Barack Obama, former U.S. President (Source: PTI)

Noise Driving Out Dialogue In Politics, Obama At Town Hall Meeting

Former U.S. President Barack Obama interacted with an estimated 280 young leaders from across India as part of a town hall event in Delhi for the Obama Foundation.

Over the course of more than an hour, he spoke about how to build consensus and deal with change in a world that’s constantly changing, encouraging future leaders, and the role of technology in educating young people.

On a lighter note, he bragged about being the only U.S. President with a dal recipe.

Here are the highlights.

How do you build consensus in a competing world?
You can’t be a purist if you want to bring change. You will never get a 100 percent of what you want. You will never get a 100 percent of justice....There is so much competing attention. And what gets the most attention is conflict, and sound bytes, and tweets. The more controversial the better. And as a consequence, there is no dialogue.
Once you get married, it may take you 10 years to figure out that winning the argument does not necessarily resolve into good outcomes. There are a lot of times where I win an argument with Michelle, but I lose the war.
How to stay encouraged when dealing with change?
Know ahead of time that change is hard, so you are not getting discouraged. Try to break up your efforts into bite-sized manageable pieces. Take time to have some fun within your work. I did not always follow this advice.
All I did was party from the age of 15 - 20. Then something happened and I became very serious. From about 20-27, I was always serious. If I wasn’t working, I was reading. I had only one plate, and one towel cause everything else was wasteful. I just took myself very seriously.
How do you empower young people?
Political parties are full of old people, who have been around forever. Two things results from that – young people who aspire to have influence get blocked. Second, if you’ve been a leader for too long at the same spot, you lose touch.
When I started my campaign, we threw young people into challenges. You have to have a certain tolerance for errors. We ended up having so many new ideas and new leaders with energy.
Where does technology fit in when it comes to educating young people?
The obvious advantage is that you can reach more people very quickly. But technology in education doesn’t reduce the importance of teachers.
Technology is not a not a magic fix for everything. It can actually isolate people. So that they become so hooked to their devices and no longer have conversations.
As a transgender, I’m a criminal under Section 377. How do I deal with that?
It begins with finding your voice. That’s true for any group that is marginalised. Break down the perception that you are different, so people recognise the humanity in you.
Art is often a powerful tool in social change. Through art people see clearly for the first time. That black person feels like I feel. Or that woman is experiencing something that I should be able to understand. There’s something we have in common.
Only U.S. president with a dal recipe.
Last night, I went to dinner and there was some dal. So people tried to explain to me what is dal. I explained to them that I knew what dal was because I had an Indian roommate and a Pakistani roommate whose mothers had taught me how to cook dal.
I am pretty sure that I am the first U.S. president to have a dal recipe, which is excellent. My keema is also excellent.
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