Let politics not be a dirty word anymore! #youth #passion #empathy

Morning conversations while dropping kids off at the bus stop sometimes linger through the day. This morning, we spoke about the need to convey to kids the importance of passion. Personally, I think in demanding all round excellence from children, we fail to recognise and feed their interests and passion.

Now, as I read several editorials that celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday, I wonder what drove great leaders like him to sacrifice their personal ambitions, face extreme difficulties and overcome enormous obstacles in order to achieve greater good? I am struck by the idea that great leaders are not just driven by passion, but have the rare gift of empathy and an ability to connect with fellow humans on a very basic level. Madiba and Bapu both had that and there is a reason why millions followed these men in a surge of passion with the belief that they were being led towards betterment and emancipation.

Are we a more cynical bunch of people today, us citizens of India who are quick to criticise but lazy to act even in matters of our self-interest? Or is it that leaders today are too far removed from our hearts? It is hard to believe that Rahul Gandhi, for instance, could truly empathise with the experiences of an ordinary citizen. Perhaps Modi’s non-dynastic humbler origins are what give so many Indians a level of comfort because they believe he may understand their daily struggle and genuinely seek to uplift them. Be that as it may, I cannot think of a single political leader today who I may believe to be selfless and exemplary.

Then there is the aspect of new leadership. We expect a generation of elite youth disconnected from the realities of how most of our countrymen and women live, burdened by the privilege of their education to step into the lead-heavy shoes of leadership? Why would they when the pursuit of self-interest is easier?

Perhaps if we’re to permit passion to drive young people without constantly judging them and assessing their ‘performance’, we might see emerge into politics young people with drive, with inherent qualities of empathy and leadership. When you look around you and see the enormous energies trapped inside young people, wasting or being misdirected, you just have to find a different approach to harnessing it. Politics must stop being a dirty word in our minds if we are to change the future world that our children inhabit. And, like many great people have said, we could begin the change from our own communities and neighbourhoods. I have a plan brewing in my head as I write this.. Will keep you posted!

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About ramblinginthecity

I am an architect and urban planner, a writer and an aspiring artist. I love expressing myself and feel strongly that cities should have spaces for everyone--rich, poor, young, old, healthy and sick, happy or depressed--we all need to work towards making our cities liveable and lovable communities.

Posted on July 18, 2013, in Politics & Citizenship and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. India already has a parallel govt. those run by volunteers, philanthrophists — they seem to have more good for the people in terms of women empowerment, rural employment, education for the poor, than the elected govt. however, only this morning, I was crying about what happened in the school in Bihar. Despite our ‘progress’ and economic well-being, my country still see deaths that are unheard of in a civilised nation. I am on the verge of losing hope.
    –Deepa

    • i agree. these are the truly low moments in which we feel disheartened, but we need to cling to hope. what choice do we have? also, the parallel govt and the real govt need to work together on critical issues or at least need to know what the other is doing otherwise it is often chaos. in my field of work, housing for the urban poor, we cannot move ahead without getting stuck with govt inefficiency and political apathy at some point during our projects. so we need to engage and push for change all the time. i was reflecting on what we need to do to create future leaders who think and engage in a very different manner…

      • Education. and a basic qualification criteria, years of public service and thorough back-ground check before being even eligible to stand for elections.

      • While education is valuable, frankly many astute and smart people I have met in politics with empathy and a ear to the ground have been barely literate. One can educate oneself, but one can’t teach oneself ethics and empathy later in life. Look around you. Has education changed mindsets of caste, bigotry, patriarchy? How many of us educated people are selfless enough to opt for public service over self service? If our education system were to change to place adequate emphasis on values and community, then perhaps we would have some solutions! Background checks? Yes, all for it!

  2. Politics is nowadays a matter of choosing the lesser evil and not the greater good. All of us crib about the politicians, and yet unfortunately none of us do anything about it.

    Although my heart goes out to to those who volunteer, and apart from that do their own little bit in making the lives of others of less priviliege

  3. What we lack is passion-fire in the belly, good ethics and we are less willing to take the road less traveled. The problem is that we are not willing to get out of our comfort zone and sacrifice things for better good. Kant sums it well on ethics-triumph of greatest good of society over greatest evil.
    Cheers

    • Yes. Yet so much of elite leisure is about getting outside the comfort zone- adventure sport for instance. Or travel. That’s why we see new things like slum tourism all over the world. Truly engaging with issues within your own community takes a diff level of commitment. I am also lacking there and want to change that about myself.

  4. So what are you brewing Mukta- most eager to hear that ! i think its fear that keep most people from doing things. Once we are ruled by fear we have lost a connect with our passion, our life force. That is true for too many of us, is what I feel, seeing people around me. And its a fallacy that getting into community work or politics or just being aware and doing what we can as an individaul is always difficult or scary or uncomfortable. It is not .What is all of these things is letting go of one’s fears, of conditioning. So we are handicapped from the start. What you say about passion in youngsters is so true. But we want to drive all their energy and power into a careers of their seniors at the raw age of 17-18! I am not saying don’t let the kids pursue higher studies or degrees, but let that not be all there is to life, and certainly not for all of them – some kids might be truly clear and focussed on certain dreams- let them go after those. And some may want to find a path meandering through life- can we build a system and a society geared to support that ? The people wil discover passions, will overcome fears, and things might be more rosy around here.

    • So true Kiran. A real value add to my piece, the overcoming of fear! The last few lines present a lovely vision. I fear we do not have the will, as a society, to make it happen. But I live in hope! Thanks for such a deep analysis.

    • “But we want to drive all their energy and power into a careers of their seniors at the raw age of 17-18!”…. cannot agree more with this statement. I have always felt that youth is the time for idealism and dreams of changing the world. Its the time to take risks, to be footloose and fancy free. To think of the impossible, try and do it and not be afraid to fail. Yet we drive our present insecurities into our kids and make them into machines of focus when they need to have the space to dream. I see kids of 14 – 21 so focussed on entering the job market to the exclusion of all else that they have very little social life, and very little free time to engage with the real world. Tuitions and exams and schoolwork take priority over everything else and then the limited left over time is spent on movies, video games, and social network sites. Children are carted in AC cars from one class to the other, and discouraged from just taking their bikes and going for a spin. The fear of the world out there is so deeply embedded in them by us, that they continue to operate in strict cocoons of insulated social circles as they grow up, afraid to meet, befriend, try new people and things.

      • It’s horrible! I propose we send udai and Sanaa on a backpacking trip together when they are 18 and 17 or 20 and 19! That should kill several birds with one stone! Ha ha

  5. I think it is easier to externalise the problem and treat it as ‘them’ than us. We the middle class are great at it. After working with politicians for close to a decade, I actually have quite a bit of respect for them. They get democracy way better than we ‘intellectuals’ do. We have generations of feudalism in built in us which has taught us to value our opinions above the ‘lesser people’. Politicians cannot afford to make that mistake. They listen to people, people who matter. They also know how to manipulate opinions of the numbers to create goals, whether for themselves or for the greater good. Its for us to define what the politicians feel important to deal with. And we are doing a sorry job of it.

    Also, there is a difference between leaders of Mandela’s stature and ordinary politicians. Politicians are not leaders. they are just doing a job. Mandela and Bapu for that matter were created out of extraordinary times. Those were times where 18 year olds like Kshudiram Bose could go to gallows quoting the geeta with a smile on their face. So lets not expect too much from our politicians who stride the world of ordinary mortals today, just as we do. We need to focus on what we can do to get politicians, governance deliver the state of affairs we want. We need to shrug off our lack of empathy and engage before we seek empathetic leaders.

    • Totally agree and therefore building and nurturing empathy is a priority task for us, among our peers and among you get people. We live in extraordinary times too Mono. Annihilation due to a drying up if resources could be only a few years away. There is no patience for tolerance, only an infatuation with quick solutions. Our youth long for strong leadership. The leaders we can look up to will also rise from among us. And I hope they do. We have to hope for a change and hear our kids for it. What other choice do we have?

      • I think we live in extraordinary times, and you do too, but I very often doubt whether it is an imperative that everyone is staring at. Its different when you are so obviously under a colonial misrule, you can identify your opponents by colour. Today I feel the evil is in us, within us, and we as a social class will have blood in our hands soon if we dont shake ourselves out off our smug complacency and see the world order for what it is. That is what I meant by how I have greater respect for politicians than our middle class because I see them more in tune with reality than we are. We are quick to blame the government, yet in all our education and intelligence we dont use democratic methods like civil suits and RTIs and policy opinion mobilisations to pressurise governments to do what is required. Issues like Public Infrastucture and development visions need a complete rethought if we aim to meet the impending global disasters with any level of preparedness. Yet I wonder how many among us actually see the problem for what it really is.

      • Am actually on my way to speak on a panel in citymaking and public participation. It’s part of a long project called Delhi 2050 that has experimented with various forms and levels of consultation. Agree with you. Evil is within us. We are the enemy and the solution. Not easy. But I am still optimistic!

    • Glad you see value in my reply, Mukta . Agree with most of what Monolita says. We have to engage, empathy is not bought off the shelf. And as for your fear of lack of societal will, Mukta, fear not! Remember those lines about a smal group of people with passion and belief being the only thing that changed the world- Margaret Mead, was it? And then Of ocurse, Gandhi Ji’s ‘ Be the Change…’ SO start NOW.

  6. Always optimistic :)…and yes, i agree on the backpacking idea (with very little money ;)….and the several birds killed with one stone 😀

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