The Trash Bin: Barriers to Progressive Change

My post on The Trash Bin blog. Some of things in the post, i have discussed on this blog before. Others, i have not. The title of the post was tailored by the blog editor to suit the general theme of the blog, though i personally would not limit it to Muslim countries alone, since i think it applies to third world countries in general.

Barriers to progressive change in Muslim countries

By Awais Aftab

Economic conditions of Muslim countries like Pakistan limit progressive change. For example, despite possessing a lot of modern, liberal and radical ideas, most young people of Pakistani society, and of other developing societies, are unable to bring a significant change in their own lives. This is because societies exert their control over the youth through various means; psychological and economic are two of the most conspicuous that come to my mind.

Considering the psychological part, I like to see it as a psychological debt that accumulates during the person’s upbringing. The society in which I grew up in, parents sacrifice a lot and go through a lot of pains for the education and well-being of their children; fathers work over-time at jobs, mothers cut back at their own personal expenses, and they both try to provide their children the best food, health, education and living facilities they can. However, like everything, this comes with a price.

Parents sacrifice their life for their children, and they expect that their children would do the same for them. They expect that by doing all that they have done for their children, they have earned the right to dictate how their children spend their lives. The underlying concept is that the child has to pay-back the debt that has accumulated. And if a person refuses to acknowledge this debt, or acknowledges it but still seeks independence and attempts to live his life they way he wants, he is seen as being selfish and ungrateful.

The sacrifices made by parents provide them an efficient tool of emotional blackmail to manipulate their children. Since most people happen to be close to their family members, they have to undergo a lot of psychological pressure if they desire a life of independence. The mental turmoil, and the apparent moral dilemma of choosing between family and independence is just too much for most Pakistani youth to handle. That means a lot of young people are unable to live their lives according to the liberal, modern ideas that they believe in.

As for economic dependence; youngsters heavily rely on their parents for support, even up to the age of late-twenties and early thirties. There are no adequate job opportunities for the youth, jobs that would pay enough for a person to live on his own, here in Pakistan. With economic dependence comes social dependence: young people are forced to live within the limits of the lifestyle approved by their parents, because the parents can kick them out if they don’t follow their rules. And by the time they begin to earn enough, it is too late.It’s worse for girls; after their education, they are hurriedly married off (too much economic burden for the parents?), and then they become dependent on their in-laws, and have to adapt to their lifestyle, regardless of what their own views are in the matter.

So, as long as these two methods of social control are in existence, I doubt that we will be able to see a quick change in society. Parents wouldn’t have to toil that much for their children if the economy was stable and there was no difficulty in making ends meet. If education is free or easily affordable, and cost of living isn’t that high, then parents wouldn’t be making the sacrifices they make now. And with that, the psychological debt would lessen considerably. That means lesser mental turmoil for the young and greater freedom.

With a strong economy, jobs would be easily available to youngsters and they could maintain their own expenses. Economic independence would lead to social independence, and once the youth can bring a change in their own lives, change in society won’t be far away. But with the current economic crises, hopes of a stable and stronger economy are not likely to be fulfilled anytime soon.


Mayhem said…
How very true!
Indeed, parents start to expect alot from their children but the question is, they sacrificed their lives for their kids; can't the children do the same for them?
And, it is not much the parents desire. All they want is their children to excel in academics and to get a good degree. Its not saying much, considering how much parents do for their children. Any observer can clearly see that their lives are not their own but are spent in getting the 'very best' for their children!
Awais said…
@ Mayhem

That precisely is the moral dilemma the children feel :)

I am not making any statement here about what is right or wrong. "Should children sacrifice their lives for their parents?" I do not have any answer to this question. But more importantly, i believe that in a better society, this question wouldn't arise (or would not be as significant as it is now). How free we would be if we didn't have to ask ourselves this question!
Kunwal said…
this psychological dependance doesnt have anything to do with how much the parents paid expenses on their children.

I live in a country that enables free education for all children, from kg till university (recently they started a small university fee, but even that you receive back from the state if you cant afford it).

and still you can perceive here, that the muslim (or certain other cultures) parents have expectations on their children and the children feel the psychological dependance.
and with ppl where this psychological part does not exists, the children do not even take advice of their parents (like: how dare the parents only dream about influencing in their personal life!). and this starts from very young.
The reason why it happens with us, is not the fact that parents make sooo huge sacrifice. it is the belief that parents should be respected anyway (as i demonstrated above, same behavior takes place when no huge sacrifices are involved).

so i can guarantee you, if the only reason children obey their parents their is huge sacrifices in material terms, and then this factor vanishes, then gradually (maybe after a generation or two) most of the respect of children towards parents will vanish.
does this make a better society...
Anonymous said…
I think I'd agree with your point.

@ kunwal, there's a difference between respecting one's elders and being run over by them. Of course the respect has to be there but like my case, I had to take the subjects my parents chose, I had to excel in studies because there was always the 'we're sacrificing so much for you' sword hanging over me, I wasn't allowed to go to the University I wanted to and was pushed into a place I hated just because my parents held the purse strings so I had no choice.

I think if I was financially independent, it would've changed a lot of things. They'd bother explaining things or trying to talk me around instead of just telling me what to do. It makes them treat a 22 year old like another person of intellect, not just a 'child' who doesn't know anything about what she wants in life.

I hope I've conveyed my sentiments though my comment is all over the place, :$
Kunwal said…
@missspecs: i understand your point and i also understand the perspective from which awais has written this.

i didnt want to say that i think that control to such extends is good. i do agree that improvement is needed for this society. and children should be allowed to influence the direction of their life and even make mistakes (to some extent) and learn from them.

i just meant (and this is only my opinion, no rule or fact) that on the level of society (not individual) if the only reason for obedience are psychological and financial dependance*[1] and this one factor is removed*[2], then the society will gradually move to the evil of the other extreme.
because removing these 'tools' from the parents, does not automatically mean that children suddenly become more mature or responsible.

well to sum up my previous comment and this one: my point is, removing those tools will have either no effect*[3] or lead to the other extreme.

*[1] since awais only discusses these two as problems.

*[2] as they have been removed with many families in western countries.

*[3] because there can also be other factors than discussed that compel you to act against your wish and obey your parents, like selflessness, care for parents, piety, habit, social acceptance, etc.
Shade said…
An insightful article, and an issue that needs to be highlighted more. I've only seen a few mentions of this moral dilemma in newspapers and magazines. As far as the sacrifice part goes, no doubt the amount of money spent varies from country to country but one thing remains the same: the love, attention and time spent on their children by parents.
I've had to face this issue myself at times but fortunately my parents are very understanding and put very little pressure on my choices. But I think that parents cannot force their children to repay the perceived 'debt', that sort of thing can only be given willingly or not at all.
Abdul Sami said…
i hav read this before as well.. didn u post this or somthin very similiar somtime back ???
Awais said…
@ Kunwal

Why does it have to either no effect or other extreme... why not something intermediate? Yes, there are other factors like respect for parents and social acceptance, and they can be significant, but over-all i think they would not be as significant as the two i mentioned. So parents would have some hold over their children, but not enough to completely over-ride their own wishes and plans.

@ Abdul Sami

Yes, as i mentioned, some parts of the post are very similar to a post that i had made sometime back on this blog.
Kunwal said…
awais think about it. what you say applies to your generation.

what will happen with the generation of your children and the one of your grandchildren? those children who grow up with this freedom taking it for granted? i think it will go to the other extreme. i do not mean the other end of the scale, but certainly more than intermediate as you suggest.

either that, or there are other (strong) factors (social acceptance, etc) because of which the behavior will not change much from the current one.

and i m talking about majority of ppl in a society, not individuals who deviate.

of course i do not have the knowledge to say how a society will form if this and that condition was changed.

but i m saying that because i live in a society where everyone grows up with those freedoms (more freedom with each generation). and watching the different generations,before and have been coming, clearly shows me the tendency i mentioned and it becomes more extreme with each generation.

anyway, we all assume. if we want to know what would really happen in the society, those changes have to take place first. :)