Our leaders canlearn from The Lady's light

Our leaders canlearn from The Lady's light

Some people's minds are as clear as crystal, a former senior colleague recently said to me.

As a simultaneous interpreter often employed at high-profile international events, she has had her fair share of experiences translating the thoughts of international personalities into Thai or English.

From all her experience, she said she has encountered only two people whose minds are so bright she felt she could literally see their whole thought process at work as they delivered their speeches.

One of the two is Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who recently delivered a key-note speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia in Bangkok. The other is a Thai politician she declined to name.

Of course, there are other politicians and personalities whose minds are like mud and whose speeches, often unprepared, cause a translator's brain to overheat in search of logic. No names were named however in this category.

During her historic speech to the Nobel committee on Saturday, The Lady showed the world the brightness of a mind undiminished by decades of isolation, but also a level of composure _ a sharpness, stillness and singularity of purpose _ that perhaps could only be gained by long years of solitude enforced by one's own free will.

As a citizen of a country also struggling to achieve national reconciliation, I watched the speech and marvelled at how "the democracy icon" chose not to present herself as such.

Indeed, she almost went out of her way to share the limelight of the global stage with others who have suffered as much or more than she has.

Mrs Suu Kyi chose not to focus on her personal losses and anguish, about how unjust and unkind the punishment meted out to her was, which I am sure would have won sympathy and admiration from the international audience.

Instead, she used her own experience to highlight stories about the common people who bear the brunt of the consequences of fighting for the high-brow ideals of democracy and human rights _ people like Myanmar's many prisoners of conscience and migrant workers.

In choosing to suffer with her country's people, she showed the world the true spirit of democracy, and demonstrated that endurance can topple gross injustice and the harshest dictatorships.

Many politicians here have tried to associate their names or deeds with the name of Aung San Suu Kyi. Many here also refer to themselves as democracy icons, defenders of the underprivileged or champions of national reconciliation.

As I watched The Lady dwell on the predicament of others on an occasion meant to honour her, I wondered if these politicians realise what fighting for democracy or reconciliation is truly about.

I don't mean to say everyone has to defy autocracy by enduring an unjust authority in silence.

I mean to say that a transformative process like national reconciliation requires an enlightened mind _ or several enlightened minds _ transcending the simplistic love-hate, us-versus-them sentiments currently prevailing among leading figures in Thailand.

The magnanimity of Mrs Suu Kyi's mind was reflected in the answer she gave to WEF founder Klaus Schwab, who asked what was on her mind when she landed in Bangkok for the first time after more than two decades of confinement.

Several news reports said Mrs Suu Kyi answered that she was dazzled by Bangkok's lights when she saw them from her plane.

I believe her answer on that day was very nuanced and had deeper meanings.

To those who have assumed it was because she has been out of touch with the world for too long, she stated clearly at the beginning she had been to some of the world's most cosmopolitan cities and definitely seen brighter lights.

But she used Bangkok's dazzling lights to bring to the WEF's attention the candle-light protests against the irregular supply of electricity going on at that same moment back in her country.

With a single stroke, she reminded the world about who she had been before she was basically cut off from the rest of humanity when she was placed under house arrest, and where her heart always lay even when she was able to leave Myanmar as a free person.

Mrs Suu Kyi noted that despite some encouraging signs, there remain causes for concern and room for "healthy scepticism" when it comes to the process of reform and reconciliation in Myanmar.

Looking at our own country as it goes through a similar process, I wonder if any of our leaders possess the same necessary endurance to achieve reconciliation through peaceful means.


Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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