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Opinion

February 27, 2017

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Living differently

As a nation, we can survive the savagery of terrorists, the heinous conspiracies of outside agencies, and even an external aggression by any adventurist country. But we cannot withstand an imminent implosion from within as a consequence of our ethical degeneration.

How absurd it is that we are aboard a scuttled boat amid stormy waters trying to protect our seats from breaking up? I recently read a report about the national character of the Japanese and its impact on their collective lives. Last year, cash and other articles worth $32.5 million (3.67 billion yen) were reportedly lost in Tokyo of which 74 percent were returned to the owners.

I visited the Sunday Bazaar in Peshawar and asked the concerned PDA officials at the market regarding ‘lost and found’ amount they have collected during the past three years. They told me that hundreds of cases were reported to them about lost cash, cellphones, and other items. But so far only one person has come to return a wallet containing a small amount of money.

To live an ethical life, Pakistan has probably become the least charted territory. Everyone is now thoroughly convinced that money matters and it is – and should be – the be-all and end-all of our existence. Even those who criticise materialism sometimes do things which run counter to their assertions. The boundaries between what is legitimate and illegitimate have blurred. The same can be said about the idea of social prestige – which is now increasingly determined on the basis of one’s material possessions and ostentations.

The drift into a moral abyss starts at home when parents pay scant attention to the way a child grow up and the environment in which they interact. Parenting stops at the provision of physical needs – food, healthcare, and clothing. The moral sphere remains unnoticed and neglected until its spillover effects become visible in society. More often than not, parents are unaware of how their actions profoundly affect the personality development of their kids. Being instinctively curious, children quickly pick up what is socially acceptable and what is not.

Educational institutions are no better either. The emphasis at schools is on asking students to reproduce what is written in the text without providing them an enabling environment to put things in perspective and think critically. Character building, hard work and the public good are nowhere to be seen or practised in our academic environment. The student-teacher relationship has become transactional. Under capitalism, education has become a commodity and a rewarding occupation rather than a sacred mission to be preserved and promoted at all costs.

The Japanese have not become honest overnight. After serious and planned efforts in reforming its education system, Japan now presents itself as model of economic and social development to the world. Its education ministry encourages students to undergo moral training (shushin) which requires them to cultivate good conduct through the repetitive performance of certain daily practices. Students are also exposed to moral stories or images of actions to be emulated. A memorandum for elementary education states, “To lead a person towards goodness is of greater importance than to make a person knowledgeable”. Instructors are inducted and rewarded partly on how much they act as models of virtue and discipline in their interaction with students.

In the absence of ethical conduct and a moral compass, we are tacitly sanctioning a society where corruption is condemned and practiced at the same time, where trust is reciprocated with treachery, and where hypocrisy is used as a cover for the candid admission of mistakes. We have seen the outcome of unbridled materialism and unfettered greed in our individual and collective lives. Let us respond to the call of conscience and make life worth living. Let us start living for others.

 

The writer teaches at the Sarhad
University. Email:[email protected]

 

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