An Ordinary Human Being in an Extraordinary Situation
Tony Blair on the Leader as Nation Builder in a time of Globalization
by rick olivares
photos by Raffy Lerma of Inquirer and Teya Sabado of ateneo.edu
“If my friends told me that one day I’d be Prime Minister (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), I would have laughed,” exclaimed Tony Blair in a whew-what-a-life moment.
And the now former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland who described himself as an ordinary human being in an extraordinary situation, had an audience of several hundred at the Irwin Theater at the Ateneo De Manila University laughing as he spiced his experiences as one of the free world’s important figures with witty one liners and humorous anecdotes.
If the picture in our minds of national leaders is of the droll, humorless, and smug type, Tony Blair was quite the charming opposite as he was candid and introspective. He gave a glimpse of a personal side that was perhaps never revealed to most of the world as a Guardian in Faith.
If Blair sounded like Robert Ludlum’s globe-trotting Jason Bourne telling his tales of standing at the banks of the Jordan River, tempting temptation at the Mount beyond Jericho, or working the dinner talk circuit during Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th American President, rest assured he skirted the cloak and dagger in the decision making behind the invasion of Iraq and the problems that stem from the acceptance and interpretation of different faiths. Sorry, students. Need to know basis; surely you understand?
While continuing his public service as a Quartet Representative to the Middle East, he is paid handsomely (a reported whopping $250,000 for a day’s worth – under six hours of lectures and Q&A’s) to share valued learnings. Yet suffice it to say, that even in this distant corner of the world where Britannia ruled the Philippines ever so briefly (1762-1764), even at his age, he too is taking home with him some valuable lessons that only back up his theories.
As he stood in front of the Rizal Monument in Luneta during the day before, he noted that the national hero was a profoundly educated man who made a difference. “Education is the difference in the success of countries,” he emphasized.
During a quick visit to Intramuros, he stood inside the San Agustin Church and marveled at how rich and varied our history is yet at the same time how our present problems is something most nations share.
Blair was correct in pointing out a lack of a sense of solidarity to make things work, but he omitted the sins of colonialism that exacerbated old hatreds and prejudices.
While it is always good to understand and study history, Blair presented several truths or values that form the crux of his stewardship in a time of globalization: that today’s problems require a unified response, that response should be based on concepts and ideas that is fair and just, that response should be respectful of different faiths, and that response should bind people together.
As a youngster, Blair envisioned himself to be a rock star in the mold of the Rolling Stone that gathers no moss, Mick Jagger. He sang and played guitar until a friend, who as a true friend should be, pronounced with all due honesty, that from thereon Blair should just play the guitar and leave the singing chores to him.
If you tell Tony Blair today that he could have been a rock star maybe in the vein of his current favorites U2, he’d enjoy a hearty laugh. He certainly was better off as the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
My aunt, Philippine Daily Inquirer political columnist Belinda Olivares-Cunanan attended all of Tony Blair's talks yesterday and she said that the former British Prime Minister's first stop of the day in Ateneo was the best one and that he personally enjoyed it more. He truly loved the Q&A with the students and thought the atmosphere at the Irwin Theater was more intimate.
If there was a chance for me to ask a question as I was seated alongside the media folks, I would have queried him about relating Newcastle United's woes as they struggle with relegation (the economy) and globalization (they have 19 Brits on the team as opposed to the token few on the top clubs which you can relate to foreign investments). Mr. Blair is a massive Magpie supporter here. Sorry, sir. Am a Scouser. Tough job for Chris Hughton here.
Nevertheless, it was enjoyable. And I've never seen such tremendous security in place. It wasn't even like this when Erap attended the Ateneo Homecoming as Chief Executive. In high school though, I did see Jackie Ponce Enrile go back to visit his old teacher with two carloads of back-up bristling with guns and bodyguards but still... it was a mini-military operation.
It's not always I get the opportunity to listen to a former Chief Executive. I lined up for a short talk by Bill Clinton in New York but the line was simply way too long. I did get in though for JK Rowling and that had the grown up in me bedazzled with a youngster's eyes. I should do this more often.
Thanks to Joanna Ruiz and Gia Dumo for the invite. For Coach Chot Reyes for the excellent chit chat on our way to the Irwin Theater. There's going to be a follow up to this one... on Tony Blair's talk (in China) regarding sports and the Olympics.