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Swimming with the tide...

Where does a lifetime of swimming against the current get you? Usually a substantial distance in the opposite direction you wanted to travel!

It is considered a desirable masculine trait to resist and fight against the prevailing current. Personalities who turn the art of swimming against the tide into an end in itself are celebrated. Audiences applaud film heroes who take on the establishment. As if opposing authority is a virtue in itself.

Unfortunately, the current is usually stronger than we are. We may fight the tide with all the strength in our bodies and still find that we are drifting slowly backwards. For those who really don't know when to give up, the current can wreak havoc with all aspects of their lives.

Let me thus make the radical and shocking proposal that there is much to be said for the strategy of swimming with the tide.

Martial arts teach us how to use the strength of a much larger opponent to our advantage. Likewise, when we swim with the current, we combine the strength of the water with our own strength, which results in a force far greater that what we'd been capable of alone.

Martial arts teach us how to use our energy in a positive way. Using all our strength to resist the strength of someone else is futile when we can instead combine our energies.

My concept of swimming with the tide does not mean trying to leave the flow of events around you untouched. We change our environment by subtly modifying the things around us: Encouraging officials to be more responsive; working with neighbours to renovate the local area; and encouraging a friendlier and more social environment in the workplace.

When you swim with the tide, you learn to understand the currents. We can then seek to divert or channel them based on our sound knowledge of the currents.

Criticism from a position is always a howl in the wilderness - nobody listens to you and your voice has no value. There is value in listening to constructive criticism because it is based on the premise that we are all part of the same current, swimming in the same direction and sharing the same goals. The radical, revolutionary change liked by those swimming against the tide always changes society for the worse. If you don't believe me, go and ask somebody living in Libya, Egypt, Syria or Yemen.

Let's call my idea of swimming with the tide the gradualist or "reformist" approach. The whole point of reform is that it occurs in the spirit of existing political and social traditions. It's not like saying: "We don't like the Bahraini political model - let's take the Cuban political model". There is much to learn from the way things work elsewhere, but abandoning everything good about your nation's own political and social traditions is a recipe for disaster. This reformist approach to swimming with the tide is the only way we can introduce the best new innovations without losing the traditions which underpin our society.

Every change is introduced in small tweaks: We try privatising a handful of public companies. We plan, we do it gradually. If the results don't go as predicted, we are monitoring and evaluating every step of the way so as to put things back on course, learn from our mistakes and revise our approach.

You see the opposite of this with populist dictators like Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez who wake up one morning and decide to nationalise the entire economy. This is not a successful way to run a country, or a company, or even a household.

Swimming with the tide starts with the assumption that most people in the society around us are normal human beings who want the same things as we do: They want a better future for their families; they want a pleasant living environment; they want peace, stability, jobs and good health. Swimming with the tide is constructive, not destructive.

We only make progress when we recognise that we are all part of the same society with common interests and common goals. Avoiding unnecessary confrontation is easier than picking fights. Working with your colleagues and those around you is so much easier than working against them.

The strange thing about our world - where confrontation and dissent is the norm - is that this obvious truth even needs stating: Sometimes, swimming with the tide and taking the easy option is by far the best way for us all.

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:May 22, 2015
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