From May 28-30th, I attended the World Economic Forum in Bangkok as a Global Shaper representing the Taipei Hub. The event was held to discuss the issues facing the member countries of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). In order to attend this conference, Aung San Suu Kyi left Myanmar for the first time in 24 years, constituting a historic moment for both herself and the world at large. The eyes of the world were focused on how she went from being a leader of the opposition, to becoming a member of parliament, and finally emerging as a possible national leader. In response to this attention, Suu Kyi gave a full account of her personal trials.

Over the past 24 years, Suu Kyi has experienced national unrest, violent attacks on her person, health problems, the death of her husband, and the torment of becoming a political prisoner under house arrest. However, she stood before the world and, in her received pronunciation English, delivered several elegant speeches revealing how she had endured 15 years of house arrest.

What can we learn from the convictions that Aung San Suu Kyi shared with the Global Shapers?

1. Being a voracious reader

Suu Kyi read broadly on politics, culture and philosophy. The longer her time under house arrest, the more knowledgeable and learned she became. Every day she was preparing for the moment she was set free. Reading was perhaps a form of therapy and retrospection.

2. Listening to world news broadcasts for 50 hours a week

Suu Kyi constantly told herself that she must keep in track with world events and not allow incarceration to impair her intellectual and spiritual development. Her hopes for reform within Myanmar are not limited to domestic political reforms; they include international relations, foreign policy, international investment and the role that Myanmar can play on the international stage.

3. You don’t get anything from nothing

Without hard work, there can be no hope. Without investment, there can be no returns. Suu Kyi does not believe in handouts or passive acceptance. One has to participate actively and to contribute input. She harbours the unwavering belief that hard work is the only key to progress. In her speech “You don’t get anything from nothing” she unfalteringly repeated this clear and simple concept many times.

4. Duty comes before all else

‘Duty’ is more important than any other thing in life. This motherly reminder, Suu Kyi said, “is the force that has supported me through all that I have been through”. Over the past 24 years there were many opportunities to leave, but her responsibility was for the people of Myanmar in suffering. The loss of her health, her husband, and her freedom, were not enough to make her give up.

5. Bear cautious optimism and some healthy scepticism

The problem with being recklessly optimistic is that one tends to neglect problems that need to be faced, and fail to take appropriate action. Our environment is in constant flux and new problems will always form. An appropriate degree of scepticism can endow us with the ability to face latent risks and allow us to avoid losing ourselves in beautiful but short-lived illusions.

6. Never lose confidence

Suu Kyi said that over the past 24 years, no matter how big the setbacks, she has never lost confidence. She has always believed in her own choices and the future of Myanmar. In her eyes, I detected a sparkle that seemed to prove that “fearlessness emerges when ‘missions’ exceed the meaning of an individual’s existence”. When missions are grand enough, humans are bestowed with the strength to overcome all adversity.

Before I saw her in the flesh, the prospect of meeting Aung San Suu Kyi only stimulated my sense of pride. But after listening to her courageous speeches, understanding her philosophy of compassion, seeing her in all her splendour, and reviewing her personal journey, I experienced an ineffable wave of emotion. Respect had gilded my excitement, and I was overcome by a strong sense of responsibility. In future words and actions, I will spur myself to continually look up to those who, on the distant frontiers, work to open up new avenues of progress for humanity. I will unfailingly remind myself that, one day, I too will build paths for others. 

Heather Ma is a tourism expert, an interior designer and a hospitality business owner. She is a Global Shaper from the Taipei Hub.