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'Don't just sit there, do something'

Written By vibykhmer on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | 5:37 AM

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth
Pacific Daily News

September 9, 2009

An educator in a Mid-Atlantic area public school system in the United States captured students' and parents' attention as he addressed them: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."

What simple logic and common sense. But, as another saying goes, none is so blind or deaf as those who do not see or hear. German-born American physicist Albert Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

But men and women, creatures of habit, excel at repeating routine actions and creating patterns which can keep us walled in, providing perhaps a false sense of security and an excuse for not trying something new in order to avoid failure.

This, in a life of countless unknowns. As patterned thought and routine action become "fossilized," they stifle and block man's ability to think critically, a necessary factor to survive socially, politically and economically in the 21st century world.

A reader from a Southeast Asian country wondered in an e-mail -- having read what I wrote about free thinking, innovation, willingness to try and confronting moderate risks -- how one is expected to think outside the box when one's head is already in the box.

Tim Hurson, a founding partner of a firm that provides global corporations with training, facilitation and consultation in productive thinking and innovation, and author of "Think Better," advised against rushing to conclusions, because it curbs man from becoming creative and blocks his road to knowledge.

He advised man must "keep asking questions" until he arrives at a "vast panorama of possible answers" from which to choose.

Remember Einstein's assertion, "Information is not knowledge," and German playwright Johann von Goethe, who emphasized, "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do."

A short video on the Internet keys off the factoid that water boils when the heat is increased one degree, from 211 to 212, and reminds the viewer, "With boiling water, comes the steam. And steam can power a locomotive." It offers a lesson: "The only thing that stands between a person and what they want in life is the will to try and the faith to believe it possible. ... Having a simple, clearly defined goal can capture the imagination and inspire passion."

I recently was privileged to read an e-mail discussion among some Cambodians continents away.
One, energized by memories of Filipina housewife-turned-president Corazon Aquino's people power revolution, called for one in Cambodia. Another was skeptical: unless military chiefs join in like in the Philippines, no people power in Cambodia is possible. Still another observed the widespread fear in Cambodia.

The people power advocate impressed me with his determination to try and his belief that it's possible. In spite of odds, he doesn't sit still. From his perspective, he is seeking to attain the "public good" and appeals to others to join in a collective action, because the public good benefits everyone.

Indeed, there exist enormous problems: the "free riders" who sit out while others sweat trying to get a job done; the "willing executioners" who accept to be tools of authoritarian rulers, to overwhelm, distract and disrupt efforts opposed by the dictators; an international community that prefers a semblance of political stability because its peoples' skins are not directly involved.

But, as the video mentioned earlier tells viewers: "To get what we've never had, we must do what we've never done."

Someone said somewhere that we exist in the real world but live in an ideal world. And it's that idealism, hope and belief that distinguish humans from beasts.

In the world of dictators, intimidation and fear are facts of life. Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said in an interview that fear is a habit, humans are conditioned to fear, but, "Don't just sit there, do something." Growing up a little girl afraid of the dark, as an adult, Suu Kyi has walked toward soldiers with weapons raised to shoot her. But a Burmese officer intervened and spared her life.

Lesson 1: Not all uniformed soldiers and officers are loyal servants of dictators.

Lesson 2: Down deep in a person's heart, one knows what justice is and wants it, too.
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s words should be recalled: "There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us."

On a personal note, in the early 1980s I was holed up in a resistance bunker at Ampil, Cambodia, as hundreds of artillery shells rained everywhere for hours. I admit I saw death staring at me with every sound of an incoming shell. With each shell, the ground shook. I believed I was in God's hands, I prayed. Obviously the Almighty was not done with me.

Proverbs and words of the wise are inspirational. A Moorish proverb says, "He who fears something gives it power over him." The Germans say, "Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is."

And fear takes on a different dimension through the words of Yiddish poet Edward Yashinsky, who survived the Holocaust but died in an Eastern European prison camp: "Fear not your enemies, for they can only kill you; fear not your friends, for they can only betray you. Fear only the indifferent, who permit the killers and the betrayers to walk safely on the earth."

A saying goes: "Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely."

Through our strengths and human frailties, we grow. Life is learning, but we cannot learn unless we unlearn something and relearn new hope, which gives us the energy to move forward.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at peangmeth@yahoo.com.


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