“I believe in the human spirit,” His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, said at the recent World Government Summit, a global platform dedicated to shaping the future of governments worldwide. “Humans have created civilizations, economies, and financial systems. If they have made civilizations possible, then they are able to revive them.” With these words, Sheikh Mohammed began to answer a question about the future of a troubled Arab world. The audience was transfixed, with many leaning forward so as not to miss a single word of what He had to say.
Words are powerful: we teach our children that they matter deeply.
Words can melt a heart, inspire a nation, start a revolution or end a war. They can build or tear down bridges; they can inspire and ignite or challenge and destroy.
But words can also be slippery and malleable, fast and cheap. They can be false and empty, grandiose and pretentious. And one of the greatest parodies of our time is that as eloquence increases, so it also seems, that authenticity and truth can decrease.
In the UAE, it is a truth widely acknowledged that actions speak louder than words. We are a nation privileged to be governed by leaders who seek tirelessly to embody the values they hold dear. Their words are authentic, and therefore inspiring. This is our normal, but I have come to appreciate more and more in recent times how rare a gift this ‘normality’ is.
HH Sheikh Mohammad spoke without a script and the replies he gave reiterated that authenticity is part of his DNA.
From trade to terrorism and from collaboration to corruption, Sheikh Mohammed gave direct answers to even the most difficult of questions, with simple, and direct honesty.
When HH Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior of the UAE, later took the stage to speak on the subject of The Nation’s Sustainability, it was deeply moving. Sheikh Saif spoke of sustainability in a way that I have never heard it spoken of before; his presentation was one crafted of deep and considered thought, and rich with personal anecdote.
Sheikh Saif told the story of a trip to Sir Bani Yas island, in the 1980’s, when Sheikh Zayed was on his summer tour. Sheikh Zayed had a group of his sons and a group of his friends with him; one day, he suddenly stopped the car and got out. He started digging with his bare hands, and then asked those with him to bring shovels. Sheikh Zayed was the first one to pick up a shovel and start digging, and of course he did not have to give an order; everyone else started digging too, even though they did not know what they were digging for. They kept digging for three days, from morning until night, and, beneath the ground, they eventually found the remains of a building; a small room with a canal that flowed into a basin. The site turned out to be a church from the seventh century.
Sheikh Zayed was searching for sustainability in history and heritage. And so Sheikh Saif shunned the usual platitudes about sustainability, instead speaking passionately and authentically about the ways in which the sustainability of a nation depends upon a foundation of ethics drawn from history, religion, and traditions. This was a bold and thought-provoking presentation about the values that sustain nations; the values that are carried from fathers to sons.
Closing the Summit was HH Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, whose topic was the National Arab Youth Strategy. Instead of choosing to deliver a speech in a traditional way, Sheikh Mansour also led by example when he chose to give the floor to a group of remarkable young people from across the Arab world, moderating a session in which each of them was able to present their own views. The words of each of the speakers were deeply inspirational, but no more so than the act of humility which gave them the floor. The World is full of leaders who love nothing more than to hear themselves speak, what better example of leadership was there than this demonstration of sitting with Arab Youth, and moderating this session in a way that encouraged them, and spoke in volumes of the respect and dignity that had been instilled in him throughout his life.
We teach our children that words are powerful, and they are. But actions matter too, and what matters even more, in the case of a nation, is for a values-based leadership to both speak and act in a way that embodies the ethics that underpin government.
Something special happened at the World Government Summit: Sheikh Mohammed, Sheikh Saif, and Sheikh Mansour quietly showed the world a glimpse of the values and authenticity that make the UAE unique. They embraced tradition and modernity, they spoke proudly of real Islamic values and heritage, and they delivered individual messages which dovetailed together each part to form a greater whole.
On this Mother’s Day I have found myself reflecting on the profound experience of watching these three great men each present in a way that was incredibly honest, unbelievably modern and inspirational, and together their message was complete and truly powerful, reflecting the values of this nation and its people.
We are blessed to have leaders in this nation who answer questions truthfully, thoughtfully and directly. Who believe that, to understand our future, we must not forget our roots. Who value yesterday as much as tomorrow, and who prioritizes the next generation not just in words, but in actions.
This has been my experience after the World Government Summit, and today, as I think of Mother’s Day, I think of two great women, HH Sheikha Fatma Bint Mubarak Al Nahyan, and HH Sheikha Lateefa Bint Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the sons they raised.
These mothers brought up the leaders of a country who actually say the same as what they do. These mothers deserve much more than just a tribute. These were the women who gave birth to these men, who fed them, nurtured them, stayed awake with them at night, cleaned up after them, and worried about them. They are the same women who raised them with the fundamental values to make a difference, to create a better world for their children, and their children’s children.
Today is a day to celebrate these amazing women for bringing such great men in to our world. I can only pray that God gives me the wisdom and energy, to put into raising my children in the very same way.