Confucius and Our Brain Drain
Revered Chinese philosopher, who is often portrayed as a teacher, advisor, philosopher and reformer, Confucius believed that those who aspired to command others must cultivate discipline and moral authority in themselves. Confucius lived in a period of the Zhou dynasty when China had splintered into small, independent, warring states ruled over by feudal lords whose authority was maintained not through moral behaviour and genuine concern for the welfare of the people, but through laws, punishments and force. His message of knowledge, benevolence, loyalty, and virtue were the main guiding philosophy of China for thousands of years.
Once, one of his students asked Confucius about government. Confucius replied: “The requisites of government are that there be: (1) Sufficiency of food; (2) sufficiency of military equipment; and (3) the confidence of the people in their ruler.” The student then asked, “What if we couldn’t have all three and we need to get rid of one, which one do we eliminate?” Confucius says, “The military equipment!” Again the student asked, “What if we must dispense with one of the two remaining, food or trust?” The master answered, “Part with the food. From of old, death has been the lot humanity; but if the people have no faith in their rulers, there is no standing for the state.”
The last part of the answer truly depicts the state of affairs in today’s Pakistan where people are fast losing their trust in the government and governance of the country. A glimpse of this growing distrust can be had from the recent survey conducted countrywide by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). The results of the survey suggest that nearly 37% of Pakistanis would go overseas if they could. What has, unfortunately, gone unnoticed about the results of the survey is that 62% of the male population of Pakistan aged between 15 and 24 years — the cherished youth — want to leave the country. Although Pakistan has perpetually been a victim of brain drain wherein a large part of its population dreams of enjoying the riches of the “foreign” land, the youth’s recent urge to fly to greener pastures has come as a great hit to the state. What can be more opportune to prove this point than a recent news item which says: “Pakistan’s brain drain situation has aggravated this year, as around 765,000 educated youth chose to seek employment overseas mainly because of uncertain economic and political situation amid shrinking job opportunities in the country. It was nearly triple the 225,000 departures in 2021 and 288,000 emigrants in 2020. This year’s data also included 92,000 highly-educated people such as doctors, engineers, information technology experts and accountants.
According to the PIDE survey, economic reasons are the most prevalent. The next two significant motivations are the pursuit of equal opportunity and more respect. Seeking gender equality and better security are also important reasons for wanting to leave the country. And, if you analyze rationally and realistically, the only thing that all these factors finally boil down to is distrust in the government. Isn’t it true that all these factors are in the exclusive domain of the government to make such policies to provide all these coveted things to the people?
Those in corridors of power and authority show a complete disregard to the hopes and aspirations of the citizens of Pakistan. They pass such laws that benefit only a selected class of the people who, in the words of former finance minister Dr Miftah Ismail, make only one percent of the country. Although they are supposed to be in the interest of the masses, they are applied only to protect the strong and the powerful. When the laws are not applied justly and objectively according to their true spirit, intent and purpose, distrust and polarization in society become inevitable.
Another pertinent example of this distrust can be cited from an abysmal public response to the appeal by the government by which it urged the people to donate generously for the relief efforts in the flood-hit areas. One question that widely circulated in the media, social, electronic and print, was: should citizens trust the state regarding the relief efforts? This question gained popularity because at a time when the country’s economy is dwindling and its people are under the claws of poverty and devastation, the federal cabinet consisted of more than 70 members many of whom didn’t have any portfolio but were enjoying the perks and privileges. The fact that this question is being asked shows that people have distrust in the government and its policies. So, it is hard to deny the mountain of evidence for the general lack of trust as well as the reasons for its existence.
But, it is very unfortunate that those behind the wheel never considered the dire implications of this distrust. Although everyone has a right to struggle for a better quality of life and a shinier tomorrow, they are, embarrassingly, sandwiched in the tug-of-war and wrangling between the parties on both sides of the aisle in the parliament – which is often touted as a symbol of people’s power. This shows their oblivion to the people’s hopes and aspirations.
In this grim, or more rightly perilous, state of affairs, Confucius offers us some wisdom in the dialogue quoted above. His magnum opus is the Analects, a collection of his teachings recorded by his disciples, achieved its present form in the second century BCE. Its two main concerns are: (1) what makes for a good man; and (2) what makes for good government.
As for the second concern, Confucius argues that good governance ought to tag along certain fundamental values to ensure its triumph. He notes that leaders should posses certain traits for them to win the affection, devotion and support of their people. Good governance should focus on establishing a strapping relationship between leaders and their followers for the benefit of humanity. He further explained that the righteousness of the people is in direct correlation to the behaviour of their leaders. Confucius says, “When a prince’s personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without the issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed.”
According to Confucius, good government should take the needs of the people into consideration by doing the right things and upholding virtuous values. He argues that if everyone honours their family responsibilities effectively, eventually fulfilling their societal responsibilities should be easy.
Confucius further says: “When a country is well governed, poverty and mean condition are things to be ashamed of. When a country is poorly governed, riches and honour are things to be ashamed of.”
In the end, it seems apt to say that the Confucian wisdom became China’s handbook on government and its code of personal morality for thousands of years. It has steered China to become a giant not only in terms of economy but in all sectors. The incumbent Chinese president, Xi Jinping, under whose leadership China has emerged as a formidable power, is deeply influenced by Confucius. “When the Great Way prevails, the world is for everyone.” This sentence has appeared in a number of Chinese President’s speeches over the years. It originates from the Confucian classic “The Book of Rites”. Xi is following Mao, using the Confucian idea of Datong to justify his political projects such as “common prosperity” in economic policy, “common destiny” in foreign policy, and the so-called “whole-process democracy,” in which democracy only means “for the people” and people are regarded as a whole or a collective, rather than as individuals.
And, if China can make such a huge progress, then there is no reason that we must not learn the lesson. We have to listen to him when he says, “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals; adjust the action steps.” Our rulers need to adjust their action steps in line with the people’s aspirations and needs. We have already lost immense human talents and this brain drain can be stopped only if the governments restore people’s trust in them. “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop,” teaches Confucius, if we want to learn a lesson.