Saturday, September 30, 2006

Leadership Reflection: Diversity


EWC of UH through APLP programs mainly focuses on community-based development implementing by diverse individuality from different places around the world, especially from Asia Pacific region. Once Charles Morison said “EWC tends to build local community capacity and extend to the region of Asia Pacifi and the whole world”. The term of diversity probably composed of unique individuality. I am one of these components making this diversity. Rich diversity comes from the rich individuality; and capable individuality crystallizes sustainable community.

I am joyful to be a part of this diversity. I was born in a tiny, quiet village surrounding with uncertain political movements. My younghood was embraced by fear and tragedy. My parents passed away when I was very young. I am a youngest child in family; and looked after by two older sisters and aunt. My diversity is different from others who are accompanied by cultural background, gender, schools, race, ethnicity, age and opinion. But my diversity in that time was surrounded by division, bombs, shells, mines, fear, intimidation, retaliation, suffering, destruction and hatred. It happened among uneducated people and extreme environment. Unbelievably, this circumstance has taught and encouraged me to be strong and having self-reliance.

As I was raised by a Buddhist family; my mom was a nun and she always practiced meditation to calm her mind. She encouraged me to concentrate inside my mind. This helps me to strengthen myself and extend it to a larger diverse community. Though I was living in the poor and outdated place but the warm of Cambodian family society system and the peacefulness philosophy of Cambodia spirituality offer me a sense of contentment and strength. This is the mould of my cultural background. Once a movie star Angelina Jolie astonished with the strength of Cambodian people when she stepped into this land in which she has always thought as a divided and disappointed country. Starting from the glory of Angkor Wat ruins to the woeful killing field of the Khmer Rouge has underscored this reality. I have exploited a lot from this situation.

Gender has played important role in bonding society. I am very impressive in roles of different genders and their sexual orientation. In Cambodia, men respect women for their tense forbearance to overcome their natural phenomena and family responsibility. There are many Khmer proverbs mentioning the virtue and honoring women. For example, dying of dad is better than dying of mom. It means that dad dies first, child can survive; but if mom dies first, child is hard to survive. There are many other location or position names which start with word mom “mae” such as mae pteah mean head of family, mae teab means head of army and mae phum means head of village. And Cambodian women is strict in open their relationship with men. Some women they will never talk with men or look at their face. They accept to marry only one time in their whole life. Women try hard and patience to maintain their loving relationship because they don’t want divorced option happens in their life. In this perspective, it has two shapes of both positive and negative for women. But I am always optimistic and impressive by the high standard and consistency of Cambodian women.

Khmer is an ethnic tribe that has existed in the region of Indo China and Thailand for almost three thousand years. Khmer ethnicity can survive until now while other same period of ethnic people have been disappeared subsequently in this region. I have always heard the elders mention that “Khmer refers to a group of people who love peace, stability and prosperity. But when bad people or enemy comes to bother them; Khmer will never give up struggling and striving”. This convinces me more about the passing pages of Khmer history; they have experienced from the highest peak of grandeur and failed to the under zenith of zero. But the people who have lived with this spanning period have maintained their quality of living mode, the inside strength and patriotism. I am Khmer and this race makes me proud and legitimate. The startle ancient temples of Angkor Wat and other scattering ruins throughout the region have becomes the legacy of humanity; and this legacy re-affirms the forever Khmer existence. Through different decades of change of political instability; those government and political party have never ignored or neglected the picture of Angkor Wat in their national flag. They have never missed it, but there tragedy also happened. The Khmer Rouge leaders tried to reform agrarian society in Cambodia through the model of Angkor Wat period. They tended to build another grand temple and lead people to the glory of Angkorean civilization. But this is the mistake, the ignorance, the mismanagement, the failure and fundamentalism. I am often aware of this extreme and this wrong interpretation of my capable ethnicity and race.

Now my age is growing up and it must grow up with experience, learning and leading. It directs our life toward oldness and death. My ideal is that how can we leave our legacy for our humanity? Life is uncertain but death is certain, and virtue remains forever. I have learned a lot about the experiences from my childhood, teenager and adult. This various spans of living have left me memories and lessons. Those are accompanied with bad and good, but it is still precisely to my leadership development and diverse experiences. I can still remember during Khmer Rouge regime, someone gave me a piece of rice crust; and it was very delicious which I have never tasted it before. It has become my reflection to that long period and long lasting memory. I was honest with my friends. Once, one of my child friends beat and toppled me fall against the ground. I felt no trying to fight back or retaliate in this matter. But I asked for advices from my mom about this situation. My mom’s instruction was very memorable and accurate that she suggested me to be compassionate, but not ignorant compassion. Next time you have to protect yourself and fight them back if they still persistently destroy you, she advised. This memory intensifies my future trend in developing my leadership ability. It has changed my personality from an inactive thought to be a flexible, progressive motivation. Beside this; compassion, tolerance, non-violence, flexibility, understanding, wisdom and striving are my affected ideology to identify my characteristic. They reshape my future tendency and redirect my professional goal of leadership development.

My past experiences, cultural uniqueness, family, meditation, natural surrounding, friends and diverse circumstance of APLP’s classes has been defining who I am. Especially, diversity of different ethnic background, capacity and thought of this small community of East West Center; it emphasizes this definition. With this new approach and some lessons I have learned from APLP’s class; I can set up some personal theory and practices to deal with differences such as:
- I prefer to listen and patient to listen to all opinions and rhetoric of my friends rather than to intervene or interrupt their appearance.
- I endeavor to learn from them all the time, but if some chaos or division happens; I will begin to use my leadership ability to mediate and reconcile such turmoil situation.
- I enjoy with emptiness solution. In every conflict situation needs us to be quiet in order to check inside ourselves to ensure that we have a relevant theory to deal with this division. Most of the time, peacefulness or emptiness offers us a sense of unity and understanding.
- We can find out the common sense which we have shared together as the metaphor or tool to deal with differences.
- “Action speaks louder than words”, this is my favorite proverb. So my often thought must be compatible with action. If it doesn’t match my practical ability and is not comfortable to do, I will never think about it.

Present current experience or critical instance in the APLP qualified by all these qualities.
- More competitive and challenges comes to my mind. I have ever had only lower able friends, but now I can observe most my APLP’s friends have higher ability than me. So this is the chance that I have to re-check my inner power to compete with them.
- I am very fond of different styles of professional performance of the APLP’s facilitators. Starting from Scott who is vivid in communication skills, to the practical Christina’s concrete theory, to the friendly Monique’s assisting; and to the exotic, strong spider net of Nick’s emptiness lesson.
- Again, diversity of APLP’s community truly reiterates my new effective learning approach. It is rich, unique and marvelous.
- Regional core issues, professional development and leadership are my superb current experience and critical instance of the APLP.

By Bhikkhu Vodano S. Sophan
August 28, 2006

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