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Saturday, April 23, 2011

FAMILY: VALUES AND VIRTUES


printed in the Dawn Inpaper Magazine section 24 April 2011


By Rabia Ahmed | InpaperMagzine                                                                                                       

We’re dismissive about family values when we’re young, but about the time we start turning into our own parents (much to our horror sometimes), we realise that both genes and family values do exist in a curious mix.
Family values are not culture, although culture shapes them. When an English friend told me she was going for shorter hair because she was now older, it was a cultural concern. In Pakistani culture older women prefer longer hair.
These aren’t synonymous with religious values either, although religion is part of a family’s value system but are common across cultures. In a cross cultural marriage a similarity in values contributes to the marriage being a success or otherwise, despite the difference in dress, language or cuisine.
You may define values as views held by a family regarding itself (loving, taking care of and supporting each other) and with regards to society (knowing right from wrong, hard work, etc). These values, unchanged in their essentials, have been in flux over time. The concept of caring for the aged, a strong value in Pakistani families is an example.
Once, several nuclear families lived together, with the (grand) parents in authority. This was the extended family system. Strong family ties characterised this system, providing identity to its members. It is possible for this identity to remain intact even when members of the family are dispersed, so long as its members keep in touch, share a similar sense of right and wrong, a sense of humour, or other tastes and values in common.
Over time economic conditions have forced families to move apart. In Pakistan this moving apart has been drastic and too sudden for many, with members of even nuclear families spread out over continents. This meant much less interaction between members, and as a result less affection and less caring and giving.
It could be that this breakdown of the family has contributed to the breakdown of society, where there has been a corresponding increase in callousness, and a consequent surge in violence. There has also been an increase in domestic violence, acrimony between siblings, and increased intolerance towards the elderly, parents and other family members in many families.
With the decrease in respect for parents and family has come a corresponding lessening of respect for authority and institutions in general.
In the West, where families did not disperse quite as much, or as suddenly, society has had more time to adapt, and it did. So even though families may not have remained as close, the change has resulted in a less violent backlash.
The difference in both these situations may be a significant factor in the presence of stable political systems in the West and the lack of the same in countries such as Pakistan. The past thirty years saw a phenomenal rise of the diaspora of Pakistanis. Members of these widely scattered families suffered from a loss of identity. Changing values within society or in others when moving from society to society proved too bewildering not just for the youth, but also for the adults who reacted with increased confusion.
In the case of migrants, the transition took place as fast as the time it takes to fly from one continent to the other. It is common in the West to find immigrant families engaged in severe conflict, the parents trying to keep their children within the perimeters of traditional family values, and the children under pressure from their peers pulling in the other direction.
For people remaining at home, increased communications have meant that the transition while not as swift nor as complete initially, was nevertheless swift enough, and more confusing. Increased urbanisation in Pakistan has led to similar struggles here. Pakistani society is subject to ‘half truths’, or to people’s perception of urban values and lifestyles.
This perception may or may not be correct, yet it is pursued. What results is a ridiculous aping of accents, a rolling of ‘Rs’ or comical attempts at copying dress. Children, as well as parents switch between cultures (or their interpretation of them) with the speed of chameleons, depending on whoever they are with.
Girls dress quite differently when with their friends than with their relations. Parents spout a different set of values with colleagues than with their families. In general, change has come about within family values without much coherence, while consistency has gone out of the window.
It is no longer possible for some to know what one’s own family actually values, much less any other. The result has been a habit of accepting values without first evaluating them, and a habit of considering ‘yours’ to be better than ‘mine’ based on superficialities. Our values therefore no longer have the stability and strength that they did once upon a time.

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