Friday, February 11, 2011

Pharaoh is Gone, Long Live the Pharaoh?

I decided to interrupt my planned continuation of my previous blog to insert a thought about an immediate issue.

The whole world is talking about the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.  He was forced from power in 21st century fashion that the world is also talking about and trying to understand.  There was no abhorrently violent revolt, but a revolt fueled by a society that saw their world as a non-zero sum situation.  This is a story of courage, and supported by new media (with just a little violence).  I have been thinking about a confrontation with another Pharaoh some 3,000 years ago.  Whether you believe the Biblical account of the Tribe of Israel leaving Egypt replete with challenges and miracles of deliverance, or not, there is an important lesson that is yet to play out in this modern day event.  

There are two types of slavery the Biblical account teaches us. There's a kind of slavery in which the chains that shackle us, such as was the case of the regime of the Mubarak government, are from external sources.  This Pharaoh was removed from power, rather than the people escaping the Pharaoh.  (That is the 21st century version of this historical story that has many Pharaohs around the world more than a little concerned.)  The Egyptian people today feel free. The external shackles have been removed.  

There is, however, an internal slavery that comes from our own, self-imposed shackles -- our anger, our vanity, our laziness, our greed, our disobedience to universal principles. This type of slavery is not only a problem in Egypt, but is a reality in many parts of the world and there is no place where it should not be a concern.

It's easy to think ourselves free when we overcome an externally-imposed limitation. The people of Egypt feel that way, and deservedly so.  But then we're shocked and surprised to discover Pharaoh pursuing us after we've escaped his Egypt. But the Pharaoh we see closing in on us in the desert is a Pharaoh that we took out of Egypt with us (or in the case of the Egyptians tonight who think they have ousted the Pharoh, it is the Pharaoh they are left with). The Israelites cried, "Maybe it was easier in Pharaohs Egypt.  Maybe that was better than the challenges we are now faced with."  Egyptians tonight  shout from Tahrir Square: “We've been freed from the Egypt that closed us in from without,” but they have yet to transcend the “Egypt of yesterday” in themselves.  I am metaphorically speaking of the internal struggles they now face.  The norm of baksheesh (bribes) that are commonplace, the mistrust and greed that the old regime nurtured, the pride and feelings of superiority over fellow citizens that are pervasive outside of Tahrir Square, and the void of honest leadership, are a real part of the Egyptian reality.  Egypt and Tunisia have proven they are much bigger than these internal shackles, but as societies, they have yet to fully sever those bonds.

To accomplish the freedom the people of Egypt seek, they will have to part the Red Sea of the remnants of  the old regime and the "everyman accountability" that comes with past poor choices, (which is the case in every country in the world), and penetrate the depths of who and what they are in order to uncover their truest self.  The people of Egypt and Tunisia may have taught a few Pharaohs around the world a new lesson, but they have the chance to teach the whole world something about how to break the most injurious shackles. The Egyptian youth in Tahrir Square won the day today because they saw their plight as a non-zero sum situation—they would either all win or all lose in their fight for freedom.  It is now up to the whole world to follow their example and realize the non-zero sum scenario includes us all.  This blog post may sound like an excerpt from Don Quixote as he mounts an attack on a windmill, but it is time we all consider dealing with this self- imposed slavery.  Until we do, we will never be truly free.  Until other countries in the world stop believing that ends justify the means, we will continue to experience external Pharaohs, because we have not yet conquered the internal Pharaohs that in the end give permission for the external ones to exist.

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