A sense of shame
As media exposes indulgence of an increasing number of citizens and public figures in fraudulent behavior, there is a strong concern that we, as a nation, may be moving away from a sense of propriety and honourable conduct.
This anxiety aggravates when rulers do not see the forest for the trees. The prime minister for instance, cited 'inappropriate language against the persons of the chief justice of Pakistan and the COAS' as reasons for recently seeking resignation from a minister.
While that might be so, it would have lifted us all up a notch if the PM had vociferously condemned the ex-minister's nonsensical views on corruption and cited that as the reason for his sacking. This might have added a little remorse to the shamelessly open advocacy of evil by a sitting minister of an elected government.
The two distinguished individuals, honourable as they are, are not taller than the people of Pakistan in the context of collective societal interests. Gilani brought no credit to his office in citing his 'reasons', as it only betrayed where his heart lies these days and not quite where it should rightly belong.
This is part of the reason why public officials guilty of embezzling public funds or those who simply do not perform their functions ably show no repentance and still get reelected or worse, appointed to higher-ranking positions.
In 1996, the US Navy's highest ranking officer, Admiral Jeremy M Boorda, first to rise from a sailor to a four-star rank, shot himself in the chest when informed of an impending article in the Newsweek suggesting that he wrongly wore the small bronze 'V' signifying valour in combat on his Navy commendation and navy achievement medals.
No shots were heard here when we lost an entire half of our country, or after myriad tales of financial corruption surfaced at high places and continue to do so.
Our rural hinterland has a twisted sense of shame, where helpless women are killed, all in the name of saving a family's honour.
Recently, there were two seemingly trivial incidents; one raising hopes that a loss of sense of shame in our polity, after all, is not a lost cause yet, and the other, pointing to where the problem may actually lie.
When Pakistani cricketers ended up in ugly news, the sense of hurt and indignation in the common man on the street was palpably deeper than reflected in statements by tainted, courts-dodging officials declaring to make an example of the erring players.
Leaving aside oddity of the mob mockingly shoe-beating an innocent ass, their rejection of the notion that we are a nation of cheats was abundantly clear. Second, again, ordinary people jeered the PCB chairman with shouts of shame, shame on his arrival from England, but he looked not a weebit perturbed or embarrassed.
It is this perpetual state of denial, mainly in the upper crust of our society, which is eroding our national sense of propriety and is a cause for grave concern.
Psychologists believe that shame arises from violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings arise from violation of one's internal values. If dishonourable conduct does not evoke a sense of shame or guilt, it is because our internal value system is flawed.
Even religion is not spared in our interplay with shame and guilt. We see planeloads of freeloaders on holy pilgrimage who believe that their conscience will be wiped clean of every abominable act. They only hide behind religion without any real sense of atonement because they resume dysfunctional behavior as soon as they return to work.
Going to prison, once upon a time, was no laughing matter. Not any more it would seem as a string of NAB-convicted prisoners grinned and smiled all the way to police vans recently after the cancellations of their bails by the Supreme Court. No one taken into custody by US law-enforcement forces is known to have smiled then or ever after, and understandably for good reasons too.
Japan's prime minister, elected barely eight months ago after in a landslide victory recently resigned when the burden of shame for not honouring election promises became too heavy. Japan has had four prime ministers in as many years mostly due to perceptions that election promises were not honoured. PM Gilani considers completion of the five-year term as the sole determinant of public service over performance.
Some might say, Japan is too sensitive to shame, but it has nonetheless successfully used this human behaviour as a primary agent of social control. In our rural settings, systems of jirgas and panchayats, embedded in a sense of honour and shame for centuries, have been far more effective agents of social control, but are now losing their touch to an onslaught of enlightened urbanism where, more often than not, ends justify the means.
The fraudsters and crooks amongst us are breeding at an alarming rate. There isn't a strong enough resolve from a financially fragile and uninspired civil society to rise to this challenge. Suo motu notices by the higher judiciary are encouraging but that segment of our society which places no premium on upright and responsible behaviour appears too powerful.
Unless we regain a national consciousness of our forefather's era of what might be termed as 'honourable personal and official conduct', and develop a greater sense of shame and guilt, we are in dire straits.
The writer is a retired Vice Admiral of the Pakistan Navy. Email: [email protected]