IN terms of talent and talent pool, Malaysia is a developed nation. Malaysians have good records of accomplishments in all significant fields of human activities. In things which matter, measured by relevant indicators, the society has performed well as a nation during the last six decades. But, to be a truly developed nation requires much more to be done.
Fora, dialogues, meetings, roundtables, seminars, conferences, conventions and assemblies have differentiated purposes. Such gatherings generate many issues and ideas provide vast opportunities for learning for everyone.
The assemblies of political parties, such as the Umno general assembly, provide indications of the substance and spirit of how society will progress. How society will be in the future can be forecast by the dominant emerging ideas and likely policies that will be formulated based on the demands of political parties.
Party members, foreign observers, opposition parties as well as the general populace watch assemblies of political parties closely. Those who are selected to attend the assembly, some 5,000 of them from 191 divisions, represent approximately three million party members. Presence during the assembly is a privilege. The expectations and aspirations raised during such assemblies range from the very noble championing of humanity’s plight to the mere championing of ethnic interest, local concerns and current issues. The extent to which people use the privilege to better themselves depends on their awareness of their strategic roles. It also depends on whether they have acquired the tools to learn how to learn and then use such knowledge for effective leadership.
Speechwriters for the top leaders have worked hard for months and weeks to filter and examine every idea, every word and every nuance of meanings. Those who have their voices heard demonstrate powerful oratorical skills without practising with Toastmasters International! They challenge, they persuade, they humour, they raise significant, even dangerous, questions. Pantun, sarcasm, cynicism and lots of wit and humour are used creatively.
The pantun (quatrain) is used to complement and reinforce arguments or stances. Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak, in a previous assembly, read the following pantun to inspire the Malays and expand mindsets to embrace space exploration:
Peace, Prosperity, Harmony
National civilisation soars spacewards
In this beloved land
Emerge an Idealism of Struggle
Let us together reflect
With no pause, unceasing, no end.
Observing such public meetings carefully provides all kinds of lessons on human behaviour, human organisations, followership and leadership behaviours — a wide range of attitudinal, motivational patterns of behaviours. All kinds of people with different temperaments, idealism and chips on their shoulders engage in debates in the many interactional spaces provided for.
During the period, there is the bonding and re-bonding with political friends and acquaintances. People engage in all levels of discourse, superficial and profound. There is much thought, much anger, patience, compromise, much enlightenment and much confusion. Veterans know what to expect and how to manipulate. Novices can be in awe or sceptical about many things. Ideas and concepts flitter and float to invite grasp as great insights, which form turning-point worldviews. Some of the fleeting exciting ideas fade away as people return to the routines of life after the fury and fun of the experience.
Media people have to know the various personalities, especially the lesser-known leaders, when they interview them or just ask for spontaneous opinions or deeper analysis. Observing and analysing the contents of speeches, opinions and dialogues provide the learner or social scientist with rich data on the level of lower- or higher-order thinking exercised. During the deliberations, various core values and metaphors emerge regarding race, religion, economics, culture and language.
After the assembly, there is the write-up by rapporteurs and the compilation of massive data collected during radio and TV interviews. There are also massive comments by bloggers and others through social media. The post-mortem work of analysing such data is tedious, but useful to social scientists, policymakers as well as other serious and dedicated leaders.
Observing the assembly is not a waste of time. Discerning citizens can feel the pulse of the nation and see it at its best and worst. Executing a mind-mapping exercise of the focus and concerns of political assemblies provides deep understanding of the general maturing of the peoples’ representatives as well as the maturing of the political process. More significantly, the issues, problems, crises raised as well as the level of elegance of solutions offered provide perspectives and trends of the direction of development, the possible futures of the society led by different leadership visions.
The writer is president, Malaysian Association for Education