Monday, 22 February 2010

Do We Really Want The Best and The Brightest?

Professor Doran Hunter, Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Senior Fulbright Scholar was at IIUM recently where he delivered a series of talks centred around the issue of moral and good governance. During his last lecture, he was asked about his views on the necessity to have the best and the brightest to lead a moral and good government. His response was quite astounding.

He first made reference to the classic book The Best and The Brightest by David Halberstam who explained how the best and brightest people who advised President John F. Kennedy on Vietnam; all of them were wrong on how to best deal with the tensive situation. JFK in fact was the only one who was sensible enough to understand that war should be the absolute final resort, not a strategic move for any kind of psychological and moral victory. And the reason JFK was so adamantly against full military action was not because he was the best and brightest or even smarter than all his expert-advisers. He felt so strongly about it simply because he was once a soldier, thus knew very well what wars are all about especially the countless sufferings and hardships they bring.

Professor Hunter then drove home the point that the best and brighest are not always right. They may be the brightest as far as intelligence and academic achievements are concern, but without any real experience dealing with real-life situations, all their knowledge could be dangerously superficial. Which is why Americans have most often voted in presidents who were either former senators or former governors. These people may not necessarily be the brightest but they have the experience and the practical understanding on how to govern effectively and get things done. Hence the conclusion by Professor Hunter, he would never agree with the idea of using technology in genetic science to 'breed' an elite group of the best and brightest individuals to lead nations and governments.

Professor Hunter however seemed to have contradicted himself when responding to queries on his views on President Obama and his cabinet members. Although a Republican, Professor Hunter admits that he voted for Obama because he graduated from the best law school in America (at Harvard University) and has deep respect and understanding of the American Constitution having taught 'Constitutional Law' at several universities prior to his direct involvement in politics. Professor Hunter further exclaims that President Obama has managed to put together a remarkable cabinet whose members are among the best and brigthest in America.

These views may appear contradictory at a glance but once thought about further and deeper may not necessarily be so. President Obama's academic credentials were not the only reason why millions of Americans voted for him. His unique family and social background and experiences as a community organiser convinced many Americans that he truly understands the routine hardships and predicaments of millions of ordinary Americans. As the comedian Chris Rock once said in an interview during the campaign period back in 2008; "it's simple, vote for the guy with one house (Obama)... The guy with one house really cares about losing a house, because he is homeless. The other guy (John McCain) can lose five houses and still got a bunch of houses." (McCain and his wife were reported to own 12 houses)

Intelligence and academic credentials alone are not enough. But if they are blended with a deep sense understanding and experience of realities as viewed by the common people, that would be a powerful combination.

In my recent article to the Centre for Policy Initiatives, I expressed the need to find Malaysia's very own Manmohan Singh. I admit the article focussed more on the current Indian Prime Minister's impeccable academic and professional credentials, but those who are familiar with his personal background would know that Manmohan Singh also came from humble origins. His experience growing up in pre-partitioned India and as a Sikh in a Hindu-majority society I'm sure has helped him enormously while serving as prime minister.

Which begs us to ask, are only those from a lower social class whose families were poor and endured extreme hardship capable of becoming a compassionate and just political leader? Or from another point-of-view, are those with upper-class family background who grew up with wealth and comfort incapable to fully understand the plight and realities of the common people?

Malaysia's current Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is a living-ebodiment of this challenge. As a son of a former prime minister, how can he possibly understand the daily and routine hardship faced by many Malaysians? How can he possibly for example appreciates the struggles of a fisherman or a rubber-tapper who wakes up at 5 am every morning to work? Does he know what it feels like to struggle every month to pay various bills and expenses - water, electricity, food, children's expenses etc?

I'm sure he doesn't, which is why he appears most of the time like the feudal leader he is rather than a leader for the people. But that's not his fault, isn't it? I mean, should his father Tun Abdul Razak denied him the comfort of living in the Prime Minister's official residence and sent him to school in a far away kampung and let him live a wooden pondok just so that he knows what it feels like to be poor?

This is fast encroaching into issues in parenting vis-a-vis the challenges of modernity, which deserves a different posting, later...

Monday, 8 February 2010

Menangani Prejudis dan Stereotaip Negatif Kaum

Seorang kenalan saya di Amerika pernah menceritakan bagaimana pada satu hari, ketika duduk berehat sebentar di sebuah pusat membeli-belah, beliau ternampak dua orang lelaki berkulit hitam berlari dengan pantas sambil dikejar seorang pegawai keselamatan. Lantas timbul hasrat kenalan saya ini untuk membantu lalu dikejarnya dua orang lelaki itu, diterjah salah seorang daripadanya dari belakang dan dihempap badannya ke bawah. Lelaki berkulit hitam itu mengerang kesakitan lalu berkata; "saya tuan punya kedai, kenapa awak tangkap saya?!" Terperanjat sungguh kenalan saya ketika itu. Beliau hanya mampu memohon maaf dengan penuh rasa kesal kerana bukan sahaja tersalah menangkap orang, tapi membiarkan juga pencuri yang sebenar melarikan diri.

Kenalan saya bukan sebarangan orang. Di Amerika beliau terlibat dalam pelbagai aktiviti kemasyarakatan yang melibatkan golongan minoriti di sana. Bahkan, beliau sering terlibat dalam kempen-kempen dan forum yang menentang sikap prejudis terhadap apa jua golongan bangsa dan beragama. Maka, walaupun beliau berkulit putiih, profilnya sama sekali tidak menggambarkan beliau sebagai seorang yang bersikap negatif dan agresif terhadap masyarakat lain.

Ramai antara kita sebenarnya tanpa disedari bersikap prejudis dan menaruh sterotaip negatif terhadap orang lain. Fenomena ini telah dibuktikan dalam banyak kajian dalam bidang psikologi sosial. Kajian di Amerika misalnya ada melaporkan hampir 80 peratus masyarakat kulit putih di sana tanpa disedari menaruh sikap prejudis terhadap masyarakat berkulit hitam. Sikap implisit ini tidak semestinya dizahirkan melalui perbuatan atau kata-kata secara terbuka, namun dalam situasi tertentu ianya tetap terserlah.

Di Malaysia, isu prejudis dan sterotaip kaum ini sering dianggap isu sensitif bukan sahaja di pentas awam, tapi juga di kalangan ahli-ahli akademik. Oleb sebab itu, tidak banyak kajian saintifik yang dilakukan untuk meninjau sejauh mana masyarakat pelbagai kaum di Malaysia menaruh sifat perjudis terhadap satu sama lain.

Namun yang jelas, jika ditinjau daripada kelakuan dan percakapan harian, masalah ini tidak boleh dipandang ringan. Di kalangan rakan-rakan dan sanak saudara saya yang berbangsa Melayu, sering kedengaran keluhan bilamana ada barang yang dibeli dianggap mahal, peniaga Cina yang cepat dipersalahkan. "Orang Cina, sebab tu lah mahal".

Di kalangan orang Cina, ada juga prejudisnya. Seorang graduan universiti tempatan berbangsa Melayu pernah menceritakan pengalaman beliau menghadiri temuduga di sebuah syarikat swasta. Semua penemuduga yang hadir berbangsa Cina. Ketika sessi temuduga berjalan, mereka sering berbisik di antara mereka dalam bahasa Mandarin. Yang tidak disedari mereka calon temuduga itu sebenarnya boleh berbahasa Mandarin kerana bersekolah rendah di sekolah Cina. Beliau faham benar apa yang dibisikan yang antaranya ialah "Ma-lai-ren lan-dou... Ma-lai-ren mei-you da-nao (orang Melayu malas... orang Melayu kurang pandai)".

Mengapa ini terjadi? (bersambung...)

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