Values Always Cost You Something. That’s What Makes Them Different From Platitudes.
When I was in Panama last year for a keynote I had the opportunity to speak with Erika Mouynes, the country’s former Foreign Minister, about the war in Ukraine. Her ministry had strayed from its traditionally neutral stance by calling for “respect for the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine based on international law.”
She told me that when she later met with Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, he asked her why she cared about a country thousands of miles away where Panama has no tangible interests. What did she expect to gain? She told him that sometimes you need to make decisions based on values that are important to you.
Her position was not without risk. Panama depends on broad international support for its canal. Yet many of the executives at the event told me how proud they were of her support for sovereignty, an issue that Panama has sometimes struggled with in its history. The truth is that, to mean something, values always cost you something. Otherwise they’re just platitudes.
Today, many dismiss Mohandas Gandhi as guileless and quixotic. He himself once said, “Men say that I am a saint losing myself in politics. The fact is I am a politician trying my hardest to be a saint.” He was, in truth, a master strategist, luring opponents into a dilemma that would put them in an impossible position of choosing either surrender or damnation.
One of the first principles of his philosophy of Satyagraha was ahimsa, or nonviolence, which was rooted in the quest for truth. If no one could claim to have absolute knowledge of the truth, then it followed that using violence — or any other means for that matter — to compel people to accede to your will would be to undermine, rather than support truth.
To the modern ear, Gandhi’s views seem idealistic at best, if not completely naive, yet there was much more to his philosophy than met the eye. His aim was to undermine his opponents’ legitimacy. He sought to back them into a corner in which both action and inaction would yield essentially the same result — an upending of the existing order.