Saturday, October 08, 2005

Who Hangs the ‘Wake-Up’ Bell?

Democracy is about free debates on all issues relating to public interest. It is the supermarket of ideas, to which all members of society contribute and benefit from available intellectual products.
Saudi Arabia is now ripe with discussions about all kinds of opportunities and challenges facing our nation. From rights for women, guest workers, children and minorities, to education, extremism, globalization and social decadence, all the cards are on the table. Players include men and women, old and young, conservatives and liberals, Sunnis and Shiites. No one is excluded from taking part in this mental exercise. If not in the mainstream media and forums, then at least you could say what you want without censorship on the Internet.
Is this good or bad? Too early or too late? Too fast or too slow? Those are valid questions for the debaters to address. But it is vital for society to continue its roundtable, round-the-hour dialogue. The exercise is good for our mental health. We got mentally fat with all the junk thoughts we had been fed for ages. It is about time we slimmed down and muscled up with a healthier diet, better digestion and a good workout.
“What is the use?” I was asked by a frustrated youth after a long night of discussions in a weekly “dewania” (intellectual gathering). “We talk and talk, and by the end of the day, we all go home to catch a football game, a fat meal, and sound sleep. Nothing happens overnight, nothing happens the next day. And when we meet again, it is the same story all over, for nobody has done anything to change the status quo since our last meeting.
“Isn’t it better for the sake of our cholesterol level and blood pressure, serenity and sanity to save our breath and time, and look for better things to do?
“Isn’t some quality time with your kids, a gem exercise, and a trip to the sea or a desert camp more fun and useful than the smoky discussion that is all hot air and no substance? Personally, I am having colon problems from listening to all these intellectual debates that agree on solutions but not on how to implement them. Bottom line is, without ‘do’ and ‘doers’ we are wasting our mental and physical energy for nothing!”
This reminds me of the “Who will bell the cat?” tale. For those who don’t know this classic Aesop tale, it is about a group of mice meeting to figure out how to defend themselves from attacks by the cat. One wise rodent pointed out that a bell around the neck of the cat would herald the cat’s movements and thus all the mice could escape the feline’s clutches in time. The mice agreed that a bell was indeed a brilliant solution, and after a long pause, one inquired, “Who will bell the cat?” No one volunteered and no problem was solved.
Solutions are plenty and cheap. You can buy one and get ten free. The problem is when it comes to action no one likes to be in the driver’s seat. Most prefer to be in the audience. Few care to be in the play.
This has to change. In the new mode of civic institution building, reforms and dialogue, we need more effective participation. This means more individual and group initiatives — speaking out, joining forums, participating in public institutions, forums and actions.
Talk for talk’s sake is not enough, but also not bad. After a long rest it is not easy to jump right into action. We need time to flex our mental muscle, open our eyes and ears and awaken our senses to capture present and future trends, modes and drifts.
Once you get the picture, you start pondering and reflecting. Others do the same, and you get together to exchange thoughts and ideas. Then you get bored of sitting still, and warm up for action. Since doors are now opened for participation, you join in with your own thoughts, actions, and contribution.
That’s how I hope we all do. But truth is: I am not sure we are all up to it. Decades of dependence on the government to make all decisions and do all the work for us have left us with little understanding and weak motivation to make the right move and do the right thing.
I hope and pray this attitude changes soon. Some of us should hang the bell, the rest support them. Our present reforms and future progress depend on such courageous initiative, and cooperation.

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