By Luis Manuel Aguana
Perhaps very few people know that the beautiful cartoon Christmas movie, starring Tom Hanks and premiered in 2004, entitled in Spanish “El Expreso Polar” (The Polar Express) was based on a very short story book written by Chris Van Allsburg in 1985, author of other successful films such as Jumanji and Zathura. I particularly remember this occasion because when I met that book of stories in a beautiful edition of Ediciones Ekare – Banco del Libro sponsored by Fundación Polar in 1996, the story was not so well known for the film that made it famous and was the perfect Christmas present.
The story in the background is about faith. A boy who only asked Saint Nicholas for a gift of a silver bell from the harness of one of his reindeer, this being the first gift of that Christmas at the North Pole. The rattle “made a magical sound like none I have ever heard before,” the boy said. But back home on the Polar Express, the boy lost the silver bell.
The loss of the precious object broke his heart when he was left at home. But when he opened the gifts under the Christmas tree the next morning, there was a box with his name on it with the bell inside. St. Nicholas had returned it to him and put it on the tree: “I shook the bell. It rang with the most beautiful sound my sister and I had ever heard. But my mother said, “Oh, what a pity! – Yes,” said my father. It doesn’t sound. Neither of us had heard the sound of the rattle. There was a time when almost all my friends could hear the rattle, but as the years went by, I stopped ringing `for them. Also Sarah (her sister), one Christmas, could no longer hear her sweet sound. Even though I’m old, the rattle still sounds to me, like it does to all those who truly believe”. (1)
They believe in Christmas, they believe that things can be better even if they are very bad. I dedicated this beautiful book to my daughters that year with the following note: “This book shows that the Child Jesus does exist because it is and will always be in your hearts…”.
This Christmas I wanted to remember this gift that I gave so many years ago to my daughters, then little ones, because we Venezuelans have lost the ability to hear that bell. But as the author says at the end, it rings for all those who truly believe. But as adults we have lost the ability to believe that we can get out of this serious problem where we all got ourselves into, letting pragmatism convince us that the only way out is to bend to the regime or go out through Maiquetía, or across the borders with Colombia and Brazil.
And when we say “truly believe” it may have other implications. But I don’t want to enter here into a controversial terrain but by which in one way or another we have all passed into believing or not believing in a God in every religion. Either you believe that you will succeed or you don’t believe. It’s that simple. Children have it clearer, as in the case of the above story, when they truly believe from the heart. Adults, we complicate everything with pragmatism, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said in The Little Prince: “When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask you about the essential. They never tell you, “What is the ringing of his voice? What games does he prefer? Does he collect butterflies? Instead they ask, “How old are you? How many are your siblings? How much do you weigh? How much does your father earn? Only then do they think they know him… Don’t take it badly. Children should be very indulgent with older people…” (2)
I saw the importance that this principle had acquired for my daughters when, many years later, I saw them giving “The Little Prince” to one of their friends with the following dedication: “May the Little Prince teach you never to forget that you were once a child…”. It seems to be a lie but that is also taught…
But it’s not easy to make people believe in something if you don’t believe yourself, or worse, if people have the perception that you’re not trustworthy. That’s a fundamental principle, and even more so when you’re trying to guide a society in a crisis as serious as ours. If leadership is not capable of transmitting it in some way, there is no possibility of materializing that a society mobilizes around an idea.
In a very interesting paper presented at the 2014 sessions of the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), entitled Credibility as a source of political capital: Exploring political leaders’ performance from a credibility perspective
https://ecpr.eu/Filestore/PaperProposal/71691ba3-7f4b-4f4a-ae59-3d7551645733.pdf), Among others, several conclusions were reached, which I transcribe below in my own translation, and which I consider very important to be analyzed by the Venezuelans:
Credibility is a relational concept. It is not something that leaders possess, it is something inherent in their personality, but it is also something that they need to gain, and that must be attributed to them by their audience….Credibility is an issue that the public must address again and again. This means that instead of being a stable factor, credibility can increase and decrease. As such, credibility is not only relational, it also has a dynamic nature…In subsequent research where a primarily analytical approach was adopted, scholars associated several dimensions with credibility, but in essence it was found again and again that credibility had only two: competence and trustworthiness. Competence refers to the knowledge, expertise, and experience of the spokesperson. In the case of political leaders, this could relate to the knowledge, expertise and experience necessary to adequately address the political and social problems of society. Trustworthiness, secondly, refers to the extent to which an audience perceives a communicator as honest and not misleading.
Since the 1990s, however, there has been a third dimension to the concept of credibility: solidarity perceived as “goodwill”. This solidarity implies that the public needs to be convinced that the political spokesman listens to them, that he has his interests at heart, and that it is – in the case of political leaders – the one who does not use politics to fill his pockets. Previously, this trait was part of the dimension of trustworthiness, which makes intuitive sense. How can someone be worthy of your trust if they don’t take your interests into account?
In light of these studies, do you believe that our opposition political leaders possess these three dimensions of credibility to take control of the country in a transition? And what’s more, have they renewed it again and again with Venezuelans over the course of time? I could put some names here and we would all agree that the fingers of one hand would be left over in the number of people in Venezuela who give that perception. That is why the country is paralyzed.
All Venezuelans have intuitively come to the conclusion that in the parties that have handled the serious problem we have from the Venezuelan opposition, no one is now perceived as possessing the three dimensions: competence, trustworthiness and solidarity. And that is why civil society must seek this solution. I would add to these dimensions of the study three fundamental aspects for our case: ethics, morals and citizen virtues.
Would we be asking a lot of the Child Jesus for this Christmas for those people to appear for the good of the country? I believe in God that we will receive that gift. To me the bell still rings… To all my friends and followers of the TICs & Human Rights blog receive a very Merry Christmas wishing everyone the magic spark of faith and to truly believe that God in his infinite compassion will not abandon us….
Caracas, December 24, 2018
- El Expreso Polar (Título Original The Polar Express), Escrito e ilustrado por Chris Van Allsburg, Ediciones Ekare – Banco del Libro, Caracas, Cuarta Edición 1992, Patrocinado por Fundación Polar, ISBN 980-257-046-X
- El Principito, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Traducción David Chericián