Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Building a future for Lao democracy

The fullest expression of Lao modernity will come when we move beyond efforts to emulate international systems who offer only a veneer of sophistication pasted over an infectious core of disparity and insecurity.

Social transformations that are driven only by an effort to change nameplates on the door rarely last. But in the words of Somerset Maugham: "If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too."

For Lao, we had to learn about the power and risks of democracy the hard way. Our responsibility to model good democratic process is doubled because of the necessity to have a working example here, and for our counterparts abroad.  One significant thing for us to remember is that when you're the majority, it's easy easy to participate in a democracy and accept the decisions. It's a stronger test of character to be a minority voice and still committed to making that democracy work.

When we go into voting booths, it's not supposed to be a rubber-stamp process where we 'go along to get along.' It's a conversation, and the Lao heritage of embracing the moderate, middle path, of avoiding extremes but embracing inclusive diversity, are things many modern democracies could benefit from.

For the last century, Lao have had an unprecedented opportunity to go out into the world, live among French, Canadian, Australian, Japanese, British, German, American, Polish, Russian, and Swedish societies, in addition to Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cuba, and Burma, among others.

One thing I would hope we understand is that a democracy, even when you're a new voice within it, thrives when you give back into that process. If you're tagging along only until you get a cut, that will ultimately be a social dead end.

As we make our transition into new models of social organization, Lao have an opportunity to avoid imitating the worst elements of modern democracies. But to achieve this requires us to be educated, to be informed, to risk expression. We must be bold to consider better opportunities for everyone.

Democracies aren't about a race to become the prettiest and the wealthiest. Democracies are about building communities and changing our methods constructively while holding on to the best of our traditions, not merely the easiest of our traditions to maintain.

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