A leader for the season
With the ‘new dispensation’ in the Assembly producing a balance between the executive and legislature, and the PNC about to choose a new leader, the question of leadership is on the agenda.
Guyanese have long been enamoured with the “smartman” as leader. We practice what one regional scholar called, “doctor” politics. Even implacable opponents of Burnham, for instance, will concede with grudging admiration, “The man was real smart.” With his great facility with words, his ready wit and Machiavellian wiles, Burnham epitomised the promise and hopes engendered by the smart leader.
Smartness is showy and ostentatious: it shouts from the rooftops, “Look how smart I am.” But because it is overweeningly outwardly focused and externally directed, being smart is no guarantee that you’ll be wise. Wisdom is an aspect of character and is internally generated. Gordon Brown is the first Prime Minister of Britain to have earned a PhD, but it did not endow him with the qualities to govern his country any better than his predecessors.
We do not mean to belittle intelligence. It should be self evident that the possession of specific knowledge is essential for the performance of tasks that involve the world around us. Our intelligence has sent man to the moon, made us speak to each other from opposite ends of the earth without any visible connection, made the lame walk and even the blind see. But has it created leaders that have guided their societies to greater happiness or peace?
In the US, the society that we are all in a mad rush to become, and which is the quintessence of the “smart” society, they consume three-quarters of the anti-anxiety medicine produced in the world. Wisdom is supremely situational: it resides in a sensitivity to appreciate how universal and general propositions are related to the character and circumstances of the people involved. In Guyana, with our severely divided polity, our leaders must have a nuanced apprehension of our circumstances.
Wisdom is the capacity to make good judgments based on reflection, knowledge, and experience. The critical element is experience. To move from intelligence to wisdom requires us to temper our knowledge and book-learning with what the lessons of life imparts. It is precisely this element of experience that leads us to consider older people wise; we rarely see that word applied to the young. Acquiring wisdom takes time. The old are wise not only because they have seen and endured much, but also because they are less engaged with life than the young. This disengagement from life means not only that they have reflected long on life, but that they are also disinterested.
The experience that can deliver wisdom to an aspiring leader is not necessarily concerned with the minutiae of the day to day exigencies of Ministerial office as some seem to believe. This is because being smart involves mastering the world around us, while being wise involves mastering the world within. The question then is whether the individual has utilised his circumstances to develop the internal equanimity to make decisions for the greater good rather the urges of the ego.
Despite the fact that wisdom seems driven by information and intelligence, it is important not to overlook that it also has a normative foundation. How should we act in the world we find ourselves? A wise person chooses, or counsels others, to follow a morally appropriate course. Hence, we do not refer to wise thieves, let alone wise assassins or wise tyrants. Wisdom should not be confused with a high IQ, first of all, because intelligence can be used to ill purpose. A person with a high IQ may rob the treasury more efficiently than one with a low IQ. In contrast, wise people do not rob the treasury.
Finally, the wise leader defers to the opinion of others, seeking guidance when others can reliably provide it and criticism when his plans may be at fault. Reagan was not the smartest man around, but he had the wisdom to select good advisors.