Reinvent Bangladesh on age-old wisdom
War-time British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill 'mobilised the English language and sent it into battle', so said American journalist Ed Murrow. Churchill in a major address to the House of Commons quoted Alexander the Great as saying, "Why the Asians were slaves? It is because they have not learnt to say 'no'."
Adding, Churchill said, 'I don't want that epitaph for Britain.' He was inspiring the Britons to stand up to the tyrannical Hitlerite blitzkrieg on London at an extremely crucial phase of World War II. Although Alexander's remark was demeaning to Asia, going back to around 300 B.C when the native rulers were quarrelsome, the Asians were to give a much better account of themselves as history bore out subsequently.
But politicians in Bangladesh have not just learnt to say 'no' but also chant it with religious regularity as though singing a hymn under the magnetic mentoring of some superior being. No distinction between major and minor issues or right and wrong, just react negatively to your opponent's viewpoint even if it merits consideration.
English poet Rudyard Kipling has words of wisdom for us. Said he, 'To treat a disaster as a triumph is akin to having achieved a triumph itself, whilst a triumph may become a disaster if it is achieved through morally questionable means, or should it give rise to arrogance.' So he implores, 'If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same you will never have to experience the misfortune of disappointment again.' He successfully demonstrates that 'the outcomes of situations are entirely dependent on their interpretations.'
Kipling's words had been used by Churchill in the context of wartime Britain. But how true they ring about Bangladesh! They find an instant resonance in our current political situation, gems popping out from a less hoary past than in the case of Alexander the Great.
That said, we turn to the Positive Experience Index prepared by US-based research firm Gallup in 2014 termed Bangladesh as the third most depressing country in the world. Emotions of nationals belonging to 143 countries were measured to reach such a conclusion for Bangladesh. The questions had to do with cataloguing the feel good factors, such as "Did you feel well-rested? Did you feel respected all day? Did you smile or laugh a lot?"
Compared with 19th position from the bottom in 2013 report, we have dropped off to the third most depressing country of the world in a matter of a year. Given the burning and blood-spilling orgies that accompanied unrelenting blockade and hartal, giving a licence to kill, you have the horror-stricken faces and tearful grieving families zooming in on you. How can they feel 'rested', far less 'respected' or be cheerful in such dire circumstances?
But the Happy Planet Index (HPI) 2012 compiled by New Economics Foundation (NEF) placed Bangladesh at 11th in the overall prosperity ranking among 151 countries. HPI took into account life expectancy, experienced well-being and ecological footprint (per capita) of the countries surveyed.
In two years, our happiness ranking has dropped quite drastically to the third from the bottom. But at one point in time Bangladesh was regarded as the most happy country because of people's simple expectations from life.
While the range of aspiration has soared the elasticity of satiety has shrunk.
There may be questions about the probing effectiveness of the criteria and thrust areas of evaluation of the relative positions of the countries surveyed, even perhaps room for perfection. All the same, such rankings alert a country to the variability of its status from time to time thereby helping it to flesh out on the bones wherever required.
One final point. We work ourselves into desperate situations and then either band-aid a wound or clutch at straws like Khaleda and Hasina making Eid wishes to each other or Hasina offering condolences at Koko's death or indeed the potential olive branch sneaking out of the forthcoming DCC polls. Some showmanship or one-upmanship would be attempted without making any serious bid to build confidence into the political atmosphere, a fundamental prerequisite for untying the longstanding Gordian knot.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star. E-mail: [email protected]