How many times have you heard our politicians and media personalities tell us we are a baasha’oor qaum?
Are we, really? How wonderfully heartwarming if that really is so!
But what if that is not the case? Remember, the shopworn (but surprisingly effective) stratagem of flattering the listener is the stock-in-trade of those who seek our attention and approval for their own ends.
Fostering and encouraging a capacity for self-deception is not my idea of human resource development. However, before I come to discussing this not unimportant matter, a few preliminary observations may be in order.
For a start, I am as aware as the next person that broad generalisations (and its more pernicious offshoot, stereotyping) are not usually a solid foundation for good arguments. Still, would it be wrong to say, for example, that the Americans are brash, the Germans and Swiss economically prudent, the Japanese disciplined, the Chinese polite, and Mediterranean people somewhat temperamental? Culture does leave its subtle but indelible stamp. The question posed by the title may not therefore be entirely meaningless.
Secondly, some would argue that, regardless, no ostensible harm is done if we are fed a regular diet of such little white lies. After all, any artifice that helps boost the self-confidence of a people already under enormous strain from a myriad challenges, serves a useful purpose. For, does self-confidence not provide the essential energy and mental strength for the successful tackling of difficult problems?
But this is naïve and simplistic thinking at its worst. Hosla Afzaee (encouragement) facing daunting odds is one thing; promoting a completely false and unjustified sense of self-confidence quite another. The latter mindset — not dissimilar to that of those convinced they are God’s chosen people, or men of destiny — usually invites disaster through overreach. If you are special the normal rules of business are a nuisance that do not apply to you.
My own view is that the better option usually must be to encourage everyone to make a sober and realistic appraisal of their strengths and shortcomings. If the resulting picture not be a rosy one, so be it. I believe people are, by and large, far more mentally resilient than we give them credit for, and neither need such an assessment be demoralising. Moreover, a clear understanding of the true and factual state of affairs is the best starting point for the possibly difficult and arduous journey that lies ahead.
In any case, we are not a people that lack confidence. That vital human quality we possess in some abundance. Indeed, sometimes I think we have a surfeit of it. And, though overconfidence is much to be preferred over timidity, in combination with certain other traits it can be a lethal cocktail.
Cutting this long and rambling preamble short, I will come to the point. Whether we are a baasha’oor people or not, I am not sure; probably we are not, given some evidence staring us in the face. Here is a sample.
We regularly elect (and re-elect) all sorts of dubious characters as our representatives in legislatures and on committees. From swallowing conspiracy theories to being taken in by sundry quacks and charlatans we display a startling amount of gullibility. And then think of some of our media personalities who command a vast and devoted public following.
There is the TV personality who was the anchor of a well-known programme given to dispensing religious homilies. The fact that he was exposed both as a man publicly inciting criminal hatred against a religious minority sect, and falsely employing the title ‘Doctor’ because his PhD degree is bogus, seems to count for nothing with both his current employer and the general public.
And will the sensational revelations doing the rounds these days concerning the alleged reprehensible conduct of another leading TV anchor lead anywhere? Here is my guess: after some suitable huffing and puffing, life will go on pretty much as before.
One other thing is worth noting. The gentleman in question has umpteen times in the past proclaimed that the only honourable course of action for those against whom there are serious allegations is to resign their position and first clear their name. Do you think he is up to applying that principle to himself?
Consider next the inimitable Dr D & G (no, not ‘Dolce & Gabbana’ but ‘Doom & Gloom’), the great political, intellectual analyst with his own unique brand of Islamic moral and social fervour that resonates instantly with our psyche. For the past one year he has done little else than target the president and regularly predict his imminent departure. Alas! Much to his chagrin (for how could he and his like-minded panellists possibly have got it so wrong so often?) Mr Zardari does not appear to be going anywhere.
So what does he do? A few weeks ago he gets instead a couple of astrologers and a tarot card reader on his panel to do the predicting! I watched aghast at this new form of political analysis. For the record, here are three of those gems: the president is finished (groan; not again!!) in a few months; the ANP will be out of power by October; and a new government will be in place within the year.
What I found particularly amusing was that after taking such practitioners of Ilm-al-Ghaib seriously throughout, Dr D & G ended the programme by proclaiming that of course our faith explicitly states that only God knows what the future holds! Indeed? If so, then why bother with such a charade?
But enough of this line of inquiry, because I am going to change tack. For, in thinking about the original question, I have come to the conclusion that this matter is not really worth losing any sleep over. There is something more serious we should worry about: the mindset that combines overconfidence with self-righteousness. We are not a people who entertain the idea that we could possibly be wrong. We always know; we are always right; and we also know the only way forward.
Look around. Is the bigotry, intolerance and brazenness you see all around you not a reflection of just such a mindset? Sure, our society is not unique in this. The difference is that elsewhere such elements are on the fringes. Here they are mainstream.
As a people we would do well to remember Talleyrand’s famous bit of advice to his diplomats: “Surtout, pas trop de zèle” (above all, not too much zeal).
The writer is a businessman. A selection of his columns is now available in book form. Visit munirattaullah.com