Shedding the Dead Sea mentality

There was a time in this country when the focus was not so much on power per se as on what positive changes that power could bring about for the betterment of the citizenry

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

A friend who graduated in geography (I wonder whether this is still possible?) sent me a post comparing the Sea of Galilee which hums with life with the Dead Sea whose name says everything, though both are fed by the Jordan River. What she highlighted was the ‘debrief’, which went as follows:

‘Life is not just about getting. It’s about giving. We all need to be a bit like the Sea of Galilee.
We are fortunate to get wealth, knowledge, love and respect. But if we don’t learn to give, we could all end up like the Dead Sea.

The love and the respect, the wealth and the knowledge could all evaporate. Like the water in the Dead Sea.

If we get the Dead Sea mentality of merely taking in more water, more money, more everything the results can be disastrous.

Good idea to make sure that in the sea of your own life, you have outlets. Many outlets. For love and wealth – and everything else that you get in your life. Make sure you don’t just get, you give too.

Open the taps. And you’ll open the floodgates to happiness. Make that a habit to share.’

There’s also the apocryphal story about Alexander the Great, one of biggest rulers of ancient history, as king of ancient Macedonia, and also one of the greatest military generals whose empire stretched from Egypt all the way to India.

He fell seriously ill on the way back home after his numerous conquests. As he lay on his death bed, he realized that nothing was worth it even after living a successful life conquering most of the known world. His final days on his deathbed are deemed to offer a moral lesson for all of us.

The king asked his generals to fulfill his following three wishes: 1. His physicians must carry his body alone; 2. The path leading to his grave to be strewn with the gold, silver, and precious stones that are in his treasury while his body is being carried to the grave; 3. Both his hands be kept dangling out of his coffin.

The generals promised to fulfill his wishes, but wanted to know why he had made them, to which Alexander replied that he wanted everybody to learn the three lessons that he had learned in his life. They were: 1. No physician or doctor is as powerful to save people from the clutch of death, and so people should not take life for granted; 2. The path leading to his grave to be strewn with gold, silver, and precious stones for people to know that not even a fraction of all these will go with him, despite spending his whole life chasing power and wealth, and that it is a complete waste of life and time to run after them; 3. Both hands dangling out of the coffin for people to know that we came empty-handed in this world and we will go empty-handed.

He conquered lands, amassed wealth and gained power: but he was conquered by death. As we all will be.

The author who wrote that piece concluded it with: ‘What should we learn?’, expressing this as follows:

  • Your health is important and you have it in your hands. Remember to look after it. If there’s anything that matters in your life, it’s your health; it’s your immunity against illness.
  • Chasing wealth is a waste of time. It is only meaningful if you can share and enjoy yourself while you are still alive.
  • Don’t run after materialistic things. You came empty-handed and you will go empty- Don’t just live for yourself, learn to live for others.

He quoted this saying by Sir Ken Robinson: ‘What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world. What you do for others lives on forever.’

The Covid pandemic has made us realise that 1. Health is our true wealth; 2. Loving relationships are what we missed the most; 3. We can live happily with a minimum of things.

From all over the world we can find numerous examples of people who have gone after wealth and power to assuage their selfish desires at the expense of others towards whom they could have showed exemplary generosity. There are no doubt others who, on the contrary, have used their position and their resources to create opportunities for people through businesses they have set up or in philanthropic and humanitarian work that they have engaged in or supported.

Far too many, though, especially of the political kind, have betrayed the people who voted them into power as they served themselves rather than those whose expectations they built up with unfulfilled or misguided electoral pledges.

There was a time in this country when, inasmuch as the securing of power was needed to bring about the social, economic and governance transformations for the country’s inclusive development, the focus was not so much on power per se as on what positive changes that power could bring about for the betterment of the citizenry. The vast majority of the latter belonged to the low income strata who were struggling to make ends meet, to gain access to proper education and health care, to ensure a better future for themselves and their children at a time when the contours of such a future for their coming generations were completely blurred. That future had looked very bleak, but the developments that were brought about allowed them to move up the scale and live a better life.

This is now once again threatened, not only by the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic, but by its unscrupulous exploitation to pursue shady business deals that have diverted the resources that could have been used to sustain and improve the lives of the citizens. By reneging on the foundational values and ideals that had animated earlier generations, the perception has been created that to get on in life one must hang around the political leadership, fawn on it and exhibit the trappings of closeness to power, and that such behaviours are a substitute for honest-to-goodness hard work and perseverance as used to be traditionally the case. By encouraging hangers-on, gratifying rent-seekers, indulging in distractions and pursuing power for the sake of power, there has resulted a collective failure in consolidating whatever hard-earned gains that had been made by the citizens, besides the wrong signals that this modus operandi sends.

With a view to fulfill the basic aspirations of those who had confidently handed over to them the reins of the country, it is time for leaders to look beyond themselves, shed the Dead Sea mentality, cast their nets wide to rope in competent men and women of goodwill and integrity, and gear the country towards consolidation and empowerment of country’s institutions. It is only in this way that we can create the ecosystem apt to fulfill the promise of a better future.

* Published in print edition on 5 March 2021

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