My morning routine has been set for the past few years: coffee, watch the morning news, and, after 10 minutes, ask myself “why”.
Why is the news always so full of tragedy? Why does the world seem to be out of control? Why are most of our leaders so poorly equipped to lead? And why do they follow policies that appear to reflect their own personal vanity rather than the needs of the people that they lead or simple common sense?
I am left with an appropriate quote from Sir Winston Churchill, who observed that the problem with his time was that people didn’t want to be useful but, rather, important.
This was true in his time when Hitler and Stain roamed the earth and remains very true today.
Wherever we turn, we face capricious leaders who prefer to enhance their own sense of grandeur and power rather than provide a solid example of selflessness, common sense and basic goodness.
In Sudan, we have two generals who want to grab power, have mobilized their followers to fight each other for the ultimate goal -- personal power. The result is tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Two men’s egos justify carnage and destruction on an inhuman scale.
In Russia, we face an egotist bent on resuscitating a lost empire and rule it with absolute power. His invasion of Ukraine is an example on one person’s ego plunging that country into a path of destruction, the deaths of tens of thousands of people, and the displacement of over 6 million people far and wide. It also underscores how people can be cowed into compliance under the threat of Imprisonment or death.
Last but not least in this litany of failed states with egocentric leaders is Iran whose leaders will murder anyone who contradicts their version of Islamic rule as demonstrated over the past year.
Some may argue that these are not democracies and that their people lack the means to overthrow their governments.
Perhaps. But I recall that in 1979 the Iranian people overthrew the Shah’s regime, and in 1917, the Russian people threw of the yoke of the Czars. Yet, the people were too cowed or ideologically motivated and consequently replaced these regimes with even worse governments and greater repression. Lenin and Khomeini were too egocentric to care about such things as respect for human rights and democratic development. Their latest successors, Putin and Khamenei, and their followers, are cut from the same cloth.
Opposition leaders from Venezuela to Nicaragua to Iran appear to have few if any ideals, preferring to squabble among themselves for power rather than give up their personal searches for high office and unite behind a strong and determined democratic leader.
If we look at democracies, they too leave something to be desired.
In 2016, Americans elected Donald Trump, the supreme egotist who continues to have little regard for democratic institutions or practices as well as basic human decency. His erstwhile opponent for the Republican candidature for the 2024 elections, Ron DeSantis, has the same thin skin and huge ego, and brooks no opposition. In addition, Trump has absconded with the Republican Party and has emasculated most Republican politicians.
The purchase of Republican politicians by the National Rifle Association (NRA) has resulted in the deaths of many thousands of Americans in what has become an almost daily epidemic of mass shootings. Again, we all ask why, and why politicians would rather see countless deaths rather than forgo campaign financing for the sake of basic decency.
Is there a solution to the crisis of leadership we face today?
Human nature is such that the struggle between personal and political integrity is almost always mitigated by personal greed and the allure of absolute power. Few of us are Nelson Mandela with his ability to overlook his ego for the good of his people and to forgo the absolute power that they would have given him to ensure a democratic future for his country.
This leads to another question. Are people around the world ready to vote for moral and ethical leadership? Can good leaders restore public faith in institutions of governance? Are people ready to vote for consensus rather than confrontation? Finally, are people ready to fight for a better future?
The recent demonstrations in Iran show that people are willing to risk imprisonment or death to change their lot. But can they sustain the fight until they succeed?
And can their example motivate others to follow?
Sigmund Freud once said that most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.
Yet personal responsibility and a certain amount of personal bravery are essential to stop us from becoming a dystopian society.
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