close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

December 14, 2014

Malala in our mirror

Opinion

December 14, 2014

Can one achieve success without confidence? It is a tougher question than it looks. Obviously, you need to have achieved some success to be truly confident. More importantly, if you are confident, without having the tools to succeed, then your confidence may be better described as foolishness. Still, it seems difficult to conceive of the prospects for success in the absence of confidence.
Let’s make this less abstract. For several years now, because of several factors, even the most foolish and overconfident Pakistanis admit that our country is in a real spot of bother. Realist nationalists concede that our troubles are much more complex than a spot of bother, and that they represent multilayered, intergenerational crises, each one more vexing than the other. Some of the more cancerous analysis then springboards from these crises, and questions the very foundation of Pakistani state and society.
Some people blame the media for the propensity for negativity that pervades in this country. Others blame the confluence of multiple conspiracies, each more fantastic than the other, seeking to weaken the fortress of truth and power that is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Democrats tend to, quite rightly, blame the long stretches of military rule in Pakistan. Some question this as being too simplistic, correctly inquiring about the ambient levels of performance during times of relative autonomy for elected representatives. Mostly, we are looking to blame someone because the sum of challenges before us simply seems too big and complex for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on fixing it all.
Increasingly, I feel there is creeping negativity in our national discourse that transcends healthy self-criticism. This won’t stop me from articulating what I think is wrong with any number of things at any given point in time. As a citizen, taxpayers, observer, commentator, activist and agent of change, my job is to be aware of what’s broke. What worries me

is when the dominant strain of discourse among political leaders begins to mimic the dominant strain of discourse among observers and commentators.
If you take a careful look at the things that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says in his statements and speeches, there is a refreshing honesty in them. He doesn’t claim life is good in the Republic. He knows it isn’t. Or at least he seems to know this.
If you examine Kaptaan Imran Khan’s speeches, you get a really powerful dose of all that is broken in the Republic. There may be a lot of repetition and an overemphasis on the agency of individual corruption, over institutional decay, but on the whole, Khan is also quite clearly saying much the same as the prime minister: life is not great for the average Pakistani, and we all owe our country and our people, much, much better.
The media does its job, even if some find the picture it paints of Pakistan as being too negative. One of the reasons that Pakistan is really the only country in the world where you will find a negative sentiment toward Malala Yousafzai is because mirrors are dangerous things. If you don’t like what you see in a mirror, you will question the image, not the object standing before it.
What is the real solution to this ugliness? Could one solution be an acknowledgement of it? I think this is doubtless, an integral part of amelioration: to recognise and embrace our failings as reality, and to have the conviction to alter them. But I wonder if this alone will do the trick.
There are three big reasons why Pakistanis may need to invest more in a positive and hopeful narrative than the realist, but often negative one that we’ve currently adopted.
The first is that it almost feels like we’ve incentivised criticism in our public discourse. The institutional and individual incentives for standing up and counting the things that work are pretty thin when compared with the incentives for identifying the things that don’t. As healthy as it may be to constantly harp on the vast civil military divide in our country, or the desperate misogyny of the mainstream Pakistani male, do our lamentations about these realities help reconstruct them?
The second is that the negative energy in our discourse may be serving to demotivate and de-energise individual actors and agents of change –whether they are in government, in the private sector or in non-profit enterprises. For the biggest challenges in Pakistan, individual efforts will rarely be enough to turn the tide. Conversely, without the accumulation of individual efforts, there will be no turning the tide. The risk of constantly knocking ourselves for what we haven’t achieved is that we may be hurting the ambient energy of those trying to get things done. It won’t matter in individual cases, but the cumulative effects may be quite meaningful.
The third is that in a decidedly negative atmosphere, it becomes harder and harder to credibly identify and celebrate role models or examples of success. In the rare instances that we do find heroes, it is too easy either to dismiss them as being the products of conspiracy, or perhaps even worse, to dismiss them as being a rarity. There is a dangerous comfort in mediocrity and failure, and we may be flirting dangerously with that comfort.
Path dependence has been used for several decades as an analytical lens into politics and the economy. It is often the framework used to explain why reform fails, especially why grand, visionary, big-bang reform often fails. Of course, there are limits to the explanatory powers of path dependency. For one, those that suggest the alternative path of incremental reforms, and tactical agility on the part of reformists often fail to acknowledge that path dependency applies just as much to little itsy-bitsy reform as it does to macro-level reforms.
One application of path dependency, however, that may be less contentious is in the dynamic of momentum and inertia in the public discourse. Once established, the perception of something has a momentum of its own. Efforts to alter that perception run up against the powerful inertia of path dependency. It is true that no country ever made progress because citizens all began to chant that country’s glories, real and/or imagined. By the same token, it is equally true that no country was able to alter its condition purely on the strength of the collective lamentations about its state of affairs.
While acknowledging all that plagues the Republic, perhaps the prime minister could begin to relate the individual heroes and successes in Pakistani society as a powerful metaphor for the realm of what is possible.
While railing against the “fake” system he seeks to replace, perhaps Imran Khan could tell stories in his speeches of the inspirational Pakistanis (other than himself) that are helping to shape a better future, in their little ways.
In a sea of hopelessness and an environment of increasing lack of agency, individual heroes may represent a powerful means of reminding us that the past and the present are not the only informants of our future. We can do better, and to do better we must allow our paths to be lit by those that already are.
The writer is an analyst and commentator.

Topstory minus plus

Opinion minus plus

Newspost minus plus

Editorial minus plus

National minus plus

World minus plus

Sports minus plus

Business minus plus

Karachi minus plus

Lahore minus plus

Islamabad minus plus

Peshawar minus plus