The question of dignity

opinion May 20, 2014 00:00

By Achara Deboonme

5,113 Viewed

Dignity does not consist in possessing honours, but in deserving them," said Aristotle.

I love this quote. No one should claim honours if they have not earned them or if they are not recognised by others.
And how do you earn honours and confidently claim dignity?
I guess by your actions.
Being a leader doesn’t automatically earn dignity. Actions – as seen through your policies – are what define it. You only have to consider our last two leaders to see the negative proof.
I kind of admire People’s Democratic Reform Committee leader Suthep Thaugsuban for his unrelenting fanaticism, which has earned him overwhelming respect from his supporters. Regardless of his tainted past, they truly believe that his dignity and integrity will guide Thailand to a corruption-free future. Such is their faith they don’t even bother to glance at the accounts for the enormous donations and expenses for the protests.
Likewise, being appointed to a high-powered organisation doesn’t guarantee your peers’ respect.
Bill Gates didn’t win respect from fellow members of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway board because he is Microsoft founder, but because of his shrewd comments in service to the fund company.
Gates has upheld the scope of responsibility and authority of a board member, meeting his top priority as a director – to protect shareholder benefits.
In Thailand, the names of individuals qualified to be listed company directors are public.
And the scope of their responsibility and authority is clearly defined in the companies’ annual reports – as guidelines for shareholders and the public to scrutinise.
Shareholders can also submit questions to the board of directors ahead of the annual shareholder meetings. If such questions are not on the meeting agenda, they can step up to the microphone on the day and speak their mind.
 I guess some eligible voters – stakeholders in democracy – would like to ask whether Election Commission members know the scope of their responsibility and authority.
Appointed to their posts, they seem to be reluctant to host elections – which is their main responsibility. That reluctance has been on show ever since the February 2 election was annulled. It remains unclear whether the next election will be in July or later.
EC commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn prompted further questions with his latest Facebook posting. It was directed at a Channel 11 director and concerned a TV interview in which law academics pressed for an election as soon as possible. Somchai demanded to know who had authorised the programme, vowing to take action against the culprit.
Well, we all know that the state-owned channel is overseen by the PM’s Office. How brave of Somchai to leap into the power vacuum to oversee TV output. Braver still, he ignored the lack of a Royal Decree specifying when the next election will be. Instead, he made nonsense claims about the interview benefiting the acting government.
Many of those whose February 2 votes were nullified by the Constitutional Court would also love to hear what PDRC people on the opposite side would say.
Cue Aristotle and another great line: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Many of those who voted in February have listened long and carefully to what the PDRC has been saying. They can still catch Suthep’s daily speeches and the live broadcasts on BlueSky TV. They are still willing to entertain Suthep’s speeches despite having their votes nullified, following PDRC’s blocking of candidacy registration in the South and blockading polling stations.
I’m not a big fan of Channel 11, which tends to be a mouthpiece of whatever government is in power. Every successive PM’s Office minister has vowed to restructure it, but none has achieved the neutrality of reporting they claim to aim for.
Directors at Channel 11 can claim dignity, as they consider themselves government employees rather than members of the independent media, who have a duty to be non-partisan.  
Aristotle again: “We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions”.
In this case, I salute the law academics for their brave action in speaking against social pressure.
They knew that their words would certainly draw criticism at a time when many (both with and without power) are demanding reforms (vaguely defined) before elections.
In a way, the academics have willingly sacrificed their peace of mind, just like the protesters who are doing everything to block elections. How Thais got into this polarised storm is almost beyond imagination.
Are we doing it for dignity? If so, perhaps we should pause and consider something else that Aristotle said: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”