Hypocrisy begins at home

It is no good wailing, gnashing our teeth at horrible displays of intolerance, injustice and hypocrisy in our country.

Mahreen Khan January 14, 2011

It is no good wailing and gnashing our teeth at the horrible displays of intolerance, injustice and hypocrisy in our country. Lofty plans to change ‘society’ are vacuous because it is ‘high society’ that needs reform. The educated and privileged are guilty of aiding and abetting the very things they decry in society. Emotional exhortations to stand up against violent extremists are disingenuous when we refuse to take a stand on even the smallest of issues where neither life nor liberty are at stake, only popularity, profit or social standing are at risk.

I recently accompanied a friend from abroad to a ‘high-end’ beauty salon. The place is run and frequented by ‘high society’ ladies. The owner, whilst styling my friend’s hair, proceeded to educate us on ‘what is wrong with this country’, bemoaning corrupt politicians ripping this country off and not paying taxes (agreed), the general lack of manners (undisputed) and how no one is willing to live by the rules (couldn’t agree more). After listening to this outpouring for an hour and nodding in assent, my friend and I were struck by the obvious hypocrisy of the diatribe.

The salon owner regaled against bad manners yet she was not prepared to offend her high society clients who were smoking in an unventilated space. Salons are meant for relaxation and renewal, not suffocating tobacco smoke. She bemoaned that no one follows the rules in this country yet could not see her own contribution to this, when she allowed clients without appointments to be given preference because they were too important to be told to wait. Most egregious of all was when my friend asked for a receipt and was told there was no receipt system. When she insisted, she was summarily handed a cash receipt — torn off a standard stationery notebook. Not headed, stamped or in any way proof of that salon having received her money, indicative of a ‘kacha’ bill system that aids the avoidance of honest tax reporting.

My friend and I were perturbed by these relatively minor infractions of rules, good manners and possibly tax laws, yet chose to say nothing. Instead, we walked out and had a discussion about how this salon owner was typical of people who moan about the country, but indulge in the same dishonest practices. We were blind to the irony of our own collaboration with this dishonesty and hypocrisy. With a little effort, we could have politely but firmly pointed out that a receipt was in order and that appointment holders should be served first. Yet we chose not to stand up for what we believed to be right. Why make a fuss? What good would it do anyway?

This ‘what good would it do?’ cop-out dominates our social interactions. We smile agreeably when a friend describes how they have managed to bribe their way out of paying taxes, duties or fines, had their electricity meter ‘fixed’, had a loan written off due to their connections. We are silent when it comes to standing up for a principle, preferring instead to take sides. We defend friends, family, biradari or party but never defend the principle. We support them even when we believe them to be wrong and then we wonder how society became so warped that a cold-blooded murder found admirers.

Taking a stand, even on small issues, often entails inconvenience, tests friendships or erodes social popularity. Yet, by not standing up for what we believe to be right, even in minor situations which threaten neither our life nor our liberty, we steadily corrode our consciences, day in and day out, until massive breaches of principle appear justifiable and pragmatic. Each day, those seemingly insignificant choices we make add to the very erosion of law and the social order that we condemn. People do respond to social censure — the impact is cumulative — and social change trickles down. ‘High society’ needs to reform itself in order to reform broader society. We must continue to speak out against the ills in our country, but we must also have the courage to reproach wrongdoing in our own social circles. Hypocrisy begins at home. It ends there too.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2011.


Neeraj, India | 12 years ago | Reply @Humaira, Uzma, Sadiq and Amit, Wow, buddies, with due respect, I have to say this that your responses to my post have been as hypocritical as the author's article did sound to me. All of you are implying that the saloon owner, somehow, was not an ordinary citizen, but a part of ruling elite of Pakistan. The author herself, after lamenting about the lack of morality in Pakistani citizens, confessed that she and her friend did not press for the legal cash receipts and meekly walked out of the saloon. May I ask why? Let me answer it, simply because they were not ready to waste their precious time in calling the related authorities and formally lodging a complaint against the saloon owner. And yet, she has the audacity to call her fellow countrymen as hypocrites. Not just that, she went on to write a whole article on supposedly outrageous behavior of her fellow Pakistanis. You guy/gals seems have absolutely forgotten the words I wrote in my first post like " You cannot practice honesty in isolation. The same saloon owner would have followed every goddamn rule, had her shop been in London or any other western city." This is a human trait, where there is an incentive or threat he/she would absolutely try their best to adjust and respond to the situation accordingly. The poor saloon owner was doing nothing else, but, to try and please her customers by engaging them in some kind of "harmless" talk, while continuing with her professional job. Here our writer takes her as an example of "moral decay" of Pakistani society or citizens and goes on to lament and bemoan at the lack of morality on the part of Pak society. I refuse to buy her argument. That is childish. Pakistan's problem is that it did try to find it's identity in religion, but, sadly no country, in the history of humanity, could ever exist and prosper on this weird idea, our history shows that nation states were more coherent and successful which were created/existed on the basis of culture, ethnicity, language and of course geography.
Amit | 12 years ago | Reply @Neeraj, India - you have missed the point brother. The article is about hypocrisy not corruption per se. I disagree with Neeraj totally - social change does not come from institutions - it is the people that run them - ie: the educated and powerful than have to change their behaviour, And that is so well elucidated in this article. If they cant be honest in the small things then how can you expect them to be honest in the million dollar deals. they are hypocrites for chastising the ordinary folk yet stealing taxes themselves.
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