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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why we need a Cabinet of the Collective Conscience




Wish you all a Happy New Year. 

           Please let me give a brief introduction to this essay. I wrote this piece almost 30 years back. After review by a reputed journalist, I sent this to two major newspapers to be published as a Letter to the Editor. Obviously they rejected and this essay was buried in my files for several years. I thought that this essay gives a positive beginning for the New Year. Therefore, here it is. I hope the ideas, if considered to be valid, get used.    BHA


            We live in a tumultuous period in history.
Science is making rapid advances in every field that test human capacity for ethical decision-making. Information technology is breaking barriers and testing the limits of freedom. Science is wedded to objectivity and data and is unable to bridge the gap with human needs and human psyche.
At the same time, and probably because of our inability to face these challenges created by science and technology, some are retreating into old shells and refuse to accept current realities. These folks refuse to use objective data to make reasoned decisions. They are prepared to even refuse to teach children how to reason.
The task of being a leader of a nation in such times requires both knowledge and sensitivity. I suggest that leaders of all nations take counsel from an unofficial cabinet, representing the collective conscience of the people, before making major decisions. This Cabinet of Collective Conscience (CCC) should consist of a wise elder, a poet and a humorist.
This is not a novel idea. We learn from the history books that wise leaders of the past have used such counsel.
            There are technical experts and specialists in senior positions in all branches of the Government to advise the leader of every nation (President or Prime Minister) on complex issues. The specialists often see the tree but cannot imagine the forest. National leaders, such as our President, will have to take advice from technical experts before they make decisions on major issues. Decisions have to be based on facts, first and foremost.
 However, given the complexity of modern societies, solutions to problems involving people and nations require more than technical knowledge. Perceptions, emotions, values and aspirations of people need to be taken into account.
            Thoughtful physicians and good managers are well aware of this need for technical expertise and sensitivity to achieve good results. They know that solutions based on scientific knowledge alone, that do not take into account the feelings and the values of the people involved are not likely to lead to satisfactory outcome.
            This is particularly true in the governance of nations. Leaders need a great fund of knowledge. They also need humility, an open mind to take counsel from experts in the field and from those who are known for being in touch with the feelings, values and aspirations of the common man and woman.
            I suggest that the leader of every nation appoints a national repository of collective conscience of its people to take counsel from. This advisory group, call it the “Cabinet of the Collective Conscience”, should consist of three individuals who have a feel for and give expression to common voices of humanity.
            The first should be a wise elder who is trusted by the society, who is known to speak his/her conscience, and who cares for the welfare of the people of his country and of the world. I am thinking of people in the caliber of a Mahatma Gandhi, a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King.
            The second must be a poet. Poets see things from an esthetic point of view. They look at the universal dimensions of the world. I am thinking of someone like Robert Frost who said: “We dance round the ring and suppose; But the Secret sits in the middle and knows” or a Maya Angelou who said: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, and people will forget what you've done, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
            Finally, we need a humorist who can call the king “naked” when he indeed is! A comedian, a court jester, can say the truth in such a way that makes everyone, including the “king”, laugh. Through the use of deft humor, he will have the power to point out the incongruities and hypocrisy of the powerful, just as Will Rogers did a century back.
            How should such a cabinet be chosen? The best option is for the public to choose. In this era of interactive communication, it should be possible for people to vote via internet. I recommend that a short list be prepared by respected organizations, such as the Library of Congress and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and that the people select the final panel from that list.
            The three chosen ones would then represent the voices and the aspirations of the people. They will be the canaries of our subterranean minds! They do not have to tell us what their advice to the President was, just as the President need not take their advice. However, the national leader may choose to tell the people the advice he/she received, after the decision is made, particularly if their advice was different from the technical advice. I suggest we conduct an annual forum, with public participation, where these three express their thoughts on some of the pressing issues of the society.
            Before making grand decisions, our president and other world leaders should consult members of their country’s Cabinet of the Collective Conscience. These gurus will not have the final say, of course. Still, an open-minded leader will be able to hear the weaknesses, short-sightedness and incongruities in decisions made solely on the basis of technical advice and his/her own political bias. More importantly, the leader will have the advantage of checking the cold logic of the left brain of technical experts with humanity of the right brain, thus making the final decisions practical and of longer-lasting value.

I am a pediatrician, and consequently wish for lasting Peace and Harmony between all people so our children can grow up in a gentler world.