I was standing on the high promenade at the Sandy Hook, NJ lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. In our tour group, I observed a tall, pale teenager, clearly “too cool” for a family outing. Despite himself, he was impressed with the view. He leaned against the cylindrical wall, staring intently at some object in the sky. Another, much younger, much more visibly enthusiastic boy followed the trajectory of his (brother’s?) vision. The younger child realised that his brother was studying the flight of a turkey vulture, drawing a lazy corkscrew in the muggy sky.
I watched them watching the bird.
Younger brother: “It’s so wobbly. It’s not much of a flier, is it?”
Older brother (dryly): “If you think you can do better — jump.”
I resonate with that comment. What strange beings we humans are! The wonder of nature isn’t so much that God has created Creature A, miraculously capable of flight, but that God has created Creature B, an animal completely incapable of flight, but completely capable of criticising the miraculous flying techniques of creature A.
When I see public figures, politicians and famous neck-sticker-outers wobbling through the air on wings that are sometimes corrupt, incompetent, or just plain ugly, my initial reaction is to offer some put-down. Still, those miscreants are the ones who are airborne, no matter how tentatively. My put-downs are sour grapes. After all, I’m the one on the ground. So, when I read names that appear daily in bdnews24.com, names like Shiekh Hasina, and Khaleda Zia and, lately, Muhammad Yunus, I’d rather merely observe than criticise.
My purpose here is to examine and to understand the habits that get leaders high enough off the ground in the first place so that they can be noticed and critiqued. For the rest of us, accusations made of our less than saintly activities may offend our friends and family, but, dear readers, how many times have accusations against you become world news?
I had no intention of writing this article at first. I had not thought to include controversial figures in my current profile of heroes.
But then I accidentally discovered that between Muhammad Yunus and me lay only one degree of separation.
This week, a loved one mentioned that she intended to change a particular habit. I recalled a life-changing course that I had taken a difficult point in my life, given by a remarkable author named Dave Ellis.
Upon further examining Ellis’ website, I noticed that he had a number of testimonials, one of which took me by surprise — Muhammad Yunus! Dave Ellis had attended Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank training, as a volunteer. During the time they spent together, Ellis mentioned to Dr. Yunus that he was a professional “life coach”. In his testimonial, Yunus admits that he thought that this was a crazy profession. Curious, Yunus gave the coaching a try.
Yunus: [Dave Ellis] is kind of a background person. He never comes to the scene of your life. …He just asks you questions, and, gradually, you feel at least the problems you saw that you only had one light and only one side of the story, he helped to go around and light up another light on that problem. And, now, you see the problem is not a problem anymore. It’s solved.
I am certain that Dr. Yunus possesses a unique willingness to do things in an unconventional ways in order to get the best results. This has led to triumphs such as his Nobel Prize and low moments such as the Government takeover of his Grameen Bank.
In exploring the national character of the Bangladeshi people, even before independence, the character of the region, seems to encourage a common and praiseworthy practice – try something, see if it works. If it doesn’t, change the rules.
In theory, everyone benefits from this practice. The rules evolve to reflect better solutions and to address a wider range of concerns. Unfortunately, when two clever people attempt to change the same rules towards opposing ends, the results are stagnation and disarray. In this case, Dr. Yunus changed the rules to create the Grameen Bank, and Sheikh Hasina changed the rules to take it from him. Ultimately, no one benefits.
It may be that the Prime Minister and Dr. Yunus are both gifted with the same three qualities for success that Mr. Ellis outlines in his self-help book, Falling Awake. Of the basic qualities for success Ellis describes, the three that Sheikh Hasina, Muhammad Yunus and even Khaleda Zia have in common are qualities 1, 8 and 10: Determine What You Want, Choose Your Conversation and Persist.
Be forewarned about the following paragraphs. I will say positive things about three very controversial figures who never have anything positive to say about each other. I will say nothing about corruption, political stagnation, or the hunger for power.
These three, at their best, share a common stated goal: to steer Bangladesh toward prosperity. All three can sum up their mission statement in 10 words or less. They have all carefully chosen “conversations” that relate to their goals: “This is how we steer Bangladesh towards prosperity.” And they all persist. Despite imprisonment, tragedy, and the opposition of others, they never give up. So standing here on the ground and watching their awkward flight, I can only admire the heights to which those three have soared on the turbulent updrafts of those very admirable traits.
In examining these qualities, I can appreciate how the history of Bangladesh would favour the evolution of such feathers, wings, and talons as have kept her leaders aloft. Hunger pangs, oppressing armies, and relentless environmental assaults tend to focus the will. You, my dear readers, what do you want? Can you sum it up in five words or less? I can’t. I want to be a great writer and a great father, and I find that these conflicting goals often pull me in different directions.
And what is it in the national character that allows you all to choose your conversations so carefully? Is it the value placed on education by those of you lucky enough to have received the schooling which allows you to read this article? Could it be that from your window you can see parents who will never be able to give that opportunity to their own children?
Any casual student of Bangladeshi history will understand that persistence is at the bedrock of the nation’s survival. Bangladesh’s existence is the result of a triple revolution of home rule, partition, and independence. Having never experienced such struggles, only now as the window of time begins to narrow in my life, do I feel the urgency to persist towards my aspirations and my goals for my family no matter how difficult they may be.
So you see, lessons that come naturally to you in your native land may be more difficult for us here in America to learn. Equally true, those admirable qualities that have allowed your leaders to rise may be the same tragic shortcomings that lead to the flaws we perceive from here on the ground. In any case, at least for me, I will study these qualities in order to pursue my own dreams of flight. Who knows? One day I might discover that I can rise as well.
Then, I’ll just jump.
Frank Domenico Cipriani writes a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called “You Think What You Think And I’ll Think What I Know.” He is also the founder and CEO of The Gatherer Institute — a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to promoting respect for the environment and empowering individuals to become self-taught and self-sufficient. His most recent book, “Learning Little Hawk’s Way of Storytelling”, teaches the native art of oral tradition storytelling.