From excellence to mediocrity: A regressive journey
BRITISH philosopher John Stuart Mill observed: “The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.
” This observation is unfortunately quite relevant in Pakistan where there has been a gradual, slow but steady decline in pride in excellence at all levels of society, including the public and private sector.
Alarming mediocrity is on the rise tolerating indifference; superficiality; denial; compromise; arbitrariness; hostility to excellence and aversion to performance accountability.
In the 21st century, where some nations are reaching out to the moon, stars and beyond, discovering new worlds and perfecting Artificial Intelligence to develop and enhance their societies, here in Pakistan, the seventh nuclear power, we are still embroiled in mundane controversies about sighting Eid Moon, polio vaccinations being halal or haram, coeducation and hundreds of other such issues while our society as a whole is continuously regressing.
Not so long ago the civil services were considered the best in the region in terms of their professionalism and governance abilities.
Key positions both in the private and public sector were occupied by meritorious candidates and not because they were minions of people in power.
All our civil institutions now suffer from a severe case of mediocrity. The few exceptional people are overshadowed by a mass of incompetent officers.
As a result, performance of all civil institutions is pathetic. We also had highly proficient engineers, doctors, teachers, journalists, aviators, lawyers and judges.
Our universities boasted of having men and women of great learning. The vice-chancellors and professors were respected by both their peers and their students, determinedly busy instilling a sense of excellence, integrity and honesty in their pupils.
Today my heart aches to see a terrifying mediocrity on the rise in all domains, be it governance or education, the arts and literature, media or the visual arts, we have descended to such abysmal levels that one wonders if our society will ever return to ethical norms, decency and integrity.
Those in high offices increasingly display intellectual dishonesty, moral deprivation and some are out rightly corrupt.
Unfortunately we have almost completely discarded the principles of uprightness and merit. It is frightening how students are shamelessly bribing teachers and examiners. The willingness of the latter to accept bribes from students is even more worrisome.
What is worse is buying certificates and degrees, including Masters and PhDs from fictitious and shady academic institutions both here in Pakistan and abroad.
As if the Exact university scandal was not bad enough, an international agency recently revealed that the majority of PhDs being awarded by premier institutions in Pakistan are largely plagiarized and of low quality.
There has been gradual and sustained deterioration in all realms. This has resulted in a tremendous devaluation of Pakistani degrees which are not accepted in the world.
A culture of obliviousness and illiteracy has been allowed to develop in the education domain that does not create a challenging environment for the young minds to question and develop.
Cheating and short cuts have been normalized and no more considered unacceptable by most parents and teachers.
It is true that all over the world mediocrity is beginning to be increasingly tolerated but islands of excellence are also thriving simultaneously, especially in public institutions.
Unfortunately, all our key public institutions and the political system show extreme mediocrity, inability, slackness and incompetence.
Millions of Pakistanis, who excel in their profession and pursuit, regrettably do not work in public institutions and the others migrate that has depleted the country of excellence.
Mediocrity is becoming the new measure of excellence supported and nurtured by years of indifference and dithering by society and government.
Pakistan’s abysmal human development, poor economic management and wasteful development projects reflect the deep-rooted incompetence in our civil institutions.
Mediocrity together with corruption and absence of performance accountability, are some of the key reasons for the quagmire we find ourselves in.
All institutions that shape our national destiny are collectively responsible for the repeated self-created crises.
A cursory look at the political scene reveals the same picture where majority consists of incompetent individuals with questionable integrity.
There are many politicians who are outstanding, but the majority are mediocre and do not have the academic training, experience or leadership qualities necessary for holding legislative or ministerial office and are leading and managing our national policy apparatus.
Our judicial institutions are no better where judicial excellence is an exception and not the norm.
Very high pendency and long delays in case disposal and many frivolous and strange interventions and decisions are indicative of the mediocre nature of judicial institutions.
Political instability and uncertainty, the absence of the rule of law, rampant unemployment, a high population growth rate, and uncontrollable inflation also contribute to the malaise in which the country finds itself.
In this depressing scenario, the media has a great responsibility in any society and particularly in a society like ours where illiteracy is high and knowledge is limited, where democracy has yet to take root and the people still have to learn how to exercise their rights.
TV has a major role in educating and developing the abilities of its audience. In the era of social media and ratings race the quality and content of many channels and their anchors are becoming untouchable stars who can do no wrong.
Some are blatantly spreading fake news and divisive, sensational, misleading and inflammatory content that is further destroying the ethos of society.
In the face of overwhelming and complex challenges we need to move away from a culture of mediocrity and towards a society that champions that values and cherishes excellence.
Treading this path and reorienting our policies would require overcoming massive apathy.
It entails absolute commitment, courage and a persistent drive by the political system to lift expectations of society particularly the youth.
; to raise standards and deliver excellence itself to set high standards against which the others can judge their performance; cleanse the system of corruption and sifarish; raise the standard of academic institutions and not pull it down; reestablish meritocracy and accountability; initiate a deep civil and judicial service reform plan which promotes excellence and breaks the pervasive hold of mediocrity.
Failure is not an option if we want to save our nation and society from falling into the bottomless pit of mediocrity.
—The writer is former Ambassador, based in Islamabad.