PANDYA: Character is Destiny — The Motto This Election
Opinions Column: Know Thyself
From Plato’s Republic to the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, there seems to a seamless thread and commonality in the analyzing of politics and governing entities in these many historic texts. Not only have these Machiavellians, Adam Smiths, Socrates’s philosophers and scholars analyzed the parts and entities within politics and a democracy, but also they’ve studied the roles. While looking deeper into it all, we find something significantly important — the ruler’s role. And while they all will put it differently, based on their own contexts, diction and technical definitions, we see a common thread. And that is that the character of a ruler or head member of society has a significant impact on the people he leads.
“As the region, so the people, as the land, so the water, as the king, so the people,” the Sanskrit proverb explicitly states. Plato in, "The Republic,” commands that a ruler must have the quality of wisdom. Not merely for the governing of the economics, military and social issues. But more so, it is of a person who can “comprehend reality for the people.” Even the Puritan minister, Samuel Willard, said in his 1694 sermon, “The Character of a Good Ruler, that 'Moral Image' of one of governs is determined by the moral image concreated in him. And that is of knowledge … and righteousness.” Even one of the most, if not the most, honored presidents of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, said in the words of one of his closest friends, Gurdon Hubbard, “I never had a friend to whom I was more warmly attached. His character was almost faultless. Possessing a warm and generous heart, genial, affable, honest, courteous to his opponents, persevering, industrious in research, never losing sight of the principal point under discussion.”
It is clear: The ruler or president simply must have good character. It is not merely something that the people would like to have, or something that would make the people feel content with their government — it is a necessity. As the Sanskrit proverb points out, the king determines how the people will be, and as Plato and Willard explain without a wise, moral and good character in a ruler, society becomes dysfunctional. More so, this ruler acts as a “role model,” “a representative” of the people. The stories that young children taught in schools about George Washington being unable to tell his father a lie that he cut the cherry tree, and the nicknames we coin to these idealistic presidents like “Honest Abe” aren’t useless. They hold a deep purpose, showing how a ruler should be on the path of truth, acting as a moral representative and a symbol of how the people should act based on how their ruler acts.
These thoughts and strong ideals make us think about what is going on in the news and minds of citizens today in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. This week after President’s Day, after we think of these idealistic principles and presidents who represent “American ideals and culture,” we wonder how this can really relate with the candidates we watch today.
When we think of the key issues in the debates and the election as a whole, what comes to mind? The economy. Terrorism. Syria. Education. Immigration … and Donald Trump.
But how do you formulate a category for character, moral background and ethics? The ideology behind it may seem simple and understandable as a necessity, but when it comes to practical usage of determining a method on how to tell who is “right” for the country, it becomes difficult. And that is because we all have our personal moral code, based on the nurturing we were brought up with, such as religion and other cultural institutions. Whether there needs to be an objective moral code may be another issue meant for the Immanuel Kants and philosophers to think about, but when it comes to the next president — the next representative of American culture, the next “role model” for us to follow — who do we want, and who should be there for the benefit of the nation as a whole?
One may have the necessary experience to run a nation, a business or work with foreign policy. But does that person have the qualities and character to represent my nation? It is not merely about running a nation — the president’s seat is also about representing a nation. And it is not merely about leading the nation in terms of the external and internal policies, but also about leading the nation to understand who and what they can identify with. I am not saying we should ignore views on the economy, social issues, healthcare and foreign policies. But who they are as a human being should be considered. It is necessary for citizens and students to think, not merely about what they will receive tangibly from the leader, but who they want their nation to be identified with.
At the end of the day, the election comes down to the citizen’s choice. And thus, as weird as it may sound, is an introspective experience. But when we do think about the values, principles and ideologies of the next leader we want for the nation, it is important to consider in this introspective journey that “character is destiny,” as the proverb goes. And therefore, what do we want in our destiny?
Keshav Pandya is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. His column, "Know Thyself," normally runs monthly on Wednesdays.
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