“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived”—Robert Jordan
If asked to name one nation in the world that surpasses all levels of resilience, one usually comes up with “Japanese” but according to DJ Vanas, owner of Native Discovery Inc. the char people of Bangladesh may be the most resilient people as they have been living happily in a region that is unique and precarious on account of its unpredictable environment. Char are innumerable small islands that keep appearing, disappearing and reappearing in some other place because of rainfall, floods, the tides etc. yet the inhabitants cultivate crops and raise their families. According to Vanas, they thrive in these perilous conditions as they know the secrets to resiliency.
Psychology describes resilience as a quality that allows some people to be deeply affected by the adversities of life and bounce back at least as strong as before. Rather than surrendering their resolve to difficulties, traumatizing incidents or failure, resilient ones find a way to alter their course, recover emotionally and continue journey towards their goals. For them, disappointments and catastrophes are learning processes capable of improved self-awareness, triggering knowledge and gaining impetus to overcome future debacles. This kind of optimism tones down the negative impact of stress on a person when experiencing disturbing events. Studies are ongoing regarding different aspects of resilience depending upon genetic patterns, childhood experiences and life circumstances. While many get dejected and lose hope, some emerge with renewed power ready to take on novel challenges. However, this is not easy no matter how calm and composed a resilient may appear to others.
Exactly what can happen when two persons, a weakling and a strong go through similar shaky situations? Whereas the former goes into a deep depression, losea interest in life, becomes melancholic, prone to isolation, the latter analyses reasons for setbacks, identifies contributing factors, including own shortcomings and resets life on the basis of these contemplations. There may be a chance of social withdrawal but that could be a temporary phase to come to terms with one’s emotions and recharge oneself. Such persons know that life is a mixed bag of success and failure. No matter how perfect we want our surroundings to be, there are always some hidden surprises, both ugly and pleasant, that can pop up on the most unexpected occasions. This is life! We can either shut our eyes or look at them straight. Like the char people, preparedness for the worse is always the best strategy to cope with these situations.
The last 75 years for the Pakistani nation have been the most rocky and unpredictable course of existence. From the bloodbath at its birth through amputation of its eastern arm in 1971 and humiliation of its armed forces at the hands of its neighbour, through continuous bouts of political instability, through all imaginable and improbable natural calamities, from a soaring economy to the present uncertainty, the people of this country have borne these with remarkable resilience.
One is awe-struck at the way, different crises striking with full force and repelled with equal indignation were braved through by this nation. After all, what can be the reasons for this display of forbearance and this level of exuberance during bleak moments? To outsiders, we hardly appear to be affected. Our population is growing by the hour, ostentatious life-style is visible in all major cities, vehicles of all sorts of famous brands are plying on the roads, people throng popular tourist spots the year round, shopping centres are crowded with customers any time of the day, airports always seem full of domestic and international travelers and all this, amid a lurking economic crisis that has gripped the country with severe intensity.
The Ministry of Finance is at its nerve’s ends in seeking solutions to the fast depleting foreign reserves, managing circular debts, bridging deficits, out of control inflation and negotiating with foreign lenders to resuscitate the failing economic health of the country. Oblivious to this furor, politicians are busy in either settling scores with their opponents or in rescuing their vote banks to continue with their foolhardy approach in settling the mega economics of this country. The million dollar question is, that if economic matters have reached such a critical level then how can majority Pakistanis continue to appear unaffected? The answer is fairly simple. They are placing reliance on themselves rather than on the government.
A cursory look at the performance of governments would indicate, how many of the departments have armies of officials who are being paid to do practically nothing. 1972 saw nationalization of educational institutions followed by banks and major industries, earlier being run privately. What happened to these organizations is already history. With big industrialists migrating to foreign lands and competent workers replaced with wholesale recruitment of uninterested employees Pakistan’s economy started sliding down. From profit making to incurring huge losses, the results became more alarming when suddenly the government’s policy shifted to privatization.
Soon, those banks that were heavily in losses became high profit earning entities and industries also began to sprout up in different areas. People had realized that if at all they needed to survive in the Land of Pure, they would have to fend for themselves. This also meant that compared to documented economy, the sector that was undocumented though legal, started thriving but it also meant that both the federal and provincial governments which too were rapidly bulging, would not be able to collect the true potential of revenues necessary to run the state machinery. Besides, due to massive tax gaps and corruption, taxes collected were insufficient to provide the growing nation with basic necessities of life, meaning no quid pro. So, the motto became that if we have to generate our own power, ensure our own security, tolerate all the nonsense that governments were shoving in our faces, then what is the point in paying them taxes?
With this objective in mind, the Pakistanis have learnt the art of self-reliance and are thus displaying exemplary resilience despite the fact that due to the governments’ imprudent policies and inefficiencies, our economic environment has become unviable. The well-to-do take care of those who are less privileged therefore, this stratum of society too remains subdued and in no mood to rebel during crises. The irony is that people are rolling in luxury while the government is running from pillar to post with a begging bowl and succumbing to harsh conditions of the lenders. No doubt, the nation is resilient.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)