We all talk of change, yet few are willing to practically bring it about. It is not about huge sacrifices or backbreaking hard work, it is not even about monetary donations or exhausting social work, sometimes the one thing that lights up someone’s otherwise dismal day or gives them a moment’s reprieve from their punishing schedule is a small gesture of consideration, seemingly insignificant courtesies which, if nothing else, bring a smile on a tired, frustrated face. So, why is it that we have become so stingy in giving out what costs us so little?

A friend, who belongs to the religious rightwing mindset, recently went abroad for a trip and was surprised to find out that, what to her were specifically Islamic practices were the norm abroad. People on the street would greet each other with a smile irrespective of whether they knew them or not, they would wait patiently in line for their turn without supervision, and giving way to other drivers in a traffic jam willingly was just as frequent as traffic jams themselves, right down to the way parents supervised their children on the playground was consistent with the Prophet’s sunnah, according to her. Although I don’t attribute this behaviour as the sole by-product of Islam and know that all religions teach human beings to be kind, considerate and fair, I am at a loss as to why such a dearth of these traits exists in our society.

People are, after all, simply people. When confronted with the struggle for survival, for the basic necessities in life, I realise that elevated thoughts are not foremost in our considerations, yet if we become mindful of small courtesies, perhaps, a small ripple of positive change will start from us and spread outwards influencing one or two or maybe many other individuals to follow suit. Simple things like saying please and thank you to all that assist you in any way whether as domestic help, as waiters in a restaurant, as mechanics in a tire shop, as subordinates in your office; acknowledging their effort will only encourage them and inspire them to be considerate to others in turn, dimming your headlights when there is oncoming traffic, not allowing yourself or your children to litter, not honking your horn at the car in front of you the second the signal turns green, giving way to others, holding the door open for the person who is directly behind you, buying the traffic sergeant at the intersection doing his duty under the scorching sun a cold bottle of water, the list is endless if only we adopt a lifestyle where we are patient by choice and not by nature, considerate by habit and not by force, the difference such small courtesies can make is immeasurable.

Our biggest asset and our future are our children and from birth we influence how they think, how they behave. If you scream at your kids, the most forceful message that you are conveying is that screaming is all right when angry or frustrated, when you litter you are destroying an important sense of civic duty in them, the way you treat others is reflected in how your children do and will treat others, the way you speak will surface in your child’s speech, their sense of moral values is a direct manifestation of their perception of their parents value system, yet despite insisting on all right values verbally we forget that actions speak louder than words. It is no wonder, therefore, that countless incidents have recently surfaced where children of parents in influential positions in our society have behaved in way which is not only atrociously cruel, but disgustingly arrogant making one itch to slap some sense into the miscreant. The way mere kids can become thoughtless and tyrannical, drunk on power not even directly theirs is a clear indication of the value system they are exposed to at home. I am sure no parent actually wants such behaviour in their child; behaviour which necessitates the extension of an apology becoming a point of public ridicule or disgust.

The biggest deterrent over time to consistent good manners is the perception that good guys finish last. Despite wanting to denounce this statement whole-heartedly, I am reminded forcefully of how ruthless the world can get and how being nice can easily be mistaken for being weak. The fact is that if, for example, you are considerate enough to give way to other drivers you might just end up stranded in the same spot for hours simply because no one else will extend you the same courtesy, the answer to this is not easy or absolute, in fact, it’s based more on hope and faith in the goodness of others than on anything more concrete. Yet, if no one takes the first step, how can we possibly aspire to achieve a change in others? For me, this starting point is enough to consciously try and be a better human being, a better citizen, a better Pakistani. If we become better role models for our children to emulate, perhaps, it won’t be unrealistic to hope for a more responsible society to emerge in not too distant a future. What have we got to lose, if nothing else our children will grow up to be kinder, more considerate, more responsible individuals; qualities all parents can be proud of!

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.

    Email: markazeyaqeen@gmail.com