If there is one lesson I’ve learned from spending extended periods of time in both the United States and Cambodia, two countries that are opposites in so many ways, it’s that it takes good
people to build a great nation.
What does it mean that it takes good people to build a great a nation?
It does not mean that Khmer people aren’t good.
What it means is that to build a great nation like the U.S., you must bring out the best, not the worst, in people.
In the U.S., for instance, one can be a perfectly upright, honest, law-abiding citizen and still earn a decent living if he or she is willing to work hard.
In Cambodia it takes more than just hard work to succeed– it takes a lot of street smarts (i.e., wit, cleverness, cunning).
Although both book smarts (e.g., education, vocational skills) and street smarts are important for survival, the latter must not be embraced to a point where deceit and dishonesty are tolerated and even rewarded in society.
In a prosperous society where the rule of law prevails, people are rewarded when they work hard and play by the rules; those who don’t go to prison. It should be as simple as that.
In a lawless society, on the other hand, people survive by being clever, by relying on their wits to gain survival advantages over others, even if it meant resorting to dishonest and deceitful ways.
While one could certainly lie and cheat their way through life, this is not the type of quality that will lead to a strong, prosperous community. To build a successful community takes more than street smarts; it takes collective intelligence.
When people embrace such things as integrity, honesty, work ethic, and fair play, they’re exhibiting collective intelligence, the kind of intelligence necessary to build a strong, prosperous nation.
Therefore, a strong nation becomes stronger by bringing out the best in its people, by promoting character, work ethic, and fair play, whereas a weak nation becomes weaker by bringing out the worst, by rewarding deceit, dishonesty, and corruption.
While the problems in Cambodia may be viewed from many different angles, I think people here are just too clever for their own good.