Friday, March 13, 2009

A Cambodian 'Open Society"

Here is my personal view on 'Cambodia Open Society' I published in the Phnom Penh Post on March 13th, 2009. The strength of any government is gauged by its commitment to building up the most vulnerable among its citizens.

May the next generation of Khmer people grows up to be an ideal generation with the seed of Dhamma-the seed of metta, karuna, mudita, and uppekka.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cambodia Open Society: From Closed Mindset to Open Mindset

"Please ask me, I want to know" students at Koh Kel Elementary School, Kandal Province

Buddha's Teaching of Open Society at the Elementary School wall of Koh Kel, Kandal Province: The Five Precepts and Metta (lovingkindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (Sympathetic joy), and Uppeka (equanimity)

Cambodia Open Society: from Closed or Fixed Mindset to Open or Growth Mindset.

Today Cambodia is still a country where an education is more often out of reach for thousand of children growing up in poverty and grime. I see people everywhere with nominal opportunity. I want to help level the playing field. While blaming and complaining others will bring no solutions, I ask the politicians to do as they have promised and to look at the public policies that are affecting everyday life in Cambodia such epidemic corruption, human rights, poverty’s alleviation, land grabing, applied rules of laws to all. I want to call on the nation to join me in searching for sustainable solution. But I don’t know how the nation will respond.

As a volunteer teacher, I commit and undertake to the educational development of Cambodia with vigor and without fear of retribution. I want to do more for my country and my people as an individual free from the political restraints. I make no apologies for standing up to speak out on any issue related to the basic standard rights that are in conflict with my understanding of common laws such as equal right and opportunity to education, human rights, justice for all, equal treatment, and fair play. Those vulnerable children may be destitute but they needn’t to be illiterate and ignorant. They also have the right to get an education to enjoy a better life in the future.

In my classroom, I work tirelessly to improve the students’ knowledge, self-esteem, confidence, and standards of living by providing them information, facts and data, assisting them along the way to self-empowerment and connect them to the world. While education is generally perceived as a mean to acquire knowledge which furthers the ability to manage information, I witness the poor people of Cambodia still cannot get close to educating themselves when they don’t possess even the most basic of necessities such as food, water, health care, resources, electricity, infrastructure, and access to the nearest schools. They cannot get the proper education intended for them. They cannot be successful and productive if they are illiterate.

To move forward, Cambodia should adopt the open society concept as a main vehicle for lasting growth and sustainable development. The open society is a concept originally developed by the Nobel Prize in Literature philosopher Henri Bergson. In open societies, government is responsive and tolerant, and political mechanisms are transparent and flexible. The state keeps no secrets from itself in the public sense; it is a non-authoritarian society in which all are trusted with the knowledge of all. Equality, political freedoms and human rights are the foundation of an open society. Although still in its infancy, I have been working on establishing Cambodia Open Society. I admit I still have a long way to go but I dedicate myself to the promotion and implementation of democracy and open societies. After all, the ultimate goal of democracy is not to pursue material abundance but to nurture the dignities and values of each individual. Open society is always open to improvement because knowledge is never completed but always ongoing.

To promote these values, I believe that, first and foremost, the people must have an understanding of their imperfections before they can learn. The majority of the people in Cambodia must learn to change from their fixed mindset to their growth mindset. Positive and constructive change makes all things possible. I witness this deficiency everyday by interacting with them. In my classroom, I work with my students to slowly changing and transforming their mindset.

With the fixed mindset, they spend a lot of time worrying about such questions “Am I good enough? What’s if I am not good enough? How can I believe you? Why should I trust you? Why should I follow the rule of laws when most don’t?” They often loose motivation for any activity in which they don’t immediately shine. They are lack of confidence. They are afraid to speak up. They have fear within themselves. They follow blind ritual and tradition. Mistakes are bad. Everything is difficult and impossible. Conversely, with the growth mindset, the type of belief system, apparent setbacks only fuel their drive and motivation: the result is a continual process of necessary risk taking and self-discovery; an outgoing journey of learning and development. They eliminate barriers of learning by asking themselves “What can I do to get better at this? What works? What is not working? What’s missing? I follow the rule of laws regardless what others think and do.” Mistakes are part of learning. Everything is difficult but possible. Their dignity improves. Their sense of worth increases. They have confidence in themselves to deal with the daily life pressures. They can do more for their own benefits and the benefit of others. They connect themselves to the outside world-freedom to think critically, act conscientiously, and express freely and creatively. “A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done” affirmed the famous American football coach, Vince Lombardi.

To help nurturing Cambodia Open Society, good governance and transparency play a big role in this process. There is a demand to return to the truth and the open society-the value upon which the Cambodia success depends-including honesty, trustworthiness, hard work, courage and fair play. That spirit must inhabit us all. All government officials must work toward achieving an acceptable level of openness by practicing what they preach. Powerful leaders must cultivate mutual respect and consideration, so as to create a feasible and reasonable balance of interest, instead of thinking and abusing unlimited power. They don’t have the right to rob or dispossess in any way whatsoever any other person or the commonweal. They must have a sense of modesty and moderation instead of an unquenchable greed for power, wealth, money and status. In greed and in power, humans lose their souls, their freedom and their inner peace to serve others, and thus that, which makes them human. They must utilize their political and economic power for keen service to their people instead of misusing it in ruthless battles for domination. They must develop and extend a spirit of compassion with those who suffer, with special care for the children, the aged, the poor, and the disabled. Their policies and actions must be transparent because transparency would strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.

To answer life’s most urgent question: what am I doing for others? I find satisfaction of knowing that at least I have made a difference and a small contribution in the lives of my students I teach and the people I met. An ideal Cambodia of Open Society is a transparent country with good governance, competent leaders with vision, accountability, sound institutions, hardworking and rationale citizens with growth mindset, and is under sound progressive management where all the people would one day be healthy in mind and body. Cambodia can become an example to the world, without poverty, by having a non-corrupt and efficient bureaucracy, developing a well-educated, development-oriented private sector, and protecting the environment.