My colleague Jo-Ann Armao and I didn’t know too much about Aung San Suu Kyi. Yes, we knew the Burmese pro-democracy leader had been under house arrest for nearly 15 years until her release in November 2010. But we didn’t know the depths of her importance to human rights and to her nation as intimately as our editor: Fred Hiatt has been spent most of his journalism career writing about Suu Kyi’s and Burma’s travails.
By the end of the 90-minute lunch for Suu Kyi with Post reporters and editors today, I turned to Armao with chills running down my spine. She turned to me with tears in her eyes. “She’s the real deal,” Armao said.
Suu Kyi’s soft-spoken demeanor belied a person of enormous strength and clarity. The Nobel Peace Prize winner who was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal this afternoon, talked with great passion about the importance of reconciliation without retribution. She talked about the promise of democracy and the patience that entails. And she talked about the need for a balance between freedom and security, including economic security.
While under house arrest, Suu Kyi could venture no further than her gate. Asked about being punished with isolation by the military government, Suu Kyi said, “I didn’t think they meant to punish me. Perhaps I see too much good in them.” In addition to everything else she did, she told us that she read lots of biographies to see how others coped with adversity. She loves detective stories and said she developed a love of poetry.
During her trip, Suu Kyi said she was struck by how many people were aware of what was happening in Burma and how much they cared. And then she said something profound. “The greatest human quality is kindness,” she said, “It costs people nothing, and I don’t know why people are so miserly about being kind.
When the lunch ended, Suu Kyi, known as “The Lady” back home in Burma, thanked us for the support of her and her country. As a journalist, it is an amazing feeling to know that all your writing on a subject you care about deeply has helped to lead to a just result. That’s why Suu Kyi’s words of gratitude were all the more powerful for me with Hiatt seated next to her.