“We have to remove the negative and increase the positive.” So said Nobel Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She has come under strong criticism the world over by human rights activists for her silence on the slaughter and dislocation of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
As is always the case with social and political unrest, this is complicated. A powerful military, a vulnerable people, a fragile democracy, a land rich with (mismanaged) resources and a leader, once imprisoned by the military she now needs in order to maintain power – it’s a recipe for political unrest at best, social disaster at worst. By all available measures the scales are leaning heavily toward social disaster.
How does one lead under such circumstances? Ms. Suu Kyi’s statement can be interpreted different ways. Perhaps she is thinking along the lines of the kind of policing that places heavy stock in repairing broken windows and cleaning the graffiti in crime-prone neighborhoods. “Remove the negative.” Perhaps; but that isn’t very inspiring.
I was reading the Jewish prophet Ezekiel. He shuddered as he heard the Voice tell him: “Go to the people of Israel, a nation of rebels, and say to them: ‘Thus says the Lord God’.” Remember that Israel was not only God’s people; they were Ezekiel’s people. I’m sure there had to have been some positive qualities, some evidence of obedience somewhere in the land; but the command was not to “remove the negative and increase the positive”. Reading on, Ezekiel is told that his mission is to speak the truth. Should the people continue to rebel, it would not be on him. But should he remain silent, God would first punish the people and then come back for Ezekiel.
Speaking the truth is not optional for leaders. In spite of their power – and perhaps because of it – Aung San Suu Kyi has a responsibility to challenge the military, to inspire the oppressed, and to prove she is worthy still of the prize bestowed upon her. Of course, that’s easy for me to say. I don’t have skin in THAT game.
We should read the national and world news with an eye toward the news swirling all around us – strikes, poverty, addictions, greed, power plays – all playing on the stage right in front of us. I’m all for “removing the negative”. First, you have to name it. You have to see it and acknowledge it. The world is hoping, waiting for Aung San Suu Kyi to get the plank out of her own eyes and have the courage to name the violence against her people – her people. While we wait, perhaps we could be more disciplined and get the planks out of our own.