Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Where, oh, where . . . .?

The motivation for penning down today’s column came from an incident that might turn out to be a routine matter for Lahoreans. It has conversely moved me to the extent that I have started believing that I inhabit with a flock of animals. Today, our need for self-preservation and material gain has taken precedence over concern for society and the community.

One day around noontime in sweltering heat an ill-fated father, carrying on his back a 7-8 year old son with physical disability while waiting at the bus stop in Lahore, gesticulated a bus to stop. Disregarding even the bus stop where the bus was obligatory to stopover kept on moving, thus depriving a needy innocent person his rights as a special child.

As father of a son of just about the same age group, I developed an emotional affinity with that luckless youngster but the gravel heart society seems to be lacking the capacity to think with compassion. I have lived more than 23 years in a culture where persons with disabilities are regarded as a social responsibility and where in a similar situation not just the bus would have stopped and knelt down to facilitate access but also the whole traffic would have become motionless. Alas! This incident caused me a few tossing and turning nights wondering where, oh, where have our values gone?

Many of us are unable to see beyond our own persona. We feel bad only when we receive indifference. This happens because we fail to see the same 'self' in others that has the same needs, expectations and rights. If only we could perceive the big plan of the cosmic mind that interconnects all living beings, we would learn that when we give, we give to ourselves and when we receive happiness from others, we receive it from ourselves. The greatest paradox of life is that when we hold on to life for ourselves, we inevitably lose it, but when we decide to use it for 'giving', we recuperate it.

Indeed, the erosion of values is one of the major concerns of today's society. It is probably due to the increasing stress, fast-paced life, keen competition and overvaulting ambition to achieve too much in too little time. It has made today's man seemingly less principled than our ancestors. This explains, but does not excuse us of responsibility for the widespread decline in values.

Implicitly and explicitly, in a society of humans the real asset of a nation is not its natural resources, but people with right values. Just as it is futile to fill a leaking bucket, it is futile to think of economic reforms and progress without linking up ourselves with our lost values. In Pakistan what we need first and foremost are the solutions that can be utilized on a wide scale and on a long-term basis for reestablishing moral values.

The fabric of society is held together by the standards of morality that we maintain and practice. Values are our personal set of beliefs about what is important, unimportant, right, wrong, good and bad. In other words, values are a kind of map in our minds of how things are or should be. Just as a map is not the territory, values are only our perception of the principles of nature that govern our lives or the universe, not the principles themselves.

Throughout history, this world has seen individuals, families, societies and nations dying for want of values that sustain life—almost with the same certainty with which a plant dies for want of water. We can choose our values in harmony with the laws of the universe or to challenge them. Laws are fixed, so are the consequences of breaking them. We cannot break the laws of the universe; we can only break ourselves against them.

The greatest tragedy of the modern world is that it has given us enough to live with but nothing to live for. Today, our purpose of life has become hazy. Existence has become more important than living. People today do not ask themselves what they feel concerned about and what they would like to dedicate their lives to; they ask which field has better 'scope'. They seek to take decisions on the basis of what lies in the external world, instead of being driven from within. But unless we find a cause to live for, we are not fit to live.

Most homes do not have a value-giver today. Homes have turned into mere houses where family members come to eat, watch TV and sleep. Values are inculcated by the parents, who nowadays shrug off their responsibility. Usually the whole family sits before the TV till bedtime. Where are the values going to come from?

An unpleasant, argumentative environment at home and unresponsive, unsympathetic and ignorant teachers, who cannot act as role models, are the principal reasons for decline of values.

Our school textbooks talk irrelevant things rather than the lives of people with exemplary values. The students look for role models from the contemporary world, as they can relate to them. The media also underplays reports of exemplary people as it assumes that good deeds are uninteresting, hence not for sale.

The main challenges that we face in the 21st century provide viable alternative solutions that can be implemented, and share examples of what millions of people around the world are already doing. I am convinced that people can be transformed, irrespective of their age and conditioning. All that is required is to make them trust the light within and see the need to remove all that keeps our real light from shining forth. A world committed to ecological sustainability would create a new vision of progress that recognizes the future of humanity dependent on our ability to live with compassion for fellow citizens and thus balance with our natural world. (