Te whetu Orongo

The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.

— Kenneth Blanchard, American author

We are nothing but sacrificial animals being constantly, redundantly, and mercilessly influenced by family and community including a government-controlled educational system. This is our fate, willy-nilly, from womb to tomb. The conditioning is justified because we are engaged in a jungle warfare – “the survival of the fittest.”

As we grow older and wiser, we realise that either we are easily influenced, or we are able to influence others. When the latter prevails, rest assured, you have made it out of slavery and bondage.

The Greek moral philosopher who continues to influence all and sundry is undoubtedly Socrates (470 BC-399 BC) whose single most consciousness-awakening contribution to modern thinking is “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

If you have been influenced by the theologian St. Augustine (354 AD-430 AD), you would quickly realise that life is not all about loose living, fun, games and entertainment; and that patience is a great companion of wisdom.

Influence to political thought began with Plato, the Athenian philosopher (429 BC- 347 BC) who literally taught that “what you see is not what you get.” His beliefs still ring true today when he proved that our senses view things as if there was no error of malfunction.

“Even if the end is the same for an individual and for a city-state, that of the city-state seems at any rate greater and more complete to attain and preserve. For although it is worthy to attain it for only an individual, it is nobler and more divine to do so for a nation or city-state,” courtesy Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC), the Greek philosopher whose influence rings loudly by authoritarian governments!

Emphasis on personal, governmental authority and educational modalities was the focus of Confucius (551 BC-479 BC) with his acute sense of mastering legal customs. His teachings influenced Buddhist and Taoist philosophies as well as the Han, Tang and Song dynasties. Lee Kuan Yew was a great advocate of Confucian teachings.

Churches today wrestle with the influence of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the Dominican theologian who pioneered the belief that the existence of God can be verified through reason and rational explanation as opposed to scripture study and spiritual experience. Some awakened souls believe that reason is the most naïve of all superstitions.

The evils of authoritarian and totalitarian governments today is attributed to the influence of Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) who was a great source of relief and reason for a former Malaysian prime minister with the “if the actions accuse us, let the results excuse us” theory of governance. Many benefitted.

The belief in all things that are not absolutely certain, emphasising the understanding of that which can be known for sure influenced the Scientific Revolution where intense discovery, revelation and innovation found expression and manifestation thanks to Rene Descartes (1596-1650).

The influence of the “social contract theory” on government systems is a major political movement set in motion by John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher who is said to have been a major influence on the American Declaration of Independence that initiated the American war for independence from Britain. The Lockean ideal should be a powerful people-centric political game-changer.

Arguing against moral absolutes, the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1777), brought into focus that our ethical behavior and treatment of others is compelled by emotion, sentiment and internal passions with predictable outcomes that we desire.

The influence set in motion by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) reverberates today in certain political regimes that promote perpetual peace through universal democracy and international cooperation. His Critique of Pure Reason is still referred to in law schools.

Highly critical of the entanglement between government and religion, the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) asserted that theological beliefs and concepts were inherently subjective because they could not be verified or invalidated by science.

Karl Marx (1818-1883), the German-born economist advocated a sound theory for humanity: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” Many have accepted this breakthrough, yet others condemn it as socialism. Marxist teachings are very much relevant today.

Our unique political climate today in Borneo seen through the prism of an absolute monarchy (Brunei), a presidential representative democratic republic (Indonesia) and a parliamentary democracy helmed by a constitutional monarch (Malaysia), make us wonder if it was worth sacrificing our customs and usage for continuous western political influence. Change is inevitable.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.