CAMBODIA: Building leadership for young Khmers

An article by Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: Building leadership for young Khmers
This article combines my keynote address and two lectures on political socialization and culture at the Cambodian Leadership Conference on May 18 in Tacoma, Washington, on the theme of Building Leadership for our Young Generation, organized by Khmer women’s organizations in Washington State, spearheaded by the Cambodian Women Networking Association’s Ms. Sinuon Hem.
I valued this time to share my thoughts on building leadership, korsang reu bangkoeurn chomness nae noam, in the company of a diverse audience of Cambodians and others, including the State lieutenant governor, the mayor of Tacoma, and distinguished legislators and officials from state and local government. The discussion was lively and thought-provoking.
Building leadership is a daunting task in a society muffled by hundreds of years of traditions and social norms derived in part from having lived entirely under authoritarian, even dictatorial, governments. In such an environment, building a leadership corps that will not fall into old patterns requires changes in values, kun’sambat, attitudes, ek’riyabot, and culture,voabthor. These are daunting changes many today acknowledge as necessary. But stepping outside a series of long-held traditions and patterns of behavior is not easy. Many talk about change, but few walk the talk.

A general framework

Political scientists, such as I, describe a framework of perceptions (kar yul kar deung), influenced by opinions (yobol), interests (phol proyaowch), values (kun’smabt), and beliefs(chumneur), which mold our attitudes (ek’riyabot). These attitudes lead to a tendency toward action (sak’kampheab), or to passivity (ak’kampheab). As those factors predominate in a population, a culture emerges.
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