Cool heads for hot-button issues

INSTITUTE OF STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES (ISIS) MALAYSIA

 

Cool heads for hot-button issues

Article by Steven CM Wong which appeared in The New Straits Times,  Sep. 10, 2013.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT: Even otherwise objective intellectuals can be led off-centre by their emotions

ON a recent trip abroad, I saw an advertisement in the airport for people with IQ and EQ, meaning those with intelligence quotient and emotional intelligence. Suitably, the advertisement was for the foreign intelligence agency of a government.

The two main ways that people react to adversity and crisis are precisely with IQ and EQ. It would be wrong to say that we only ever use one and not the other, but we all have a dominant mode with which we operate.

In a heated situation, we are often advised to keep our cool and not lose our heads. But sometimes we come across people who have no apparent feeling. They seem to have no concern or interest for other people's feelings or welfare.

There is a big difference between cool headed and cold hearted. Both the cool head and the cold heart are thinking and reasoning people but the first type is still grounded to society while the second is grounded only to self.

Compare this with the hot- blooded person. This type of person is ruled by basic emotions such as fear, anger, happiness, disgust, sadness and surprise. Others include, on the positive side, trust, faith and hope.

Emotions are integral to our make-up and even otherwise objective intellectuals can be led off-centre by their emotions. When we do not like someone or something, we will find every reason to find fault with them or it.

We are, in a very real sense, living through an emotional age, one where disappointment at unfulfilled expectations and problems are more likely to be responded to by an act of rage than resolved by cool, calm discussion.

Human society is in the midst of a Great Unravelling. This unravelling is taking place in all facets of life, from society, economy, to politics and governance, and from whole regions right down to communities.

It is happening quickly in some places like the Middle East. But it is also occurring in East Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Virtually no place is exempt, not even Bhutan, supposedly the happiest country in the world.

The primary manifestations are dissatisfaction and despair, turning eventually into rage, resentment and revulsion. The terrorist or revolutionary is not driven to committing an atrocity because of an abstract idea or ideal.

Governments are increasingly bewildered as to how to hold back this tidal wave of negative emotions, all seemingly aimed at them and all who support them. To be fair, large corporations, especially banks, are also getting their fair share of the hate.

Governments that do nothing to maintain public law and order risk having their communities and countries ripped apart. Yet there is little that they can do except make comforting noises and half-hearted attempts at conciliation.

Smart politicians surf this huge outpouring of emotions and use it to their own advantages. They often fan the flames of hate, prejudice, exclusivity and privilege, seeking to polarise society and advance their own agendas.

Lousy politicians, and there are quite a few of them, give long and futile technocratic speeches filled with logic and detailed information as to why problems must remain and solutions are out of reach.

Deceitful politicians actively spark the unravelling so that chaos reigns and they will end up in the driving seats. In the old days, they were revolutionaries and reformers but today they include quite a lot of reactionaries, that is, those who fear change.

There is yet a fourth kind of politician, those who know little and can do even less. Their role is basically that of being professional followers and they hitch their wagons to whichever leader is on the rise.

With all these kinds of politicians shouting, it is difficult for those with cool heads to get a hearing, let alone traction. And yet from the point of view of a nation's welfare, unclouded and uncluttered clarity is now needed more than ever.

Emotions allow us to vent our disgruntlement and wrath at the injustice that we see going on. But none of these solve problems. Once the shouting dies down, the rallies and demonstrations are held, and accusations and recriminations are made, little changes.

For positive change to happen, we need those with cool heads and steady hands, those who are connected to society but able to see and think ahead. Whether it is total regime change or removal of energy and food subsidies, we need rationale discourse.

Without IQ and EQ, our politics is destined to take the nation down a divisive and divided path.

Steven CM Wong is the Deputy Chief Executive, ISIS Malaysia

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