Saturday, December 24, 2011

Makes You Wonder About Tomorrow (inspired by Umair Haque)

Every morning that I wake up (not that there are some I don't), I first check my phone for anything that might determine the rest of my day. It can be anything like an email from my management to a tweet from someone who says some pretty profound things. I believe today might be slightly different because I happened to be tagged in a post by a friend with an article by Mr. Umair Haque (@umairh on twitter). It's the contents of his article, "The Betterness Manifesto" got me thinking while I was reading it in otherwise preoccupied circumstances.

Today, I also woke to a different beat. It's Christmas eve and a gentle cheer breezes across with wishes and presents and joy that millions are enjoying tonight. Then there will be plenty of those that don't. How about that? 

This year has been an interesting one indeed. I haven't seen the digital world buzz with so much about everything than ever before. People are chatting about social enterprises (or #socent), financial concerns, big businesses failing to meet targets, small businesses getting scores of investments from previously engaged investors and the likes. Never you mind, I will not divulge in the things enough people are talking about already. Instead, let's talk about Umair Haque's article and the perspective he has inspired.

In his 'manifesto', he provides a well-rounded overview of what it may take to improve life for all, especially with the first dozen years of this century nearly behind us. He goes on to outline a few very critical components to this plan, broken down into single word calls-to-action, such as Live, Invest, Civilize, and Reflect (to name a few). Each of them bearing a significant amount of weight that would otherwise be wasted in one of the 7 deadly sins. Instead, he presents us with the '8 inspiring values', 1 more than the deadly lot to ensure the goodness ratings stay on top. 

You're all big boys and girls, go on and read the article for yourself to understand what he's talking about. But before you do, let me delve a little deeper into my morning and how this article may have impacted it more than the normal email or tweet would.

I am and have been looking for inspiration, guidance and a chance to give more of myself to my life, my surroundings, my country, my family and my profession. It's funny that I write this while watching THE MOVIE of my youth, Top Gun. Man, what a rush watching these aces take to the sky and race against sound, light and one another. The closest I can relate is through my father's stories of his days as a fighter pilot, fighting for a country that was, once, really worth fighting for.  

My loss has probably been in avoiding the truth about myself, to myself. And in doing so, I've missed out on what could have been an application of greater potential in the person I could have been (perhaps better, or worse). Sorry, run on sentences are not ideal, but sometimes essential to avoid losing chain of thought.  Throughout my childhood, I was always told that I don't exploit my true potential. That I always leave it hanging at the edge, just when I'm about to make it through to the other side of enlightened souls who plan, manage, influence and dictate the fate of our world. I mean, let's face it, human beings are pretty amazing. 

When I visit a city like Dubai, I am perplexed at how we (evolved monkey's if you still believe Darwin) have been able to do such unbelievable things like build thriving civilizations in the middle of the desert. Then again, haven't we always done that? It's true that the most progressive civilizations all started close to a body of water, no matter how big or small. And then there was Mohenjo-daro; a UNESCO World Heritage site, right in our backyard, housing some 35 thousand residents, with a very sophisticated city-level layout. This was done approximately 4,600 years ago. Jees louis! Four thousand years ago we had people planning city layouts and then suddenly disappearing until the 1920's, only to be rediscovered as something that we are still doing in pretty much the same way? 

Before going into the larger scheme of things, we should tie things up to how the Harappan civilization relates to me. Interestingly enough, it probably relates to all of us more than we know or like to think. This classic city is located in modern-day Larkana, the district of Sindh, where the first female Prime Minister of the Muslim world was born, Benazir Bhutto - a true symbol of hope and prosperity. She was first elected into power when I was very young. She had been seeking council from my father because he was close to her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Also, she happened to be a very close family friend otherwise and we got to see quite a bit of her. What she once represented is truly missed. 

This lady, originating from the land where the four thousand year old civilization once thrived, helped get me my first ticket into politics and country. I stood behind make-shift stalls at what used to be a cricket ground, handing out flyers while the party song, "Havva De" was blaring in the background. The park was located in F7, Islamabad, right on Parbat Road. This is before it became the entry point for 7th Avenue, a major road cutting through the bustling city. I was charged, but only because we supported the belief she was bringing. Heck, at that age, I hardly knew more than 5 cuss words and had barely been out with a girl. So, let's say this was an overall christening of sorts for me (my apologies if these last two paragraphs were a tough read).

I didn't realize that would be the last time I would make an effort to be involved in Pakistan until the 2005 earthquake (read my article in the Acumen Fund blog to learn more). That was a pretty decisive year for many of us. If we didn't already have a career, this natural calamity did more than make one for us. My career in social development began and ended with the quake and irrigation in Sindh. I switched over to corporate and have been there since. Strangely enough, the nature of work has overlapped quite a bit because now, addition to other things, I am also responsible for corporate social responsibility initiatives. Huh...

Today, we have what could be the biggest race to a truly democratic Pakistan. With an elected government in power that neither the people nor the army wants,  the rise of Imran Khan (one of the greatest cricketers and philanthropists of our time) and his own army of tweeters, bloggers and civilized society, I'd say we are pretty set for an exciting and possibly unpredictable year ahead. Or are we...? 

I registered with the PTI because I like following what's popular. It's true,  this makes my entry into different popular interest groups a lot easier. Somehow though, the salmon in me is not convinced. I think that Imran is fine, but what he stands for is what everyone else is really just looking for; another option that hasn't pillaged, plundered and de-stabilized the Pakistani economy. I don't 'feel' the vibe so I'm stepping to the sidelines and waiting it out. Maybe once when PPP represented something to me that I didn't even know I was looking for, is now taken over by a complete and utter loss in a sense of loyalty to anything other than my wife, family, friends and cats. Then again, maybe I'm not exploiting my full potential like my teachers and advisers always said. 

When I read the article by Umair, it got me thinking. Maybe I am not as smart as I like to think. Maybe I have a real deficit in my abilities to conquer my potential and become an ardent supporter of equality for all through self-realization. His 8 values have made me realize that idealism is really just a myth and it doesn't happen to work for all of us. Possibly of shared origin, the two of us are looking at the same world from two sides of the looking glass. My side is slightly murky, with little to clean it with. We don't have education at a large enough scale to say that 'people who need to get his point are reading his thoughts and applying themselves', except those who already know what they want and use his articulate sanity to help map the plan. 

If I was as powerful as say Richard Branson or Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, I'd be singing to a different beat. I'm Zohare, so I'll stay Zohare. My potential is best exploited in the safety of my well-being and I am a selfish human being. I knew this the day the nice lady in the airplane said,"...please place the oxygen mask over your face and mouth before helping the person next to you". If I don't take a moment to do something I want, then I will never live up to the values suggested by Umair (truly profound, but nothing new to say the least). As an economist by education, I feel we are really just trying to enforce a classical sense of philosophical bantering (not in the whimsical sense) on those who either can't use it effectively or don't want it because they know better. Not our fault because someone needs to say it, whether the people like it or not. Other's reading your manifesto may be in a better position to apply themselves. That's not going to be me because everyone told me so when I was growing up..."he has potential, just doesn't use it"

If I struggle to live for myself, maybe in that effort I will find the courage and will to step up and say, "this country, this world belongs to me. I pay taxes for safety, utilities, comfort, involvement and reasonably priced tomatoes. I will place the oxygen mask over my own face before I help the person next to me, because if I can't help myself, I can't help anyone else." It's also possible that, because so many of us have decided to put more faith in God, career, drugs or whatever other choices drive 7 billion people, we all need to stay at bay and let things roll the way they have always. Top of the pyramid rules the bottom majority?

Thank you, Umair, for reminding me why I am not in a league with people such as yourself, who are successful, influential and able to reach out to the world. It's a heavy responsibility to bear and I, for one, cannot volunteer more than is possible. I mean this with sincerity and admiration. Some of us need to stay out of the way so the worker ants can get their job done effectively. The challenge of moving people to the same beat is awful (and I mean full of awe-awful:: Definition #5 - inspiring reverential wonder or fear, according to google). I can't commit to something and I think it has to do with my inability to conquer myself and my true potential. Perhaps, I should have made better use of time in school, college and professional life. Yet, here I stand, humble before humanity, saying that there are better people out there to do the hard work needed for a Better 21 century. 

Then again...maybe, I'm just missing the point. Anyway, another year, another chance. In the meantime, I have to cheer with the rest of the world for a better year ahead. 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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