Two days have passed since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. Two days in which there has been the inevitable backlash, in social media, in families, and on the streets, towards a president-elect who ran his campaign on fear-mongering, falsification of facts and misogynist, racist and hate-driven speech. Those who have rightly sought to understand the views of those who have brought this man into power, no matter how much at variance with their own views, have begun to see that there is another voice in America, far away from the ‘liberal elites’ who have held onto power for so long, that clamours to be heard.
Last week, I went to see ‘I, Daniel Blake’, the shocking story of a middle-age carpenter in the north of England who has to go onto welfare benefits following a heart attack. The film documents the extraordinary level of red tape that Blake has to go through to secure this support and, in the process, his befriending of a young single mother going through the same thing. The film depicts the huge injustices facing someone who has spent his life paying into the system yet getting nothing in return when he needs it most. The story has a tragic outcome that should be a call to arms for any thinking person, liberal elite or otherwise, to truly ensure our society delivers for all. Yet, the thing that struck me most about this film was the integrity and dignity of this man in the fact of a hostile system that failed to act with a shred of humanity in his time of greatest need. Yes, this was a man who had every reason to go out and get what was rightly his but there was so much evidence throughout the film of Blake’s desire to do what was right, despite the pressing financial needs he faced and to uplift others too and encourage them never to lower their standards in the pursuit of financial security.
The events of this week, and the growing realisation of the injustices felt by many around the world towards the liberal elites, has lead me to question whether principled behaviour is only ever the ‘luxury’ of those whose basic needs are already met. To my mind, the recognition of integrity, of honesty, of principle in both public and private life is never the preserve of the few. They are uniquely spiritual qualities that everyone possesses and everyone has the ability to detect in others. And, to me, they are the only standards by which we should judge and elect those in leadership positions.
In seeking to understand the results of the election, I have thought back to Daniel Blake’s story. It would seem that he represents so many of the disenfranchised, disengaged and angry men and women who voted for Trump. Their concerns and the harsh realities of their day to day lives make their choice and their trust in a leader who ‘says it like it is’ understandable. Yet, Ken Loach’s film, as politically heightened as it is, does nothing to suggest that the pursuit of economic justice should come at the cost of one’s moral standards and the behaviour one would wish to see exhibited in public life. I yearn for the day when principle ‘trumps’ politics in the standards we demand from our leaders and that no amount of promises to deliver our material needs would override the evidence staring us in the face of an individual lacking moral fibre.
An initiative I started earlier this year in collaboration with the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum, the Spirituality and Transformative Leadership Initiative, seeks to create a generation of leaders lead by ‘higher order principles’. Our leadership role models include Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. These leaders were quite clearly in the camp of the dispossessed, the poor and the marginalised. Yet they truly stood in solidarity with them and sought to empower these communities to liberate themselves from the chains of oppression through eternal principles that elevated humanity. What they achieved in the human sphere was unparalleled by any other leader but it was first and foremost fuelled by a higher view of man that wished to see the divine evidenced in our human world. They left legacies far greater than themselves and believed that principle always triumphed over politics.
It is clear that both sides of the American political spectrum evidenced a lack of integrity, honesty and principle, to a greater or lesser degree. And whilst it was thought preferable for many to choose the lesser of two evils in this election (whichever side you came down on), going forward it is imperative that our conversation AND action moves away from partisan politics towards creating the next generation of leaders who are led by a vision bigger than themselves, where higher-order thinking overrides human will and ego, and where grace and humility in servant leadership empowers practical solutions that truly unite our troubled world.
Then, and only then, will we ALL truly get to live in the world we deserve to live in.
I am a trained actress and founder and director of Hua Dan, one of China’s first and leading social enterprises. Hua Dan uses the power of participation in drama-based workshops to reveal and develop individual and community potential. Hua Dan has a particular focus on working with China’s rural-to-urban migrant workers, particularly women, who work in the manufacturing and service industries, at the heart of China’s economic boom.