Every morning I like to pursue world news while having my breakfast. I either read the newspaper or just scroll through headlines on my smartphone while sipping my hot mug of tea.
But recently this activity has started making me feel depressed. Whether you read about Kashmir or Palestine, Yemen or Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, mass murders or genocide, shootings or knife-stabbing incidents, one is bound to feel depressed about colossal loss of life and suffering of people dying of war, violence, disease, hunger or natural disasters in various parts of the world.
But this is not all. I have noticed that there is a huge gulf in the type of news articles that originate from some countries and those that make headlines in our part of the world.
For example, I read on BBC that Japan will send gardening experts all around the world to restore Japanese-style gardens that have fallen into a state of neglect. The gardens are used for tea ceremonies, festivals and other events to introduce people to Japanese culture. This is not only a beautiful gesture and an excellent way to promote culture and trade but also shows the priorities of Japanese government.
Then I read about a project called Little Free Library in which a book lover puts a box, shelf or crate of books in front yard of his house. Neighbors can browse, take one book, and return later with a replacement. It was started by a young man as tribute to his mother who was a teacher and loved to read. This idea was replicated by many people in their own communities and by 2016, more than 60,000 Little Free Libraries have been registered in over 70 countries.
There are reports on how Amsterdam has succeeded in becoming the bicycle capital of the world. Cycling is usual mode of conveyance in Netherlands, and even the prime minister is usually seen cycling to work. Cycling proficiency lessons are a compulsory part of the Dutch school curriculum.
News reports from Sweden tell us that this European country¬†is so good at recycling garbage that it now imports rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going.
In Singapore, chewing gum was banned because people would leave the gum on bus seats, school rooms, theatres, or sidewalks. After its ban, hardly anyone chews gum in Singapore. ¬†People can be fined up to $10,000 for littering or jailed. The offenders are required to clean public areas for up to 12 hours. Laws are same for rich and poor, common man and powerful alike.
In Wattle Grove Australia, only 10 lemon-scented mature gum trees were set to be cut down for a new road. A petition demanding that the city council review its decision to chop the trees gathered nearly 10,000 supporters forcing work to stop.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo was scheduled to participate in a parade¬†but his motorcade got stuck in a major traffic jam in Jakarta. Rather than miss the parade the president and his entourage walked for several kilometers in scorching heat to reach their destination.
Then there is this heartwarming story of people like Jim McIngvale, known as “Mattress Mack,” who turned his furniture warehouses into shelters for people made homeless by tropical storm Harvey. When some of the storm’s victims couldn’t make it across flooded streets, McIngvale dispatched his large delivery trucks and drivers to collect people and bring them to safety. People lived, slept and ate on the beds, sofas, mattresses and furniture that were kept there to be sold.
For me, these stories are not just headlines but they convey an entire spectrum of values, laws and ideals people of these countries uphold. You would not find their parks, museums or libraries neglected or vandalized. There are stories of communities and neighborhoods coming together for common goals.
If you contrast these types of news headlines with those that originate from our part of the world, not just Pakistan but let‚Äôs say South Asia, we read about thousands of farmers committing suicide in India, collapsing bridges, landlords destroying farms of helpless widows, a man on knife stabbing spree, police clueless about how to catch criminals, never ending political shenanigans and war mongering among regional neighbors.
There are never ending tales of poverty, exploitation, land grabbing, illiteracy, superstations and apathy on every level. There are daily reports on plight of out of school children, sexual assaults, water shortage, overflowing drains, expanding slum areas, growing traffic congestion, garbage heaps, and inadequate city planning.
I am fully aware that the western society and culture are not without their share of problems but we also have to admit that people of these countries have civic sense ingrained into them. They care about their streets and trees, butterflies and fish, lakes and mountains and their wildlife. They make queues; they have strict laws regarding traffic and cleanliness. The elderly and disabled have amazing rights under law.
In our part of the world, there is so much focus on personal goals and acquisition of material stuff that ethics, laws, love of nature and civic sense do not register on our radars at all. I cannot imagine our politicians walking on crowded streets to keep an appointment or cycling to the parliament house. An outdoor library would not last as all books would probably be stolen within an hour. Bans in our part of the world are ignored and not by any stretch of imagination can I see our elite cleaning streets or beaches. Do we even care about our blind dolphins or illegal hunting that‚Äôs decimating our wildlife?
People break rules just to show their power, clout and wealth. We have this amazing ‚ÄúPakistan may sab chalta hai‚ÄĚ attitude. Isn‚Äôt it time we focus on developing some basic civic sense and respect of law in ourselves individually and collectively?
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Story first published: 10th October 2017