12.07.2015 at 12:00 am

José Mujica's Humility

Being both high and low.

José Mujica, the current President of Uruguay, has led a very interesting life:

"...Mujica is a former revolutionary (some might call him a terrorist) who was shot six times, imprisoned for 14 years, tortured, and kept in solitary confinement for upward of three years, only to be released, renounce violence, enter politics, win election to the nation's highest office, and lead Uruguay as it rose out of recession, all the while legalizing gay marriage and abortion, which is noteworthy for a country that counts Catholicism as its dominant religion. He donates 90 percent of his income to charity, lives at his small farm rather than the country's lavish presidential palace, drives a Volkswagen Beetle, almost never wears a suit, and rails against the excesses of consumerism and the West's reliance on it as economic ballast."

Malaysian politicians may learn from his humility:

"...Pepe's farm is bucolic and ramshackle. We sat in the sun-dappled courtyard of his one-story farmhouse, where his three-legged Chihuahua, named Manuela, and a few small kittens roamed. Songbirds chirped in the meadow surrounding his farm. I asked him why he chose such humble environs instead of the presidential palace.

"As soon as politicians start climbing up the ladder," he said, "they suddenly become kings. I don't know how it works, but what I do know is that republics came to the world to make sure that no one is more than anyone else." The pomp of office, he suggested, was like something left over from a feudal past: "You need a palace, red carpet, a lot of people behind you saying, 'Yes, sir.' I think all of that is awful."

It's refreshing how José Mujica answered questions in his interview with Al-Jazeera last year - directly, humbly, and without equivocating:

Al-Jazeera: I'm wondering how do you feel about the fact that you are being described so much lately as the world's poorest president?

José Mujica: No. Poor are the ones who describe me so. My definition of poor are those who need too much. Because those who need too much are never satisfied. I am frugal, not poor. Frugal, with a light suitcase. I live with little, just what's necessary, not too tied down to material things. Why? So I can have more free time. To do what? What I like. Freedom is having time to live. Living frugally is a philosophy of life, but I am not poor. Al-Jazeera: And, speaking of money, you give 90% of your salary to charity. You live with very little. José Mujica: I have a way of life that I don't change just because I am a President. I earn more than I need even if it's not enough for others. My wife is a senator and she has to contribute a lot to her party. But her salary is enough for both of us to live. And we still have a bit left over which we put in the bank, just in case. I contribute to my political group and to projects like a housing project for unmarried mothers. For me it is no sacrifice, it is a duty.

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