Although some commentators regard ‘governance’ as a relatively recent concept, it has been regarded since ancient times as the prime subject deserving of the greatest attention.
In the beginning, this was associated with the nobility who, having established or inherited their status to make decisions that affect the lives of others, recognised that it was important they learnt to approach the making and carrying out of such decisions in the most responsible manner. Later the very notion of the ‘noble’ transcended any title linked to family ties, and became the appellation for the highest characteristic of any person acting in the wisest and most considerate manner.
‘Nobility’ (in Latin), ‘Junzi’ (in Chinese), ‘Mahana vyakti’ (in Hindi) all went from being terms to describe the aristocratic ‘high-born’, to becoming terms of praise for the morally admirable, great and worthy. The noble-minded are not born, but developed through learning to gain a deeper understanding of how to facilitate effective governance over any domain entrusted to their stewardship. They are the ones who fulfil the duty they owe to those who rely on their guidance and decisions to chart a course that will serve the good of all.
To teach the noble art of governance, the most cogent ideas must be synthesized, and their application promoted as widely as possible. There are essentially three parts to this endeavour.
First, we need to engage the heart. Dramatisation of trends and events can move people to reflect and act more than mere factual accounts. From Shakespeare’s historical plays on the wisdom and folly of successive rulers, to modern dystopian novels depicting threats that need to be overcome to preserve well-governed societies, steering emotions towards a determination to counter injustice and pursue the common good is vital.
Secondly, we need to inform the head. There are many facts and arguments about how organisations and countries have prospered from effective governance, or degenerated as a result of misrule. Without a critical grasp of what differentiates between good and bad approaches to securing order and collaboration, the best will in the world may nonetheless end up heading in the wrong direction. A diet of democratic theory, political history, and socio-economic analysis is essential to keep misguided outlook at bay, and set out the correct vision.
Thirdly, we need to guide the hands. Beyond appreciating the importance of governing well, and recognising what it should entail, practical know-how is required to turn ideas into actions. Management and sociological studies have captured many examples of what works and what does not when it comes to motivating and communicating in order to get large groups of people to join forces effectively. Their lessons must be learnt to enhance leadership skills and strategies.
There is nothing nobler than to dedicate oneself to the advancement of good governance at the local, national or global level. Educators can play a major role in cultivating true nobility of character in raising interest in and understanding of what constitutes such governance.
If you would like to know more, see ‘Communitarian Governance: a 9-point guide’; and see also the resources listed in the ‘Question the Powerful’ collection.