Turkish people are confused

I am taking taxis several times a week in Istanbul. I use these as an opportunity to take pulse of the different political views in Turkey. What I came to realize today is why despite an intensive period of government scandals and anti-democratic behaviors the public’s significant portion is still voting for this government. I believe that the AKP is masterfully exploiting and intensifying a fracture in people’s mind. This fracture became clear to me during my taxi conversation today. It is a rupture between a defeatist, egotistical ‘everybody in the country is exploiting other for their personal gain’ versus a visionary, communal ‘I want to be a virtuous person and live in community’.

Today I was talking about the recent Soma mining disaster that shock Turkey. My cab driver lamented the loss of human life and the farce of safety audits. He gave an example from his time in military when one week in advance the amphibian unit in Foca was told that General Kenan Evren would come for an inspection. Everything was cleaned and tidied up; even the food was improved. Coincidentally General Evren sat across my cab driver on that inspection day over lunch and asked him how the food was? In youthful excitement my cab driver said: “It is much better today thanks to your arrival.” The attending senior officers froze; a whole week of preparation and then the ultimate embarrassment by an insignificant soldier. The general rhetorical commented: “come on it is always good.” To my cab driver this is indicative of a culture of how people in Turkey deal with inspection. He said that the general himself having risen from low ranks knew that the inspection would tidy up and improve the food; so his question and inspection were all a show. He never intended to have a serious audit which should benefit everyone. And the same theatre script is going on in Turkey for decades throughout institutions.

I got this story as a response to my comment that the responsible energy minister still had to resign. His ministry had given flying colors and top grades to the mine and he himself commented on the top condition of the mine. My cab driver was giving me the message that he didn’t see any value in the resignation. Just as his military story showed everybody is playing the system knowingly.

He also asks who we would vote in alternative to the prime minister. This exposed another weak spot. The lack of an alternative; not any alternative but one that purposefully plays to the good and communal side of people. Though I didn’t come to expect this the cab driver showed me this side of his too. He told me the story of him paying his taxes and social security contributions always on time over the past decades. He lamented how he was mocked by his friends for being so diligent following the law. Many of them he said had benefited from general tax amnesties and were able to claim retirement benefits with one payment. The same politicians granting amnesty did nothing to reward the people who were honest, e.g. giving them extra benefits. In essence the amnesty made the honest person an idiot. This hurts the taxi driver as much is hurts Turkey. And the damage goes beyond missed payments but a sustained damage to the perceived quality and justice of public institutions.

Despite the rhetoric of the AKP to make the public belief that they provide the best proposition for Turkey I think there is a ‘market’ for a better Turkey. A Turkey in which people want to trust in a state that administers their taxes well, represents the diverse views of people and acts as an non-partisans, rule-of-law based arbitrator. A Turkey in which people can nurture the virtuous side and get encouraged to make decisions that benefit them and their communities.

The current opposition parties seem to me completely absent-minded of such a vision. And without anyone holding up a vision that people like my cab driver long for these same people hide their longing away in their hearts and resort to the exploitative grill fest that the AKP is masterfully heating up.

It is our generation who is now tasked with the biggest revolution in modern Turkish history. It is a struggle analogous to the one fought by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his generation. Only that now this is a struggle with the internal demons not external ones; a fight against selfishness and exploitation and a fight for community, individual prosperity and virtuousness. If we can speak to this good side credibly the AKP’s poisonous rhetoric of ‘kopar ne kopara bilirsen’ (take with you what you can get) will find a real alternative. Turkish people love their country; let’s speak to that vision of an oasis of democracy for health, dignity, prosperity and justice.


Why do people want to be rich or famous? For sure for the wrong reasons!

Hollywood has long been surpassed by Bollywood, Nollywood (the Nigerian film industry) and other local versions in developing countries.
What makes people ecstatic about these films is seeing strong guys, beautiful girls and simple but colorful storylines that are like ‘boy loves girl and needs to fight to get her’, ‘From Rags to Riches’, or ‘Faith strikes, but in the end the hero prevails by becoming rich and gets his girl’.

It seems like that many movies help people imagine how their lives could be if they were rich, had a huge villa on the ocean, didn’t really need to work but have others work for them, drive a powerful Ferrari and finally conquer the beautiful girl or boy of their dreams.

This makes some sense to me but what puzzled me is why people who seem to get some degree of material wealth don’t become happy. I see them all over the place in Istanbul or on the beaches of Cesme. People are consuming food, drinks and fashion but rather than being happy, authentic, relaxed and friendly, they strike me as phoney, insecure, playing roles, arrogant and at times rude.

I think the true reason why people want to get material wealth is deeper. What they actually want when they want money to buy a house and car is respect and recognition. They feel invisible with average clothes, with a small car and eating at a cheaper corner restaurant. They think that by getting rich people respect you finally, that they notice you and speak to you politely. They think that material wealth is the road to dignity, the dignity of not being pushed around but abusive bosses at work, the dignity of having ones opinion listened to not because you are special but because you are an ordinary human just like anyone else, he dignity of being offered help because you need it and not because you will tip them.

I think that many people as they gather some wealth by securing their job after college or finally buying the car they wanted realize that they are getting some of what they thought but not quite. Yes people notice you more but in a sense they play a phoney kind of respect. You seem to get more friends but none give you the feeling of deep bonding. I believe people think that in general getting rich is the right way but that they are not rich enough. And they work on. They get angry at people who still don’t treat them with respect. And they treat others disrespectfully.

I think this strategy is deeply flawed. You don’t get respect, dignity, a sense of belonging to some group, a sense of meaningful life and purpose through earning money and consuming, by getting something from the outside. You need to find these inside of you and find ways in which you can express and give respect and dignity to others without expecting to get the same amount necessarily back. This is hard to do; it contradicts our sense of fairness and reciprocity. I give you respect when I get it from you, and only then. Gandhi said to this effect:”If people demand an eye for an eye than the whole world will become blind”. It is the great challenge of developing ourselves, our character in such conditions. It is a challenge that can be taken however at any level of income, with any clothing and at any restaurant. It is a challenge we can take today and not in some optimal future when the income level is just right.

We need to search what Victor Frankl called ‘Man in the search for meaning’. -What is the essence of what makes me the person I feel I am?
-What talents and strengths to I posses?
-Under what conditions do they show?
-When do I feel most alive and growing?
-What is possibly by gift to the world that I can make at this present moment and not just sometime in the future?

These are some of the guiding questions to true fullness. I mean the fullness of our souls not a fullness of the stomach and the pockets and drawers in our big house.

Wise words for the New Year

Watch your THOUGHTS!  They become your WORDS.

Watch your WORDS! They become your ACTIONS.

Watch your ACTIONS! They become your HABITS.

Watch  your HABITS! They become your CHARACTER.

Watch your CHARACTER because it becomes your DESTINY!

-The Talmund from many millennia ago.


I wish you all a peaceful journey, inner and outer, in the new year.

May your paths be crossed by good people and God.

And thank you for crossing mine in 2012.


Alper Tengüz


Why it is worth studying Japan

In the 1980s this question, why to study Japan, would have been answered by many by referring to Japan’s dominance of the business world. The power of Toyota’s manufacturing technique and the innovations of Sony and Nintendo that took the world by storm would have been enough to give weight to arguments for studying Japan.

Now 30 years later Japan seems to be a study case for all things gone wrong. The Japanese economy has been stagnant. What has been termed a “lost decade” in the 1990s due to a major speculative real estate bubble in Japan has turned out to be much more fundamental problems with Japanese business and has turned into two lost decades. Fukushima and the political inbreeding has made Japan an example of a post-war “wonder boy” unable to mature into a 21st century “superman”.

But looking at the economy of Japan I argue were the wrong reasons for studying Japan in the first place. The more enduring reasons actually lie in the way Japan and its people relate to the world. Ever since the Western World has gained access to Japan in the mid 1800s, has there been enchantment with its culture. The Shinto animistic beliefs in a spirited world, the code of honor of the Samurai, the delicate cuisine reflecting in presentation and savor the seasons the regional flora and fauna of the Japanese isles, the architecture in harmony with nature and in respect to its raw forces of destruction, the artisan crafts of pottery, painting, weaving, and ironworks, and the martial and performing arts. These arts are being cared for to the present day. And also modern forms florish and travel the world in form of Japanese Manga Comics, Anime Cinema, Fashion and Zen spirituality.

This richness of expression point toward the deeper value of studying Japan. They point toward an aspect of reality that the Western World has been neglecting in the past century or two: namely the relatedness of humanity to the world.

CG Jung has spend his life unearthing and reappreciating the fundamental link between the human psyche and the world at large. His study of psychological diseases and anthropology convinced him that people across the globe are expressing in their arts and crafts ageless themes fundamental to what we call humanity, themes of life, death, love, pain, joy, loss, longing, courage, fear and the like.

Japan in contrast to the West has kept one important message alive: that we humans are not creatures separate from the world, but rather deeply connected in all our emotional life with the world. When a Japanese poet tries to capture the feelings of fall in his tanka poem by writing about falling leaves he pays homage to this connection. When a Japanese anime paints a dream world of a young girl that tries to safe nature from the destructive forces of human greed and industry it expresses the deep-felt need for harmony with nature. When a Japanese cook changes his dishes and plates to account for the changing of seasons he points to the natural cycle of life.

These are more than a Japanese romance. Japan is holding out a sign for all of humanity that humans are part of nature. And that when we live in harmony we can deepen the quality of our life. And that is a timeless reason to study Japan and ask where our own culture holds the sign to the same message.


Excerpt of my lecture on 21st century leadership development

In June 2011 I gave a lecture on what principles leadership development in the 21st century ought to follow to address the severe crises that we have seen in the first decade of this century.

My key message: Leadership development needs to strive to create balanced minds. These would be minds that can integrate analytical with the synthetic thinking.

I gave this presentation during the Annual Conference of Human Synergistics, a company specialized in providing tools to assess organizational culture and personal leadership behaviors.