The Defects of Being Strong

You may not swiftly recall Mark Malloch Brown but I remember him for two very good reasons. In his capacity as Deputy Secretary General of United Nations under Kofi Annan, he openly criticised American foreign policy and incurred the righteous indignation of John Bolton, US ambassador, who seemed to regard any such remarks as a private diplomatic matter and not one to be shared with the great unwashed public. Aside from that little tiff, I recall MMB for his pithy, thoughtful observation that great leaders also know when to follow and in so doing delivered a telling statement on the ways of the world.

Leadership and its acolytes seem to be everywhere these days. I read so much about strength of character, strength of conviction and strength of purpose but for many people their strength is their weakness. There is an apparent inability to recognise that strength for its own sake is not necessarily an asset. I happen to believe, by contrast, that weakness, applied in the right circumstances, has huge value. When people demonstrate weakness, they in turn demonstrate humility and when people demonstrate humility, they learn to listen. Too many are too quick to offer an opinion and do not spend enough time listening, reflecting and considering.

Of course, one can go too far in both directions. Excessive weakness can induce passivity and a tendency to simply roll over or fall into line. However, I feel those who have a need to reinforce their strength also reveal their insecurities by either dominating others or through a refusal to accept they may be wrong. I don’t suffer from this particular affliction. I have plenty to contend with elsewhere.

However, I am not motivated by the fear of failure and, should people seek to undermine or underestimate me, so much the better. I watch, I listen, I observe, I fall asleep on the sofa, I stare out of the window and I eat all the biscuits. It’s a different type of strength. Evidently, not everyone can do it. In fairness, it has taken years of practice so please do not undertake these things if not under  proper supervision.

I can spot those custard creams from at least fifteen feet away so, evidently, my strength has its drawbacks. That svelte figure of my youth seems a distant memory. I celebrate weakness in other ways besides. Bookshops are a prime example. Most sensible people go to a bookshop with a book or two in mind. I go to a bookshop with everything in mind but it is precisely that sense of randomness that makes the exercise so much more interesting. I am picking up books now I bought twenty years ago. I can’t think why I bought them and all strength of purpose has deserted me. Never mind. As for those who insist on using a Kindle, I only have one thing to say. Yuck. Actually two. Yuck yuck.

Those who deny the indisputable pleasure of the smell of books, the rustle of pages, the residue of print are those who consider efficiency and simplicity as an unparalleled virtue. Please stand in the corner. I will return when you have paid sufficient penance.

Our world is in a state of constant flux. The shocking events in Pakistan and Australia of late reinforce not only the intolerance all around but how how easily criminals masquerade as freedom fighters in the name of a cause. The reality is that the perceived strength of the Taliban is utterly bankrupt by any conventional measure. They have no respect for difference or any alternative ideology, religious or otherwise. They shit all over the Koran and then smear it over everyone else. There is no greater gift than life itself and the Taliban and their various apologists would do well to consider the words of Mark Malloch Brown and come to terms with their vulnerabilities and limitations.

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