Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Red Arrows over the hot blue skies of Muscat, musings on Machiavelli and The Sultan, happiness and where it comes from....

Elena and I take a taxi from our hosts' suburban Muscat home to The Intercontinental Hotel, from where we will crane our necks up towards the dizzying blue above to catch sight of The Red Arrows jets beginning their precipitous formation dives down to earth, or just above it.

On the journey, there are Omani flags flying from the cars which also proudly display portraits of the handsome Sultan, his grey tinged beard (of formal cut) symbolising both vigour and the wisdom of age.
In the backs of cars, children smile and wave at us. Why?
They don't in London. And we would not dare to smile and wave back in London.

We take a photograph of two young men walking on the side of the road. They smile at us and wave. Why?
We have travelled widely in this whole wide world, but rarely have we encountered so much smiling. Why?
Perhaps they are pretending to be happy but we doubt that. It's not that they want anything, since we are not offering anything.

And then above us, as the red jets roar and scream around the submissive skies, we find the answer.

Love. All you need is love, as Britain's greatest musical export sang.
But this can only be one piece of the answer. If it's true that Omani's have more than their fair share of the elusive elixir of a happy life, where do they get it from?
Here is our theory: We must learn how to love from our Mother's milk and every moment of infancy upwards, by example and by precept, every single day. A long time ago, in the searing heat of the Omani desert, a tribal leader realised that the only way to survive in the barren and lifeless terrain around was to harness all the life force of all the people, and the strongest of these was love.
And so it began.

Niccolo Machiavelli, when he wrote his handbook for Princes in 1506, advised them that it is better to be feared than loved - if you cannot be both. Now nobody would pretend that Oman does not have problems and some consequential unhappiness. This is the real world, despite the almost unreal sea of good nature all around, and men still steal, cheat and thieve and the life of man would be 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short' without the potential use of force. We believe The Sultan knows that he needs be feared and loved because the wisdom of the Sultan is not in doubt. He was very impressed as a young man by British freedoms and democracy but he wisely observed that they had been achieved over an 800 year period of evolution and struggle, including a violent revolution and a military dictatorship. Armed with this self observed insight, he began his careful work of introducing Oman to the responsiblity of freedom. We wish him well on his anniversary, and recommend Machiavelli to him. It's a dangerous world.

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