Sunday 3 February 2013

Thatcher refuses to jump

I recently came across this video of an interview with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In the context of the interview, guests are apparently asked to do something out of the ordinary, namely to jump up in the air. When the interviewer asks Thatcher to do this, she refuses and says the following: "I see no significance whatsoever of making a jump up in the air, I made great leaps forward, not little jumps in studios." 

Now, this video might be viewed as humorous by some, but what struck me in the quote I mentioned above is the simple wisdom contained in it. Thatcher contrasts jumping up and down with moving forward, in both cases there is movement, both are dynamic expressions but only one involves actual change in position.

This got me thinking about the Arab World and the aftermath of the uprisings that swept through the region in the course of the past two years. I wrote before about the mistake of insisting on a united revolutionary front which deludes the meaning of the revolution for the different groups and individuals who participated in it for different reasons and with different goals in sight. A lot of what has been happening by insisting on something which isn't possible in reality like that artificial unity is that people have been protesting, getting their hopes up and trying in vain, they have been jumping up and down. They are active, they feel they are doing something when in reality they haven't moved forward a bit.

In reality not much has changed in Egypt, in fact, things have gotten worse on many levels, and I think the problem is that so much energy and so much potential go to waste by insisting on using the same methods which have proven ineffective so many times in the past. It might be more exciting to jump up, to feel the euphoria of being detached from the ground, from reality, for just a little while. But when you come down again after jumping, you find you are still in the same place and the energy you used making that jump will have gone to waste.

Instead, it might be worth considering trying different methods to move forward, even if the steps are small and the process is slow. It might not be as invigorating, but it is most probably more consistent and will, in the long run, yield better results.

The interviewer, trying to convince Thatcher to do what even Gorbachev did, told Thatcher that her jumping up and down might be a chance to show people that she is actually doing something, not just talking. Thatcher answers saying that she wouldn't jump in a studio during an interview to please an audience, but is intent upon gaining and preserving their respect for her by working on the ground. There are different kinds of actions, some more appealing to those who seek entertainment and excitement, others less visible but perhaps much more valuable and lasting. We have been criticizing the political elite in Egypt, we see them daily on television, but when we look in reality they are nowhere to be found and their influence nowhere to be felt. It might be useful to reflect upon Thatcher's response when put in the situation she was put in.

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