The Life You Choose: Lessons from Aung San Suu Kyi

I consider Aung San Suu Kyi to be one of the most inspiring and dynamic leaders alive today. She is humble and gentle but utterly indefatigable. The trials she has faced in service to the people of Myanmar are matched only by her resilience and vision. She’s not perfect and has now become more of a politician than perhaps many would have wanted but she’s working to be on the ground level with people to make a difference.

I’ve learned a lot about Aung San Suu Kyi over the years and have found her story important when thinking about how the choices we make have powerful and very real consequences in the world.

Aung San Suu Kyi

While reading yet another biography of The Lady, as she’s called, I learned that in the 80s after the university student protests led to a slaughter of the Burmese people, they were looking for a leader to help guide them as a nation towards democracy. The founding leader of Burmese independence, Aung San, had been assassinated in 1947, largely because he signed an agreement to give equal rights to the ethnic minorities. This iconic figure had three children, two sons and a daughter, one son of whom died in childhood. In the late 80s, many people hoped the remaining son, Aung San Oo, would return from abroad and lead the people against the ruling military junta and bring about democracy again in Myanmar. Due to reasons I am not privy to, Aung San’s son did not return to lead in Burma. Instead, he has lived as an engineer in Southern California.

On the other hand, Aung San’s daughter – Aung San Suu Kyi – chose to leave her comfortable family life at Oxford and return to Myanmar. There she faced harrowing persecution, lost most of her friends, was years away from her children, and spent 15 of 21 years of her life under house arrest. While under house arrest her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died in London. She was technically free to leave the country to be with him but it was obvious the ruling military would never let her back into Myanmar. Still, she has been tireless in leading the National League for Democracy (NLD) in seeking to peacefully bring about democracy. The many decisions Aung San Suu Kyi has made over the years – some big and some small – have had a profound impact on Myanmar today.

I don’t want to judge Aung San Oo for staying in California as an engineer. I’m sure he had his reasons. I also want to shy away from any language that labels one person’s life calling as somehow better than another. I believe one can live a very meaningful life as a janitor,  pet-store worker, or engineer. That’s not the point.

The point is this: the choices we make have real consequences in the world. These choices build on each other over time. And they are interconnected with the decisions and lives of others. The decisions we make about our lives aren’t in a vacuum. And the immensity of this truth is equalled by the opportunity it presents. Aung San Suu Kyi’s decisions continue to have a significant impact on the lives of millions of people, including mine. Her story reminds me to consider mindfully how the choices I make on a daily basis are not petty or personal but are cumulatively interconnected with the world.


The famous market in Yangon, Myanmar is named after Aung San Suu Kyi's father. This picture was taken from my trip to Myanmar in May 2011.

The famous Bogyoke Market in Yangon, Myanmar named after Aung San Suu Kyi’s father. This picture was taken from my trip to Myanmar in May 2011.

This entry was posted in Calling, Everyday Life, Leadership, Myanmar, Politics, Southeast Asia and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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