The perspective on one’s society can be best scrutinized and its flaws identified, from the exterior. Whilst family values and traditions play a significant part in our upbringing, our behaviorism to a large extent is dictated by the norms held within the immediate environment- those which we are exposed to at school, at the workplace, in our communities and from institutions that we engage with.
In Pakistan, there is a large cross section of the privileged class studying abroad and an increasing number of our population that is migrating overseas every day. Changing countries can pose a significant challenge to one’s modus vivendi. Living under different social structures, laws and values can have a considerable effect on the way we choose to behave, communicate and treat others. However what is most significant about this change in social space is the effect it can have on our mindset and general approach to life. The influence of various pressures which we may not have come across before can challenge the norms adopted from a young age and thus influence the way we respond to situations.
As a Pakistani who has grown up in Australia from the tender age of 8 and who regularly visits the home country, I regard myself as a product of two very different systems where my position and opportunity in each society varies considerably- a variation that has provided me with the perspective to reflect on the other. This can be largely explained by the influence of the welfare state. Whilst Australia can be regarded as a welfare state that attempts to eradicate inequality and class divisions, Pakistan does not.
In Pakistan I form part of the privileged class which has access to one of the best (if not the best) systems of education in the country. My lifestyle has been reasonably lavish where I have enjoyed the luxury of house help making my bed, cooking my meals and driving me around. That being said, there have also always been high academic expectations so that entry into a respectable university and career is achieved. I would characterize this approach as a general trend within the middle-upper income, educated class. However, with only a small cross section of society being educated enough to form the professional base within Pakistan, harsh class divisions’ persist. Furthermore there is little scope for merit in the job market which runs predominantly through personal contacts. This ensures that the rich can easily gain entry into and maintain his position in the work place regardless of competence.
He/she who has been educated within our society has greater respect and value than others who have not had the same opportunity. This in turn creates certain inferiority complexes and subservience becomes a norm. Such perspectives about one’s position within society can often have adverse effects on the way we treat the law and on our general disposition. For example, impatience and intolerance are commonly displayed during shopping where an affluent customer will snap at the store owner to ‘hurry up’.
Let’s compare this to the Australian welfare system where little class division leads to relative equality. Every person in the state (regardless of background) has access to public education system, health system and other basic necessities. Above all, the system champions opportunity and meritocracy. Growing up under this system for 12 years has posed many challenges to what I previously regarded as standard behavior and general principles. With many of my friends coming from lower income backgrounds or being ‘greenies’ who prefer to shop at second hand shops, support animal rights and keeping the environment green, I have overtime come to embrace a similar set of values. Essentially, I have settled for a different norm. Perhaps it has also been due to moving to a different society where an immigrant is (initially at least) categorized as an ‘underdog’. No longer have I been able to assume my role within society or settle for a comfortable life that is determined solely by the accident of birth, but have instead had to work to adapt to it, and excel within it. I quickly discovered that qualities such as humility, patience, hard work and fair play are needed.
Now when I return to Pakistan with this changed mindset I am constantly exasperated by the segregation between the house help and ‘us’ and the way we are referred to as ‘sir’ and ‘madam’. Instead of embracing my position of authority, I feel guilty for being so privileged and worry about whether they view me as spoilt. It is indeed demoralising that so much of the underprivileged class will never be able to fulfill their potential nor be appreciated for their skills. However I am most bothered by the fact that one evening wedding dress costs (more than) the house help’s entire month’s salary. Whilst much of the middle-upper income households in Pakistan do form the professional base within the country and contribute a fair amount to the economy and society, the level of apathy towards the poor man is still abhorrent. Proof of this lies in the way we host lavish weddings, indulge in excessive decorations and clothing and drive expensive cars. All in the backdrop of stark, dire poverty.
Moving beyond the class specific issues, over the years I have also become increasingly sensitive to the absolute violation of road rules, the commonality of ammunition, brutal treatment of animals and disregard for nature, not to mention the heap of garbage in the streets. Most of all I find the increasingly prevalent culture of parochialism and provincialism unbearable.
Perhaps I would have noticed all these issues with education and age regardless of whether I had left the country. However whilst the education system does well to teach us about different contexts, standards of living and systems of progressing, such theoretical knowledge does not necessarily translate into action. Constant exposure to surrounding values has a significant effect on how immune we become to them, and with immunity the inspiration to act and the will to change, gradually diminishes.
And with this I come to my final worrying thought- what about the next generation which grows up in such a hazardous environment? I feel as though this is inevitable. After all, how can 180 million people step out of Pakistan to realize what the country has become?