Sunday, February 24, 2013

Yearning for Political Communications in a Businessman's Mental Void

On a perfectly sunny day with a tinge of humidity reminiscent of the gradually nearing monsoon season of pouring rains, a coworker popped a casual question while we lounged around in the local Starbucks.  "What do you miss the most about the U.S.?"  Without thinking, the author just replied, "Umm, I do occasionally miss the snow on old buildings..."  As soon as the words are blurted out, the mind conjured up images of fresh white powders topping the spires of Yale's stone-clad campus.  But, quickly, "well, maybe for a day, but I do not think I can go back to the cold weather anymore,"  the author indignantly added.

The image of a Yale campus under dense December snowstorms is, by itself, a great memory of a not so distant past, although mixed in with some unhappiness, that can still bring a longing smile.  But of course, the image of the Yale campus is but a physical representation of being in a school environment, not just Yale, but also LSE, Sydney, or even high school in San Diego, that draw together living experiences so different from life as a business-person.  Beyond daily grind of homework, essays, and exams, what constitute "learning," in an academic situation, even when not strictly so, just seem so much more fulfilling than learning on a paid job.

Let's use this very moment as an illustration of what exactly the difference between learning in two situations really mean.  While the peaceful streets of Makati gradually warmed up again as "spring" draws to a close and summer of 2013 formally rears its head, many things have happened across the world.  The North Koreans fired off another missile, the Pope resigned, the French intervened in a Malian civil war...and some things are becoming more and more headline-grabbing even after years of exposure: Asian conflicts surrounding little islets, Middle Eastern people revolutions, European financial crisis...

In the ivy towers (or perhaps, more appropriately, fast-food burger chain or local pub) of New Haven or London, any of these constitute a perfectly acceptable and highly encouraged topic for discussion, debate, and all-night rousing.  Sounds nerdy enough, but come to think of it, a discussion as a businessman, whether it be here or back in Japan, is just a nerdy, with discussions on topics like corporate efficiency, business culture, or intricacies of local market segmentation dominating the lunch and dinner tables.  One is not any "sexier" than the other.

But in terms of the intellectual freedoms that the two convey, unfortunately they are not even in the same league.  Speaking of global political issues puts one in the shoes of world leaders governing millions of citizens, constantly battling domestic scandals while analyzing ambiguities of foreign strategies.  It gives the participant no limitation of thinking beyond his or her current situations.  Laws can be changed, media can be manipulated, and power can be swayed.  Make the right moves with right policy decisions and the whole world could be turned upside down.

Not the same with a discussion on business.  Despite its affinity for "innovation," the focus is ultimately on survival, not trailblazing.  Before any discussion can start, all participants must be mindful of the set limitations that people simply take as given, constants that cannot be changed.  It ranges from demographics (consumer populations are limited) to politics (laws are set in stone.  Let's assume our business is too small to influence governments to make changes).  External factors, from unfavorable weather to unpredictable investors, can squash a blossoming business in matter of weeks.

Some seem to enjoy the detail-oriented pressures of such micro-level deliberations.  But from a political perspective, these "innovative businessmen," as individuals, seem like ants.  They are simply labelled "non-state actors," a large group of whom, when their opinions coincides and are strong enough, will be considered as one of several factors politicians look at for deciding on future courses of nations and the world.  Businessmen's cash can only pull the politicians their way, but only so far...and only when we are talking about A LOT of cash...

So, in essence, what is missed, represented by the snow-capped Yale campus, lies much deeper within its chandelier-lit wooden chambers.  There lives a community of idealists and ideologues who, in their joyful intellectual debates, together paint whole new worlds, from the top-down, based on philosophies and current events, that will shape the lives of everyone, from the lowest peasant to the richest billionaire.  They are not concerned with profits, but only course of humanity.  It is this that the author misses the most these days: a chance to thoughtfully think through what he wants the world to look like, with intellectual stimulation from a group of equally concerned intellectuals.

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