamese people is sadly still with us. There are hundreds of children being born there malformed and with unrecognisable diseases because the US used Agent Orange to defoliate the food crops as one of their strategies in the war. There's a young lad who was born with a disease that makes his skin scale like a fish. He is just left to die because nobody can recognise what it is let alone find a cure. In an ideal world, the US will take up the responsibility at least to research to find a cure or compensate him for the damage.

sajic said...

check cold war conflicts after WW2.
US support for S.Vietnam against N.Vietnam. Latter was a communist regime.