CIVIC SENSE

What is civic sense? Do Pakistanis have/lack civil sense? Why do Pakistanis lack civic sense? What is needed for promoting civic sense?

By Tahir Ali

The writer is an academic who blogs at www.tahirkatlang.wordpress.com and can be reached at tahir_katlang@yahoo.com

 

While being interviewed by a panel at the Federal Public Service Commission, I was, inter alia, asked these questions, “What do you understand by the term civic-sense? What are the causes of lack of civic sense in Pakistan and what are your suggestions for ensuring widespread civic sense in Pakistan?

I answered the questions and the subsequent counter questions put by the interviewers in detail.  I had then resolved to write a comprehensive article on the issue but the idea could not materialise for my pressing engagements. It might have delayed it further but an interaction with one of my friends last week pushed me to go for it.

Last week, the friend Islam Ghani visited me and in the course of our discussion, he told me. “Every day when I leave home for my office, I see the drainage system blocked by polythene bags/garbage because one of my neighbours is in the habit of sweeping out all his garbage into the drain. I often clean the drain myself. The person and his children usually see me doing that. I request them to be sensitive to the neighbours but to no effect. And last week, the person had this to tell me: “I have done that. Do what you want/can. Do you think my garbage was to lie in my house? Why don’t you approach the municipal workers to come and clean the mess instead of becoming sweeper yourself or asking me to?” says Islam Ghani.

Throwing out your garbage this way and the subsequent response by the guilty speaks a lot of our public morality and an acute lack of civic sense in our society, he adds.

WHAT IS CIVIC SENSE?

The word ‘Civic’ means of or related to a city or people who live there or the duties and responsibilities of citizens, and the word ‘Sense’ means sound practical judgement or awareness about something. The term, therefore, literally means an understanding of the way how people should live and behave in a society.

Civic sense is a consideration for the norms of society. It includes respect for the law and for the ease and feelings of others and maintaining etiquettes while dealing and interacting with others. For example, if we visit someone’s house, ethics demand that we knock at the door, ask for permission to go inside or that we avoid visiting someone at the time of meals or at bed/rest time.

It means we respect and help others, avoid spitting on roads, streets and public places, avoid listening to loud music, refrain from blowing pressure horns, adhere to traffic rules, obey laws, park vehicles at nominated places, avoid wall chalking, ensure economical use of the natural resources and public facilities, help reduce leakage/wastage/misuse of gas/water/electricity, pay taxes and utility bills, wait for our turn, be tolerant towards opposing views, respect minorities and ensure religious harmony and devote ourselves to welfare/community services.

One is considered to have Civic Sense if he is caring and sensitive towards the elderly, women, children, disabled persons, the poor, the needy, neighbours, companions, subordinates, officers, public and private property, the environment, the animals, natural resources, or in short is behaving better with everyone and everything everywhere. It is about keeping lane while driving, desisting from rash driving or from driving while not in senses, throwing garbage but in a dustbin or designated places and avoiding smoking at public transport/places.

DO PAKISTANIS HAVE or LACK CIVIC SENSE?

Pakistan has been abundantly bestowed with natural resources. It has a highly fertile land. It has plenty of water. Its people are very intelligent and hard-working who have proved their worth and competence in every corner of the world. But the lack of civic sense is tarnishing our image as a respectable nation in the comity of nations and making the country an inhospitable place for both humans and animals. Instead of utilising the abundant natural and physical resources with care, these are being destroyed/wasted with impunity.

Good manners are exceptionally important in life and at the workplace. Unfortunately, most Pakistanis lack civil sense. They generally spit here and there, throw litters on and dirty the roads/public parks/platforms, disturb others by playing high-pitched music; we don’t care for others; we freely tease and harm others if we can escape getting caught/punished; we want to please our Lord by doing Naat-Khaani on loudspeakers even if it does adds to the woes of the neighbours or the sick; we waste natural resources with impunity and do not pay the utility bills; we violate laws, especially the traffic rules; we drive recklessly–one-wheeling on motorbikes is frequently seen; we write advertisements/graffiti on walls especially those of the toilets; we give bribes; we smoke in public places/vehicles; we ridicule the poor; we are intolerant towards others; and suspect and abuse others for nothing; hardly a few amongst us have the courtesy to offer their seat to a woman or an old person in public transport; the heaps of garbage in public parks, sea views, lakes and gardens, waste of food in functions and profuse use of polythene bags in our society display how acutely we lack civic sense. The polythene bags are not only creating health hazards but have the potential to disturb life in cities and destroy agriculture by blocking the sewerage and irrigation systems.

The scourges of extremism and terrorism are extreme manifestations of this lack of civic sense. Extremism has been resulted by the lack of due regard and tolerance for opponents and opposing ideologies. And terrorism is the result of a callous and ruthless mindset which divides the world between “us and them” and where there right of security of life and property is available only to ‘us’ while death is reserved for ‘them’, the opponents. Obviously, a man having civic sense –or regard for the life, honour, peace, happiness and ease of others- can neither be an extremist nor terrorism.

We often see people parking their vehicles in front of ‘No Parking’ signboards and at the footpaths. Materialism, terrorism, sectarianism, extremism, intolerance, racism, mud- slinging and quarrelling on petty issues, a mad race to excel others in money and prestige and disregard for the rule of law are both causes and manifestations of this lack of civic sense. Instead of listening carefully and respectfully to what others say, most of us resort to taunting and vandalism. As a nation, it seems, we are ruled more by our emotions than mind.

We claim having a strong culture of discipline and decency but then our people forget everything when it comes to eating and swarm the food in festivals and programmes.

WHY DO PAKISTANIS LACK CIVIC SENSE?

The familiar stereotyped perception is that the illiterate and the poor have no civic sense but it is erroneous to associate the lack of civic sense to wealth or poverty as the rich and the mighty also display lack of civic sense. For example, they delay flights with complete disregard for other passengers.

Lack of civic sense could be either due to lack of education and awareness. It could also be resulted by the lack of sensitivity and disregard for one’s obligations either for sheer arrogance or for the fact that there is monitoring/accountability structure in a given society that is required for forcing compliance to law. It is rightly said that people who have no sense of duties also have no civic sense and they usually violate not only laws but ethical obligations as well.

Then, we Pakistanis are always in a hurry so lining up and waiting for one’s turn is rarely seen. Again, materialism is fuelling the mad race for self-aggrandisement and account for the vices of corruption, nepotism, favouritism and other malpractices in government departments and private/public dealings.

Many dream of bringing change in Pakistan. But hardly a few are ready to change themselves. We want to bring change but only by criticising/correcting others. We are least prepared for introspection and self-reformation. The basic principle –that we cannot bring change unless we change ourselves, our attitudes and our mindsets –is generally forgotten

There is a memorable quote that best describes our style of religiosity. It read: “Pakistan is facing problems because everyone here wants a hearty share from the temporal bounties for himself/herself but is worried for the life-hereafter of others”.

The media, the intelligentsia and the education curricula could have been more helpful in bringing home the importance of civic sense. It has, unfortunately, been neglected thus far.

WHAT IS NEEDED FOR PROMOTING CIVIC SENSE?

NOT GOVERNMENT ALONE?

All responsibilities and tasks should not be left to government. Citizens need to perform their due role in each walk of life. We will have to shun the mentality that we have the right to throw garbage and spit anywhere and that it is the government’s duty to clean it.

INTROSPECTION AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT

For things to change, we must change. For things to get better, we must get better. We need to change ourselves first if we want change, reform and improved services. Setting a good example is better than teaching/preaching others what to do and what not to do. The Quran also declares: “Do you ask others to do the right things and forget about yourself?”

EMPATHY

We must be empathic. Empathy is trying to feel what somebody else is feeling or look at something through someone else’s eyes so as to understand, help and console him/her if needed. We should always have capacity and penchant to put ourselves in other place and think what would I have felt if this and that had been done to me. We need to be more civilized and caring for others. He/she must respect and facilitate others at home, schools, offices, hospitals, parks, transport and thoroughfares and in dealings, interactions, engagements and functions.

RIGHTS IMPLY DUTIES

It must never be forgotten that rights imply duties. Our rights are duties for others and others’ rights are duties for us. If we have a right to good, clean and peaceful environment, resources, security of life and property, and to be treated respectfully, these rights also imply duties on our part towards others. We must remember that every citizen has the right to enjoy civic amenities like drinking water, electricity, transport facilities etc. It is the duty of every citizen to use these civic amenities properly/carefully and pay the bills and other taxes imposed by the government so that welfare –development and repair/maintenance expenditures of public facilities –could be financed.

CONCERTED EFFORTS BY DIFFERENT STAKEHOLDERS

Different stakeholders –government, law enforcement agencies, media, religious scholars, civil society, professionals, the intelligentsia, and all others –should be involved and need to play their roles in promoting civic sense among the people.

ADVOCACY/ AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS

There is a great need to educate/motivate people, organize training sessions, and run advocacy campaigns. There print and electronic media, the ulema, the civil society and the intelligentsia should spread more awareness on the demands of urbanisation, social ethics and conservation of natural resources and our duties as predecessors to our successors –the next generations.

INCORPORATING CIVIC SENSE IN TEXTBOOKS

Government should include reading material regarding civic sense in textbooks. By educating the youngsters in schools through textbooks, pictures and videos on civic sense, we will not only be making him a better human being but also help rebuilding the country.

PICTURES AND VIDEOS ON CIVIC SENSE

Media could promote civic sense by telecasting/broadcasting short clips about positive and negative behaviours. There are quite a lot of useful and impressive videos already available on the internet on civic sense. In one of them, a person spit in front of neighbour’s door. The neighbour cleans it daily and smiles back whenever the guilty one passes by. At last, the guilty person repents and gives up the bad habit. In another, four youngsters dirty a wall. Usually, passersby warn and try to beat the boys and they disappear but reappear soon to start dirtying the wall again. This practice goes on until a boy with civic sense appears. He brings water and duster to cleanse the wall dirtied by the boys. He is soon joined by many passersby in his effort. At last, the trouble-makers too come and help wash/cleanse the wall.

COMPETITIONS ON CIVIC SENSE BETWEEN PERSONS, TOWNS, CITIES

The government and civil society should announce competitions on different aspects of civic sense like cleanliness, courtesy, humility, cooperation, following the law, paying taxes, helping the needy, caring for others, respecting others, tolerance, awareness and sensitivity to others’ rights, sense of duty and service to humanity etc. These competitions could be used to ascertain and reward the person with the best civic sense in offices, departments, institutions, localities. Similarly, this competition could be used to determine the best cities, villages, wards, Union councils, tehsils and districts on any of the above aspects.

BAN ON POLYTHENE BAGS

As regards the abundant use of polythene bags, the government should prohibit the carrying of daily items in plastic bags. The ban is already there but it needs to be implemented.

BAN ON ONE-WHEELING

One-wheeling has resulted in countless tragedies but it, nevertheless, continues. It is not only insensitivity for one’s own but also for others’ lives. Merry-making at the cost of human lives cannot be tolerated.

ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISM

Government should announce that the shopkeepers and residents of a particular locality would have to dump their garbage at identified points only. It must also ensure that if someone is not throwing garbage in its proper place, he/she will have to pay a specific fine. The administration should bring to book the culprits destroying the natural resources and playing havoc with the lives and peace in society.

 

 

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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