Cynicism should be the purview of a few select few, whose jobs require them to take everything with a pinch of salt — like traffic policemen, bank loan officers and debt collectors. But when did cynicism become a national characteristic? And why are we so angry all the time? And sadly, it is the younger generation that seems to be the most jaded, angry and cynical of us all.
As a teenager, I took my identity as a Muslim and as a Pakistani for granted. Yet today, almost every young person I meet is looking to define their identity — an identity they feel is under threat and they feel obligated to defend. It all changed on 9/11. A group of 19 hijackers split the world irrevocably into two camps, best exemplified by George Bush’s infamous “either you are with us or against us” speech. Never mind that all 19 hijackers were Arabs. It was Afghanistan that housed Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
But today Pakistan is considered to be the most dangerous place in the world and a breeding ground for international terrorists. No wonder we feel resentful and defensive.
Ask someone what makes them happy and you will be greeted with a blank stare. Somewhere down the road, we have lost our ability to smile, laugh and enjoy life despite the challenges it throws us.
Sure we have plenty to be disconsolate about. If I were to make a list of everything wrong with our lives, I would run out of space in this column. And if I were to make a list of everything going right, I would be done with the list in a few words. Or would I? At the heart of the matter is the fact that being perceived as optimistic is passé. It is seriously unfashionable to be naive and idealistic. But without ideals, we are nothing. Without optimism, we cannot grow. And without happiness, we cannot live, we can merely exist.
Without idealism, we will lose the battle. I am still optimistic that the battle has not been lost. We can change the world or our corner of it anyway. Who cares if the world wants to paint us as global terrorists? We know we are not jihad central. We are warm, generous and affectionate people. We care for our elders, we love our children and we look after our own. Let’s recall how we all rose to the occasion in October 2005.
The earthquake killed thousands in Azad Kashmir and northern Pakistan and the country was galvanised into action. We put aside ethnic and sectarian considerations and worked together as Pakistanis. So let’s not allow others to define us. We have to define ourselves.
The first is to take a good long look at ourselves as individuals. I, for one, am sick and tired of the constant moaning and groaning that is becoming our national hobby. I say it’s time to fight back and reclaim our lives. I have started by making a mental list of all the things I have to be grateful for, including even the most mundane things that bring me happiness. You will be surprised at how many things will be on your list. Let’s smile again and spread the word. Happiness is contagious and idealism addictive. Have a great day!
Published in the Express Tribune, May 25th, 2010.
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