02 July 2012

Good Governance IX: Forbearance

Time is of the essence, we are told.  Time is money, people frequently say. Time is a coat, a woman working in a sweatshop is reported to have said, capturing in four words the fundamental premise of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value.  Are we aware, I once wondered, perhaps in a rare moment of intoxication, that an evil guard imprisons us by the winding of clocks? 

We measure our lives in terms of things to be done by a due date, sometimes of our choosing but often at the will of others.  We are required to finish our education by such and such an age, get married and settle down, build a house, have children, educate them and get them married off.  There are, arguably, stages in our lives and there is nothing to say that being conscious of these is erroneous.  As in all things, however, balances have to be struck and going overboard is not recommended. 

We are framed by consciousness of our mortality and in its immediate relevance, our life expectancy.  In this part of the world, however, the relevant measure of time is not lifetime but lifetimes, the dimensions are sansaric, if you will.  Like all things, this can limit (and feed craving, in according to the idea of bhava thanha or a fixation with and craving for the afterlife) and empower.  The empowerment comes in the form of being more relaxed about ‘The Moment’. 

There’s a reason why the term ‘Carpe Diem’ (Seize the day) did not originate from this part of the world.  We don’t seize. We caress.  There’s no English equivalent of the Sinhala (recommendation) ‘angata ganna epa’ (translated, poorly, as ‘don’t take it into or onto the body’).  It took a different kind of Westerner, T.S. Eliot, to make the pertinent observation: ‘East bowed low before the blast (of the West) in humble deep disdain; it let the legions thunder past, and plunged in thought again’. 

There’s a reason why quick-fix (so demanded by Western powers) doesn’t work in countries such as ours.  We like to take things slow, not out of sloth, but out of the wisdom of centuries long engagement in things civilized. Quick-Fix, especially in that highly overrated phenomenon called ‘development’ (proxy for profit-making by the few at the expense of the majority, at least in its dominant articulations), has generated so many disasters that have indeed raised questions about the survival of all life.  Quick-fix can be stuffed down throat. It will inevitably cause indigestion. It is unhealthy.

This is why rulers would do well to meditate on the virtues of the 9th element of the incomparable treatise on Good Governance, that which was articulated more than 2500 years ago by arguably one of the greatest if not the greatest teachers humankind has ever known, Siddhartha Gauthama, our Budun Wahanse: Khanti or the virtues of patience and tolerance.  Forbearance, in a word.

The ruler, accordingly, is advised to bear hardships and insults without losing temper, conduct him/herself without giving into emotion and receive praise and blame with equanimity.  We live, sadly, in sycophantic times where the servile fall over each other to singing hosannas and get them heard to boot.  We live in times where rulers (of all kinds, political and corporate, institutional heads and those in civil society organizations at all levels and across categories) hear the feel-good and lack the wisdom to peel away lie-layers that are invariably used to give an eye-pleasing coat to reality.  

We live in times of such uncertainty that leaders are haunted by the possibility of being ousted that they grip the idea with fanatical zeal and respond by seeing enemy in friend, friend in enemy and lash out at objection and objector without circumspection.  A leader should have heart, should not be without emotion.  The key determiner of efficacy (not of political control but the overall good of the citizenry or the population controlled) is the ability to exercise reason to achieve moderation.

It is a rare leader that cultivates humility to the point of being upfront regarding error.  It is a rare leader that acknowledges that nations outlive them and that great as their contribution may be, in the final instance, they are dispensable, their mortality is scripted and societies get by without them (or in spite of them, as the case may be).  It is a rare leader who understands that there are times when decisions have to be made in a hurry but that not all decisions need to be hurried. 

Certain Native American philosophies advocate a consideration of possible impact of any decision for seven generations down the line. That’s forbearance.  That’s about not being knee-jerk in response. 
A leader empowered by a conscious decision to practice the sathara brahma viharana; kindness, compassion, equanimity and rejoicing in another’s joy; would necessarily be better equipped to have a different idea about time and consequent dictates.  Such a leader would rule without violating the principle of Khanti.  The people who make a nation ruled by such an individual would be blessed indeed. 

Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitatta. 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