The ASEAN 100 Oration by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
Written by Delwin Keasberry Friday, 14 December 2012 14:17
Resilience in Turbulent Times
Greetings Readers! Last week I was in Yangon, Myanmar together with my workmates for the ASEAN 100 Leadership (read more about the Forum here and here) there. There were many special moments, but two stand out - visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda and watching Nobel Laureate and Chairperson of the National League for Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi deliver the ASEAN 100 oration. It was truly one of those trips which mark one's life. Below are some photographs from the trip and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's oration in its entirety.
Some photographs from my time at the Shwedagon Pagoda
Photographs of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, courtesy of Asia Inc Forum
It has always been my intention that we should move closer to our neighbours. This was always the vision of my father way back in 1947 before he died. He thought of a united Asian "federation" if you like. He went as far as that. He wanted the Asian countries to come together and stand together with the problems of the modern world, the modern world of 1947 is of course not the modern world of 2012. Times have changed, we have changed, the region has changed. But I think the need for greater harmony, the need for greater cooperation and the need for peace will never change as long as this world lasts.
I've been asked to speak on resilience in a turbulent time. First I would like to look at what it means by "turbulence". What are "turbulent times"? Turbulence, by this definition means lack of tranquillity. It means agitation, it means clashes, it means conflict, it means movement that are not in a positive direction. And yet you can look at turbulence as interaction as well. Perhaps not the calmest kind of interaction, but interaction of a kind. So it is up to us to make the best of turbulence. To draw lessons from turbulence that will help us to achieve our goals of harmony, or peace, progress and prosperity, of cooperation, of a world where we created unity out of diversity. Diversity is very precious, it is precious to me personally and it is precious to our nation because we are a nation made up of many peoples.
We are a nation made up of many ethnic minorities, I'm proud of our diversity, I'm glad to say that we are a nation of many peoples. But I would be prouder if we could say that we are a nation united, a united nation, a union of many peoples. We have yet to make such a declaration proudly and confidently, and we have to move towards that goal where we can say we are a union of many different peoples.
There is turbulence in our country now, and there has been turbulence in the past. The nature of turbulence changes. When I first entered politics in 1988. I entered it as one of those working for democracy and human rights. Because I believe in the value of human rights and democratic institutions. It was not because I wished to take anybody's part in particular. I would not even like to look upon myself as a "champion of the people". I would simply like to see myself, as somebody who believes in basic human rights and democratic institutions, and who would try her best to promote these in my own country.
When we started out on the road to democracy, it was turbulent in a sense that we had to face many dangers; we had to face many challenges. The government of that time was not particularly interested in granting human rights or democratic rights to the peoples and we had to fight for those rights. And that is where turbulence is created, the clash between the authorities and those who wished to promote human rights and democracy. And where do the great number of people in our country stand? Where were they in this pattern of turbulence? The great majority of them wanted their basic rights, but they did not even realize that what they were wanting were basic human rights. They simply understood that they wanted to be secure, they wanted to be free from want and fear, but they did not know that freedom from want and fear were basic to the united nations, universal declaration of human rights. So part of our world was to teach them that their desires were legitimate , that their very simple wants , that their very simple aspirations were not only right but supported by the great and wise of the world. That after the Second World War, those in power and those in positions to think and to try to find answers had come to the conclusion that freedom from want and fear, respect for human dignity were essential for our world to be free from turbulence. A world that had recently suffered the great turbulence of the Second World War.
So our task then, was to teach the people that their aspirations were legitimate and that they had to work for them. Throughout my message has been: "No hope without endeavour". If you want to realize your hopes you have to work for them, and that's where resilience came in. Resilience is more than mere endurance. Resilience denotes recovery. The ability to recover. That means that an endeavour on your part a conscious effort that you will overcome the challenges that you will have to face. That you will be able to meet these challenges not only with courage and endurance, but intelligence. Recovery needs intelligence.
If we look at a simple case of a sick person, for somebody who is ill, for somebody who is suffering from a disease to recover. There is resilience on his part, in a sense, that he has to be committed to recovery. He has to want to recover he has to want to get better. But then he also needs the help of trained doctors to help him to recover. And that is where intelligence and education comes in. So resilience is not just a matter of endurance, endurance of a great rock, which is attacked by crashing waves. And the rock endures and endures and endures, but the rock does not recover. It gets eaten away slowly, although it can endure for a long time, it can last for a long time. But the waves will eat it away will wear it away over the years.
Resilience means that you do not get worn away, you do not just give in, stand up to as much as you can stand up to. That is endurance, but resilience is more proactive, you recover. You get back what has been lost. Not in exactly the same way, but from different directions, and in different ways, and with intelligence, resilience you get back more than you have lost. This is what I would like for our country. We went through a very turbulent time, when our people lost their basic rights. But more than the loss of their rights, what saddened me was the loss of their confidence in themselves, their pride in their country. Their hope as I like to say about young people now who are now unemployed. It's not joblessness that I'm worried about, it's hopelessness. Not having jobs alone is not a big problem, but if they lose hope it is going to be a big problem for us in the future.
In this way when I was thinking about the loss of basic rights, for our people, about the loss of our basic security, I was worried that they would no longer be able to face our future with confidence. That our resilience would have got worn away, and our job I saw, and the work of all those who wanted to establish democratic values and institutions in this country was to re-establish this confidence, was to regain confidence in themselves. When my father and his colleagues were struggling for the independence of this country, many years ago. They liked to say that they wanted to have the right to shape the destiny of their own country. They did not want foreigners shaping the destiny of their country.
In order to shape the destiny of your own country, you need the resilience, intelligent resilience. You do not want to put it into a shape that is worse than what it was in the past. Resilience has a lot to do with vision, a vision of the kind of future you want, for your people, for your country, for the world in which you live. Resilience also denotes a broad vision, a narrow vision will not help us to develop the kind of resilience that we need for our country and for the world. Since 2010, and particularly since the beginning of this year, many countries, especially the countries in our region have begun to hope that Burma is on the right path that we are now firmly heading for the kind of future where security and freedom will be assured for our people.
I should say for this moment that the other nations seem to have developed a more practical approach to this country than many countries in the West. I have discovered that during the course of this year, that what I'm always warning against, "over optimism" is indulged in more by Western Nations that our very pragmatic and down to earth ASEAN neighbours. Our ASEAN neighbours are very much aware of what the problems our regions are , and what the problems of this country are. And of course Asians for all their polite exterior are very critical when it comes to looking at one another. I think this is an Asian trait, it's a good one. I think it is good to look at things with a critical eye, provided there is a desire to help us overcome the problems that you see.
So the turbulence that started with this year, is a different kind from the kind of turbulence that we had to face over the last 20 years. The turbulence before if you like, was a clash between authoritarianism , and those fighting for democracy. The turbulence now is due to conflicting perceptions of what is going on in this country. There are many people who are very much focused on what they call "the speed of change". I would like you to focus more on the "quality of change". Speed is less important than proper sequencing than quality of change. What we want are changes that will take us forward in the right direction. We don't want change for the sake of change. We want change for the betterment of our society. So the kind of resilience that we need now , we could say is intellectual resilience. Resilience to surface change, resilience to the kind of change that is not really going to improve our society. We need to be able to take a good hard look at what is going on. We all live with hope, hope is essential, but hope has to be granted in pragmatism. Hope has to be granted an ability to face facts. Hope cannot be granted on pipe dreams.
I am a great believer in dreaming , but I believe more in one's ability to make one's dreams come true. You do not sit back and dream because it is easy, a dream is actually a goal, a challenge that you are prepared to meet. And all of those who want to realize the dream of a prosperous and democratic Burma, must learn to be resilient. Strength, the ability to recover, intelligence, the courage to face our problems fairly and squarely. Democracy is not a perfect system, I think I do not need to tell our audience this. But we also have to understand that democracy is going to be what we make of it. We have to make use of our democratic rights that we enhance our society, that we enhance of the rights of our people. I have been asked many times, "Are we on the irreversible path to democratization?" and I always say "No, not yet." and they will say " When can we say that the process is irreversible?" And my answer is "When the ordinary people feel that their lives have changed, when the ordinary people feel that they are free from fear and from want."
That is when we can say the path to democracy is irreversible. What is said by those in authority is not enough, what is said by people like me is not enough. Because let us face it, I am in a more privileged position than the great majority of the people of our country. Until they can feel that they are safe and secure, safe from want, safe from fear, then our country has not gotten from where we wish to get to. So we would ask for resilience , on your part. You have to have the resilience to resist the temptation to take the easy path of "over optimism".
People have been annoyed with me because I talk about "cautious optimism". They do not like it when I talk about "healthy skepticism". But I must urge these for the sake of genuine progress in our country. During our years of struggling, we were upheld by the conviction that what we wanted, was what the majority of our people wanted, even though they did not want to speak out and ask for the rights that we were fighting for. There were those that doubted, that my party, The National League for Democracy, and other forces working for democracy, had the support of the people of Burma. There were those who said that although we may have won a landslide victory in 1990. The people of Burma no longer felt safe.
By the way while I am talking about Burma, let us discuss this little context of the name of our country. In the context of resilience, in the context of harmony and national reconciliation. The name of this country as spelt out in the constitution is only in our own language….That is the official name of our country as spelt out in our constitution and in our own language. There is nothing in any of the laws in our country that says how it should be referred to when speaking in a foreign language., as Myanmar, or Burma, or …. or whatever the language of the speaker may be.
I think if we really want to head for democracy, everybody has the right to use whatever he or she wishes to use. And I use the word Burma because I am comfortable with it. This was the name that I knew as the "English name" of our country when we achieved independence in 1948. It was a time of great pride of all our people. our people , the people of Burma, felt that we have been able to defeat the greatest power in the world, which was then the British Empire, and that we were able to defeat the greatest in Asia which was then Japan. and we had thus achieved our independence. It was a moment of great national pride for us. That is why I have always been proud to say I come from Burma, whenever I met those who came from other countries. And that is my personal affection for this name.
There are other reasons which I will not go into today, because I would rather concentrate on the harmonious and the pleasant, but if anybody wants to bring that questions up with me later I am quite ready to face it.
As I said this is a different kind of resilience, in those days, resilience meant an ability to face oppression, imprisonment, and deprivation of one's right. But now the resilience that we need is of a different kind. It is the resilience that we need to overcome our own prejudices, and to sort out , our own personal inclinations from what we think is best for the country. This is a time when we must learn to divorce our emotions from logical thinking as far as possible. Of course it will never be fully possible, because we humans cannot divorce our emotions from everything that we do, but we must try.
We are beginning to enjoy a few democratic rights and it is very important that we use them in a right way, that we are able to build up a sound foundation for our country. In a time of turbulence, those institutions with the soundest foundations were the safest ones. So we should not build up a country that is so solidly granted that we are able to face all the turbulence that we shall have to face in the future. And there will be times of turbulence.
I do not believe that our world will be fully at peace, because human beings by nature are never at peace, but we have to aim at peace. Peace should be the guiding start of the existence of every human being that lives on this planet, because unless we are all dedicated to peace, there will be greater and greater turbulence in this world.
When we talk about modern technology, many people think that this will bring the world together, but of course there is always a downside to everything. The internet that allows us to link up to people all around the world also creates polarization , because many people like to link up to those of a like mind, and then they gather the forces and they stand up against others who think differently. This will not make for unity out of diversity. I believe that diversity is beautiful. I believe that diversity is of great value, and it is diversity that has helped diversity to progress.
And I would like to promote this ideal that seems to have been forgotten, that unity out of diversity is the only genuine kind of unity. Unity between those of like minds is not genuine unity, it's just sameness, it's just a similarity, a similarity of outlook. In some ways, you could say that it is narrow mindedness, because you keep to those who think in the same way as you do, and then you are inclined to think that you are always right. If you live among those who think only the way you do, you will always think you are right. If you live among the many people who think differently from you, then you will always have to rethink, you will always have to reconsider, your own ideas, your own attitudes, to discover whether or not these are right and desirable. And that is what will create resilience. That is what will create the kind of resilience that will enable us to face the challenges of the changing world. Whatever challenges may come up we have to be able to face it. Educationists say that education is not about certificates or degrees. It's about creating an ability to face the challenges of life. So education can help to build up resilience.
At the moment, the education system in Burma is in a very sorry state, and we want to change this, we want to change it in such a way that our education system will enable us to not only overcome our problems but to overtake our ASEAN neighbours. An outstatement if possible, it is always good to be ambitious. We always have to have ambitions to realize them. I grew up at a time when I was confident that Burma was one of the greatest countries of the world. I always thought that everybody in the world spoke English and Burmese, we were the two top nations and we managed to get the British out, so we were number one. That was how I was brought up, and this gave me immense confidence in my country and in myself. And part of the ability to stand up of the hardships of the last few decades was this confidence that had been instilled in me as a child. And I would like to instil this confidence in all our people, the confidence that you belong to a country to a country that is capable of anything and everything. But at the same time, at the same time capable of sorting out what is good from the bad, what is desirable form the undesirable. Because we can achieve anything and everything it does not mean we have to go out to get something that will harm others, that will hurt others , that will have negative effects on others.
As we nurture resilience, the ability to not just stand up to hardship but to recover, we have to nurture, sympathy, empathy, compassion. These may be concepts that seem outdated in these times, but yet I do not think so. When I was campaigning for the bi-elections. I was amazed at how responsive the young people of this country were to the simple message that we try to give to them. Which was responsibility, honesty, caring for others, compassion These appeal to the young because young people, we could describe them as "very new human beings" , still unspoiled. These new human beings were responsive to the concepts which seemed outdated to the not-so-new human beings. Human beings who have suffered from the wear and tear of life and have become less idealistic.
Now I must make a difference between idealism and over optimism. They are not the same. "Over optimism" is not based on ideals, it is based on what you want, and what you wished things would be. Ideals also are what you would like things to be but ideals, are what you work towards, ideas are what shape your concept of the world, ideas are what shape your ideals. Ideals are what give you courage and resilience. Over optimism will not give you resilience, on the contrary, it will make you totally unprepared for the problems that will crop up. I would like to make this distinction between over optimism and idealism. I would like to join idealism to resistance in Burma's last and most difficult struggle. I always say it is the last mile that is the hardest, and if we go wrong in this last mile, we will lose the race. It's those who managed to keep going in the last mile who win. Winners are the ones who keep going, and in order to keep going it needs more than endurance. So I would like to repeat one of my favourite stories. I always say to our young people when I want to urge them to continue with their work.
These were the words spoken by Sebastian Coe, when he was a gold medallist way back in the 80s, and he was asked by a reporter. He was famous for the spurt that he always managed to put in before he reached the goal, and everybody was flagging because they are getting very tired. A reporter asked him…this reporter knew that the greatest problem in the last mile, the last spurt, was that the pain in your lungs that come in, so he asked him "How do you stop the pain, how is it that you manage to train yourself so that you do not feel this pain?". And he said " I cannot train myself not to feel this pain, but I can train myself to go on inspite of it" and that is what is resilience, you go on in spite of the pain, you go on in spite of the difficulties. You train yourself to do it, it is not given to you, it is not presented to you at birth. Of course some of us are naturally more resilient than others, but resilience has to be nurtured, and everybody, every one of us can do it, we can do it as individuals. We can do it as a nation, we can do it as a region, we can't do it as the whole world; the ability to withstand, to recover, and not only that, but to progress as well.
So what I would like to say, very simply is this, resilience in turbulent times, is the answer to overcoming the great challenges that we have to face because I thought "turbulent times…when is that?". It is always, the times will always be turbulent, somewhere or the other there will always be turbulence. And when there is turbulence in some part of the world, we have to care about it, it is our turbulence, not just the turbulence of peoples elsewhere. It is the same in our country, whenever there is turbulence anywhere in this country, we should feel it as turbulence everywhere, and we should all be concerned to calm it through resilience, through understanding, through a commitment through national reconciliation.
When will we be satisfied with what we have achieved in this country? In some ways I can say that I will never be satisfied because I will always expect my country to do better and better, but if I am to say can I name one event, one achievement that would satisfy me, that would be, national reconciliation. National reconciliation of all ethnic people of our country, national reconciliation between forces that had posed one another in the last one and a half decades, and apart from national reconciliation, international reconciliation. Or let us put it this way, international relations with our neighbours and the wider world. When we have achieved that then I can say that we have achieved what we set out to achieve, on the 26th of August 1988 when I said to the people of Burma, "This is our second struggle for independence. We are now struggling not from a foreign power, but independence from authoritarianism from our own country".
So what we are now struggling now is from ourselves, from our own prejudices, from the chains that shackle us to the past. If we manage to achieve this independence, through our hard work, through resilience, and through idealism, then I think we can say will we overcome the turbulent times that we are facing now, but that we will have equipped ourselves any kind of turbulence that arise in the future.