Commentary: Wisdom over power: a political lesson from a Mayan community

wfj-graphic.jpgI am sure that most of us stayed awake until late hours waiting for the U.S. Presidential primary results. Both Republicans and Democrats have begun a race full of competition, commercials, social media, mutual deception, and challenge over who will prevail at the end of the process. There will be winners and losers and some people will celebrate while others will go away in silence and frustration because their candidate didn’t win the race.

I had the blessing of witnessing a different approach to politics, elections, and leadership, coming from Maya Kaqchikel communities. In Chuarrancho, right in the outskirts of the City of Guatemala, they don´t have polls, nor winners or losers. There are no Super PACS, nor millions of dollars supporting one candidate or another. Neither will you find this competitive spirit that has ravaged the world and its precious resources. There is a humble community, celebrating a ritual of passing positions of leadership in a sacred and respectful ceremony.

More than an act of power and control, the succession of places of service in ordinary politics is a matter of intergenerational connection. The ceremony is coated with deep spirituality, mutual belonging, identity and respect. Leaders transmit one to another the knowledge and the wisdom of their experience to the ones that will continue the work and the leadership in the community. Both “public servants”, the one that ends his term and the other who will start that day, get on their knees as a symbol of equality, and they commit themselves to give continuity to the wisdom received from the Elders and to work according to it. Even one of the elected in the process gave a short but moving speech to the community, talking about the priority of wisdom over power. We received a crash course on politics, ethics, and accountability from the indigenous communities’ perspective.

We learned about the importance of a non-competitive, communitarian, loving, caring process of transmission of leadership as a way of challenging our notions of power and politics so the social fabric, the values, and the common good reign over greed and self-interest. There is no need for lobbying conflicting interests when everybody is clear about the importance of the overall well-being of the community. So, as I participated with them in their prayers, exchanges, and rituals, I reflected on our own in the U.S. and wondered –– How can we transform our politics to be more a matter of a friendly exchange of ideas and a constructive transmission of values, and less a competition with winners and losers? How could we review our priorities and ways of discussing public matters from a more local and concerned point of view? Perhaps, in order to enjoy the life described by Jesus (John 10:10), we need to begin a process of casting away the ones who kill, rob and destroy in the public arena, so that we may have life and have it abundantly.

Angel L. Rivera Agosto is Area Executive for Latin America and the Caribbean.

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