12:00 AM, September 20, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 20, 2012

Dreams versus memories: Which side are we on?

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Lutfey Siddiqi

On September 12, upon his election as the new president of Somalia, Hassan Sheik Mohamud said that his country "will now turn a new page, and that page will be written with good history rather than bad history."
Almost exactly at the same time, at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, I had the opportunity to tell Thomas Friedman -- acclaimed author of The World is Flat -- how thought-provoking I found this line of his: "Are you a nation with more dreams than memories or more memories than dreams?"
I suggested to him that we should rank every country in the world on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 for those that are dream-driven and 1 for those that are history's hostages.
We should not only compare across countries but also observe an individual country's shift on that spectrum over time. This could perhaps be a leading indicator of where that country is headed.
Watching the recent party conventions for example, it seems to me that the US no longer commands a perfect score of ten, while watching the Chinese in their confident role of "new champions" suggests that their bandwidth is increasingly dominated by the future, not the past.
I think of my native Bangladesh and wonder whether we overindulge not only by the number of backward-looking commemorations every year, but the extent to which our nostalgia can take a negative form.
I wonder whether the images of victimhood, betrayal and bloodshed and the occasional frenzy around them is a touch overdone. I wonder whether it is necessary to warn ourselves that unnamed destructive forces still hatch conspiracies in our midst or whether our perspective on personalities needs to be so divisive that one man's hero is another man's villain.
I appreciate the importance of honouring the sacrifices of those that have created a nation and laid the foundations of liberty for posterity. All nations do that.
The difference is in the degree to which the national psyche is held to ransom by what has been, instead of what could be.
I believe it was the former prime minister of another East Asian country who, in response to a question in 2009, characterised Bangladesh as being uniquely "captive of its history."
There are, perhaps, alternative ways of showing respect to the heroes of our history.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if either of March 26 or December 16 was a date on which we reaffirm our goals for the future and a date on which we take stock of what has been achieved in the preceding year?
I don't mean a scorecard of what the government has achieved -- I mean a positive celebration of our achievements as a nation in multiple arenas.
There is much to be proud of.
At this same event in Tianjin, I listened to Abul Maal Muhith remind his audience that, in the 27 years between his first and second innings as finance minister, our aid-dependence has shrunk from 30% to 3% of the budget. Earlier in the day, I watched Runa Khan win the prestigious award of Social Entrepreneur of the Year. Also at the forum, I met Seattle-based Nadia Mahmud who was recently honoured as a "global shaper," who shared with me incredible stories of social innovation by college students in Dhaka. And throughout the day, I witnessed multiple references to Grameen Bank, Brac and their founders as true global leaders in more ways than one.
It is obvious that, in spite of impressions, Bangladesh is a nation of individual dreams -- vivid, concrete and animated dreams. How much more powerful would it be if we could magnify that at a national level?

The writer is a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum, writing in a personal capacity.

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