Year of the sleepy dog
Thought for the Day, 1 February 2006
At the weekend, Chinese people around the world, joined here in the UK by many thousands of well-wishers, noisily celebrated the New Year of the Dog... or rather, to be accurate, the year of the Sleepy Dog. The traditional Chinese calendar is based on five cycles of twelve years. Thus this Year of the Sleepy Dog will not reoccur until 2066. Indeed, in traditional Chinese culture, you only ever celebrated one birthday - your sixtieth - on the grounds that you had now reached maturity. From its roots in the religion of Daoism, Chinese tradition believes that true development takes time - and sixty years is just about enough time for this to happen.
It's not only Daoism. Most religions have long-term perspectives because they actually understand human nature, and are dealing with eternity. For example, in 1999, the Sikhs began their third epoch, which they decided would be the Cycle of Nature, with an emphasis on ecology. The cycle will end in 2299 - a three hundred year commitment to the environment.
This week, the United Nations Development Programme launched an extraordinary book entitled The New Public Finance, which shares this long-term perspective.
Instead of going for quick fix solutions it looks at the real costs of failure, bad planning and of national rather than international efforts to help the developing world. It recommends structures and solutions based around a timescale of generations rather than the relatively short life spans of most governments. The authors claim, that in time, it could unlock an astonishing $7 trillion for development.
It is radical and would take decades to implement. And this is one of its most important features. It goes against the usual schemes coming out of the United Nations - and indeed out of most governments - to reshape society through grandiose five year plans, all designed to assist the inevitable March of Progress.
So as we enter the Sleepy Dog Year, let's also think forward with the Daoists to the next Year of the Sleepy Dog in 2066, and imagine a world in which after decades of work, compassionate proposals have improved our economic structures, this time reaching even the poorest of the poor. And let us also imagine, along with the Sikhs, a world where in three hundred years time, things we set in motion now for a better world, will have come to fruition.
Then let's look again at the usual timescales we try to live by, and perhaps, in this Year of the Sleepy Dog, follow its example, stop rushing around, and instead find time to chew on things a little more.