State and People: Where Are the Priorities?

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. – George Washington Carver

A society is an assembly of people where each person is an embodiment of body and spirit. Accordingly the social and economic progress of a society is reflected in the level of fulfillment of physical needs and happiness of its people. In this light, a nation founded on the basis of justice, equal rights, equal opportunities, mutual respect, and co-existence can come close to meeting the social, psychological and spiritual needs of its citizens. And a nation founded on the basis of competition, competency, expediency, and efficiency can come close to meeting the physical, technological, and economic needs of its people. But in building fair and prosperous societies, we find that the forces of society and economy compete for the same finite resources endowed to the state. This calls for proper vision and wisdom when setting our policy priorities.

The value of setting right policy priorities is evident from the fact that some societies make more progress with the same resources than others. The successful ones seem to develop policies guided by a long term vision and unite people behind it. The rest seem to meet impasse in policy making due to lack of united vision between the professional policy makers, their political policy bosses, and the policy bearers – the people. Being fragmented, everyone seems to be occupied on short term gains and achieve progress neither socially nor economically.

When I see countries like Nepal suffering from chronic lack of unity, progress, and culture of amicable debate, it makes me wonder why there is this pitfall. I believe that they are polarized sharply from within and are hindering their own progress. And this divide is largely driven by their differences in opinion on “Which country’s policies are more applicable to us?” Whereas living in most simple of societies and most humble of backgrounds, they seem to be unnecessarily mired in the problems of the complex societies. They don’t seem to find any simple and non-controversial ways of prioritizing their needs. It appears as if they are not being driven by internal realities but rather be driven by the motives of buttressing the donors.

I believe that developing countries should assess the needs of their people based on simple groupings of people based on age. This is because the needs, wants, and contributing potential of people depend largely on their age and are obviously explicable. Such assessments could, therefore, become the least controversial, perhaps the most effective, and could equally encompass all race, religion, ethnicity, and economic status. Accordingly, it would become easier to develop a collective vision and national priorities. With this view, I would like to present a simple assessment of the need of four demographics of people and their implications on national policies.

The children – the builders of tomorrow – are the most vulnerable people of today. Their proper upbringings are important not only for their own future success but also for taking care of the generation that holds the sway in the country today. What children know and what they value can be constructively influenced by subjecting them to positive human experiences.

Children get immensely affected by their natural surrounding and, at the same time, they are the most adaptive to a change in environment. Their own responsibilities are far and a few and they are more prone to go along with the flow of contemporary forces. Behavioral researchers have established that children learn to trust or mistrust people by the age of one and a half years; experience autonomy or shame by the age of three and a half; and take initiative or experience guilt by the age of six.

The young adults – the dreamers of a future society – like to believe that nothing is impossible to accomplish. They are eager for change and willing to do anything to bring that change, and they love to be able to make their own decisions. They want opportunities for everyone to participate in nation building. They are hungry for knowledge and experience on one hand and the acceptance and intimacy on the other. They are in search of an environment where they could experience minimal isolation and maximal intimacy. And they want to master the art of being able to stand independently and to build their capacity to contribute towards the continuance of the society. Money, material, and glamour are either highly important, or not important at all, to the people of this group. They would find maximal self-worth in being able to learn new skills and trades, in being educated, in competing and carving a role in the society, in initiating endeavors of livelihood and prosperity, and in exploring new frontiers.

The generative adults – the builders and sustainers of the system and the society – are concerned with how to meet physical necessities of self and the dependents and how to secure their own future wellbeing. Their pride is primarily derived from the product of their reproduction and wealth, or from the progress generated through their own perseverance. Their self-esteem would be hurt in presence of stagnation. This group of population can derive self satisfaction through one or more positive happenings from many factors such as being able to give better opportunities to their children compared to themselves, in augmenting personal wealth, in enhancing personal status, and progress in workplace. What would be paramount for strengthening the sense of their positive self-perceptions is engaging them in creative works, giving a sense of stewardship of the society, and furnishing an ability to improve their livelihood.

The elderly – the knowledge bank of the society – are those who begin to develop increasingly higher level of dependence on others for their functioning while carrying increasingly larger volume of knowledge, experience, and wisdom to be worthy consultants for the younger generation. They have learnt to tolerate social differences and injustices, and therefore, would stand for retaining old values. They tend to dislike changes that disrupt their comfort zone. Therefore, this demographic layer poses the greatest resistance against reforming gender, caste and cultural hierarchies practiced institutionally or through entrenched informal networks, behavioral norms and expectations. They prefer small and incremental changes than large social transformations. By this stage, many would have derived pleasure of their past endeavors and begun to experience the integrity of their self-esteem.

Coming back to the theme of eliciting progress, I like to consider progress as a measure of our ability to increase the utility of human and natural resources for a sustained advancement of our material and spiritual wellbeing. The more optimally we use our resources to enhance the wellbeing of our lives, the more progress we make. In this end, our economic progress should be measured in our ability to add worldly value on the basic ingredients provided to us by the nature. And our social progress should be measured in our ability to enrich humanity with happiness and harmony in the society.

An economy is improved, on one hand, by engaging more people in employment and by working longer hours to increase the volume of products and services. On the other hand, it can be improved by continuously improving the skills of the working people and supplementing them with ever sophisticated machines and tools to produce more output per hour. The economic expansion led by growth in the number of person-hours engaged in production and in the productivity can be further accelerated by inculcating competition and rewarding the most competitive of individuals and organizations.

The happiness and social harmony can be achieved by improving the human interactions and cooperation among people on one hand, and improving the health, freedom from poverty, and education of the individuals on the other. Our social wellbeing is closely correlated to the extent of our feelings of acceptance, inclusion, health, security, progress, and knowledgeability.

The key ingredient required to make both economic and social progress is knowledge. But economic progress requires that the knowledge be supplemented with skills and competition and the social progress requires that the knowledge be supplemented with wisdom and cooperation. Progress in both society and economy requires that knowledge, skill, competition, cooperation, and wisdom be simultaneously present. But if we observe carefully, all these areas can be strengthened by unlocking the unbound human intellect of the people. And, the key to building intellect is in education. Therefore, for a given amount of resource input, the best output to be derived by a society is in education. And the educational potential of a person is largely influenced by the nutritional and physiological conditions available before and after the birth and the emotional, psychological, and pedagogic conditions available through early childhood to teen years. Therefore, a country should give maximum focus on education, and the education should give maximum focus on children; I mean equal attention ot all children in the society not just the children of the elites.

When prioritizing national policy initiatives for accelerating progress, our focus should be in maximizing the output from the resources we put into. With this view, I would like to suggest that our endeavors should be driven by an agreed upon set of policies and separate streams of missions must be set to address each of those policies. With an intention to elicit debates and discussions for further refinement, I would like to suggest the following as a set policies meant to pull Nepalese society and economy out of its pitiful state:

  1. Meeting basic nutritional, health and wellness needs of all people so no one lives with weak body, poor health, depressed mind, and unnaturally curtailed lifespan.
  2. Educating children starting from early childhood to make every child achieve stellar performances till they reach young adulthood with knowledge, ethics, skill, competency, cooperation, competition and innovation in mind.
  3. Giving meaningful employment to young adults for the purpose of inculcating creativity, industry, and innovation and building knowledge and skills; money is not a requirement given that progress is eminent on the horizon.
  4. Engaging adults in programs for making incremental improvement in their lives and in eliciting hope and happiness. Giving a sense of stewardship of society to give them a status and positive self-perception.
  5. Launching endeavors for documenting knowledge, learning from wisdom, and transferring skills of the elderly and ensuring that they are cared for.
  6. Developing a culture of collaboration with the people of the world with objective of maximizing the bidirectional flow of knowledge, experiences, skills, technologies, and commerce.
  7. Utilizing distributed approach in development and governance for: withstanding natural disasters, calamities, and threats; maximizing empowerment, communication, collaboration, coordination, and innovation; and minimizing congestion, dictation, management complexity, and failures.

If we are able to build these fundamentals in place, progress will naturally follow our endeavors. By providing fair and desirable environment to our people, we would promote confidence, acceptance, peace, creativity, industry, innovation, and positive outlook towards the self and to the world. We would adopt right knowledge, technologies, and tools for our benefit and would trade products and services born out of our awareness towards the needs of individuals, families, nations, and the world. We would have created a society that embodies the dream of a future worth uniting for.

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