The feel-good factor

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Khaleej Times, March 29 2012

Sometimes when I am travelling my friends invite me to a restaurant they have discovered: ‘come for an xx meal’ they suggest.

Sometimes I might not really like the food though their company may be very amusing; it is a welcome break from my busy schedule. That got me thinking a little… how does one characterise the pleasures of one’s food?

If coming from a tiny country then the influences of the larger neighbours are great — think of Luxemburg perhaps — but if one is from a far larger nation then regional variations can be found. Again, sometimes one or the other dish might not be to my liking, whereas another, perhaps from my home region will be wholly enjoyable. Is this because it is like one’s home cooking first known at one mother’s hearth? I must apologise to those with mothers having low culinary skills — they have missed something I think. Thus one gets used to eating one’s home food.

Perhaps, I then thought, this idea could be extended… perhaps to our leaders… and their selection. I am not really thinking of electing a group leader though that may be an activity fraught with unseen hazards as one offends a friend by voting for another. No, I am thinking more of electing leaders for governments. Take the impending US elections. To the insiders — all the Americans of voting age, who are resident, and even those abroad who now are allowed to vote remotely — the US extended selection processes (the Primaries) seem quite normal and indeed democratic. Anyone may put himself, or herself, forward to be considered as the person to lead the whole of the US after the nation goes finally to the polls to cast their vote. So “little ‘ol me” can be considered. Well, not exactly, as one individual — one of 300 million — is unlikely to be well known to any but a few friends. Publicity is needed. And that was where a food analogy arose again… regional food, once little known, has become better known as people travel and perhaps enjoy local flavours; and as local people disperse across the land occasionally setting up ‘back home’ restaurants. It’s the publicity that counts. So our unknown person has to publicise, advertise, get in the press, on radio and the TV so a broader audience hears what they believe in and what they will do for the nation when president.

My analogy now moves to the food giants who tell us so often by TV that their product is “super” in some sense, like ‘fish things’ or a chocolate product — they inevitably become worldwide brands. But how do we come to realise that they may not be good for us? And in politics, who will be the best leader? Surely they cannot be judged by the heavy advertising made by themselves and by others on their behalf? Millions of dollars have been spent on the electioneering trails to bamboozle us, and all the while we see their weak side as aides constantly manoeuvre to extract the slightest fault or indiscretion of the others. But when he/she becomes president and has to face issues of global significance – how will they behave — as they are people we do not know?

Let us pass by the states that do not quite follow fully democratic rules within their elections and turn to dictatorships. In this case the people have no say in who will be the leader of them all. But some form of filtering does take place though well hidden from the outside. China is a good example. It needs wise leaders and they may have been groomed for several years by those in power, or by the ‘king makers’. But the same big question remains – how will they behave when facing global issues as the leader of all?

The outgoing Chinese Premier Wen Jaibou has just suggested that China will have to become a democracy at some time. How will a future shadow figure manage to do this enormous task? The US received European democracy of its émigrés in its formative years — yet they suffered a civil war and struggle even today to reconcile individual freedoms with the common good that might easily be applied in a non-democracy. Set against the heavy advertising for the benefits of a type of food we have the strength of a ‘Big Mama’ who know what is good for the little ones: and we know that home food has a ‘feel good factor’. The choice of a political leader is not easy and it is vital to understand who our leaders really are and to understand their strengths.

Frank-Jürgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global business community