Politeness Is Fading From Our Polity

Politeness Is Fading From Our Polity
“Treat everyone with politeness and kindness, not because they are nice, but because you are”—Roy T. Bennett (The Light in the Heart)

The generation that was born prior to the 1980s is well aware of Aesop’s Fables, having read the stories while growing up. Any child today would appear blank at the mention of this name that belonged to a Greek story-teller born circa 620 BCE, long before Alexander the Great.

Today, hardly anyone talks about him but many of his quotes, philosophical adages and morals are still applicable. Some of the examples of his sayings show how humans should look at life, conduct themselves and improve their characters. For instance,

“Those who achieve notoriety often mistake it for fame.”

“The smaller the mind the greater the conceit.”

“Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth.”

“It is vain to expect our prayers to be heard, if we do not strive as well as pray.”

“Those who practice deceit must expect to be shunned.”

These and a lot more quotes can be used to write volumes about philosophy and human psychology, but one his touching tales is that of “The North Wind & the Sun” where the moral is that gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.

The North Wind and the Sun had a quarrel about which of them was the stronger. While they were disputing with much heat and bluster, a Traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.

“Let us agree”, said the Sun, “that he is the stronger who can strip that Traveler of his cloak”.

“Very well”, growled the North Wind, and at once sent a cold, howling blast against the Traveler.

With the first gust of wind the ends of the cloak whipped about the Traveler's body. But he immediately wrapped it closely around him, and the harder the Wind blew, the tighter he held it to him. The North Wind tore angrily at the cloak, but all his efforts were in vain.

Then the Sun began to shine. At first his beams were gentle, and in the pleasant warmth after the bitter cold of the North Wind, the Traveler unfastened his cloak and let it hang loosely from his shoulders. The Sun's rays grew warmer and warmer. The man took off his cap and mopped his brow. At last, he became so heated that he pulled off his cloak, and, to escape the blazing sunshine, threw himself down in the welcome shade of a tree by the roadside.

In the current political and social environment of our country, politeness is fast losing ground. Consequently, we come across instances of rude behaviour in public and private interactions daily; electronic media being most prominent. At one point in time, parents would take their children to the movies that had some moral substance. Censorship was not just restricted to obscenity, but language too. Good was usually victorious, while evil got punished but today, the tables have turned. Despite acute checks by regulatory authorities, whose diligence filters out much undesirable substance but even the remainder, many a times still becomes questionable. Of course, live public speaking is without controls that can be recorded and later deleted, but its effects leave long lasting impression on the minds of the audience. Simply put, the style and language of politicians and public speakers are like teachers addressing students with varying degrees of intelligence, understanding and mindsets. Every word they utter falls like a raindrop on the earth—if on an oyster, a pearl can emerge, on dry ground, foliage can spring forth but if on filth, it can only give out stench.

Unfortunately, the prevailing climate of insensitivity towards adversaries is preventing the formation of a congenial atmosphere. The symbolic cold wind has grappled us in its clutches. The stormy weather of harsh words, thundering clouds of threat, violence in dealing with protestors and lightning reactions to opposition are all reflective of what Leon Trotsky said: “Abusive language and swearing are a legacy of slavery, humiliation, and disrespect for human dignity, one’s own and that of other people.” People are getting impatient, life for some is now equivalent to death, there appears no respite for those who were unluckily born in poverty and the nation is on a headway to collapse amid all this furor.

Warnings of the wise are falling on deaf ears, sanity seems to have hidden itself from the encapsulating egoistic madness for power, dominance, fascism that was never dreamt of by the founding fathers. Nelson Mandela was not wrong when he opined: “In countries where innocent people are dying, the leaders are following their blood rather than their brains.”

Notwithstanding this bleakness, we are hopeful that the weather will change, giving way to warm and glowing sunshine, harbinger of good times to come. Perhaps this could be the storm before the lull, before the desperate people of this country eventually find solace and justice, peace and serenity, and freedom from the cruel hold of selfish, inward looking and merciless authorities. All is possible but not before we realize that everything we are suffering right now is the result of our own doings.

One can only combat one’s ills only when we identify their roots, which are constantly being publicized through writings, through words, through researches by those who are truly concerned. There is a general acceptance of faults but practical efforts are yet to be seen. After all is said and done, more is said than done.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)