“Think as men of action”


By Lt. Gen ® Abdul Qayyum HI (M)

Amongst the array of faculties bestowed upon humanity by Allah Almighty, the indispensable ability to think takes center stage as what empowers us to make lasting impacts on our environment.

The constraints of the human brain are the constraints of human society as a whole. There is no doubt that the remarkable societies of human history, for example those of Ancient Greece and Rome owe their foundation on the blossoming of thought and conceptualisation.

However in today’s era of artificial intelligence and automation, machines have assumed control. Robots perceive environments and execute commands for desired actions to achieve set goals. While on one hand this fast paced technological advancement in itself is a charisma of superior human brain, on the other hand, it has contributed to the decline in lateral critical thinking and conceptualisation, especially in the people with leadership roles.

In late 60s the gunner officers used to manually compute metrological data for the guns factoring in the wind speed, direction, temperature, moisture, density and even for rotation of earth etc. Though primitive, yet the exercise afforded exercising full mental faculties so essential for brain vibrancy.

Brain being an essential muscle will remain active, vibrant and creative only when it is constantly exercised and applied. We therefore, can either use the brain optimally through exercise and turn it into giving creative output or leave it dull and non-vibrant.

It is a well known fact that over reliance on written notes hurts the mental retention faculties. Personally I am seldom comfortable in delivering a speech from a written script. If one is clear about the scarlet thread of the main message one wishes to convey, one may mentally logically arrange the thought process which keeps automatically flowing as one speaks.  The next best thing to happen to a good orator is the fluency and right choice of expression and words for a lasting impact. General Douglas MacArthur’s farewell speech delivered to joint session of the congress on 19th April 1951 became famous because of the phrase; “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away”.

His extempore speech delivered at West Point on 12 May 1962 was, however, regarded as “The greatest improvised oration in American literature “

Thinking leaders can deliver their best as they spend required time for reflection. A well-read, visionary leader with gifted ability for critical thinking and perfect conceptualisation, and befitting capacity to translate his vision into tangible achievements, stands head and shoulder above his contemporaries.

Thanks to computers, data processing is being performed at an amazing speed. However, over reliance can be disastrous in case of system failures and hacking. In such an eventuality human minds should be trained enough to provide the requisite back up support.

It is, therefore, an established fact that for any creative or innovative work, thinking and reflecting mind is essential. This faculty needs deliberate exercise to grow and develop.

Former French president de Gaulle once said, “Great men of action have always been meditative type. They have without exception possessed to a very high degree the power of withdrawing to themselves”. 

A leader blessed with a creative mind will, therefore, always seek solitude to crystalize his perceived vision and streamline his innovative thought process. In developing countries however, where literacy levels are low, and under the garb of democracy only rich and affluent can sneak into the power corridors, creative and dynamic leaders from middle class rarely get to the decision-making positions.

Another challenge is that of a thinking leader with no capacity to deliver rendering him a liability. Such leaders can only make castles in the air which usually crumble like house of cards resulting through weak governance and poor administrative skills .Its sometimes shocking to take stock of political party’s manifestos promising lofty claims of job creation, poverty alleviation, health care and educational reforms, and then compare their on ground dismal performance. Former US president Mr. Nixon once rightly said, “Often in politics, the man of thought cannot act, and the man of action does not think”.

If the leader on top is not a thinking breed, he would mainly depend on the opinion given by his aids. In that case whoever succeeds in having access to his ears first, will get things done his way. So its Kaan (ear) management and not Kaam (performance) management. Such leader will quickly be convinced to take a U turn when another group of aids gives him yet another and opposite viewpoint. Such a leader, therefore, is like a computer running on the analogy of garbage in garbage out with none of his own contributions based on his own power of convictions.

President Nixon in his book (In the Arena) regards Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of USA, as not only a creative thinker but also a decisive man of action.

As Muslims when we think of great leaders, of course the only name stands out is of the holy prophet Muhammed (PBUH) who was a unique leader of the entire mankind. He with divine blessings of Allah almighty not only founded an Islamic state but also introduced a vision for the entire humanity which spells out an ideal way of life and a code of conduct. His most of the time was spent in meditations.

In Pakistani context we were lucky to have been blessed with the visionary leader like Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Max Webber’s theory of the charismatic leader truly fits into Jinnah’s struggle for the creation of Pakistan, which did not only mean a separate homeland for Muslims and independence, but also preservation of Islamic ideology. Quaid-i-Azam was undoubtedly a leader with an awe inspiring capacity and resolves to deliver. He not only conceived a new nation-state but also changed geography and created history. He had the courage to stand alone in the face of Hindu – British intrigues and take tough decisions. Even after 73 years of Indo-Pak division, the plight of Muslims in present day India bears testimony to the fact how prophetic and true was Quaid’s concept of two nation theory.

The leaders in contemporary Pakistan need to learn that it is indeed a great honour to climb to the top pedestal but it is yet a bigger pride when your presence as a visionary statesman at that position raises the image of that post. Presidential post in any country undoubtedly brings you a great honour but when Nelson Mandela occupied that post in South Africa on 10th May 1994, he raised its stature. I had the honour to attend that inauguration and meet this thinking legend and a dynamic deliverer accompanying PM Benazir Bhutto in his austere small office.

French philosopher Henry Louis Bergson once said, “Act as men of thought. Think as men of action”.

(The Writer is Pakistan’s sitting Senator and Chairman of Senate Standing Committee on Defense Production. He may be contacted at general.qayyum@gmail.com)