Mediocrity is a menace

Valley of Kashmir has produced eminent doctors, engineers, professors, technocrats, scientists, poets, saints, businessmen and artists over decades who have brought laurels to us as well as earned a name for themselves throughout the world. However three decades of persistent turmoil has taken a heavy toll on the quality of our work culture and consequently on the quality of our human resource.

Our work culture and work ethics have been drastically affected as a result of our misplaced priorities and misdirected goals. Sycophancy, flattery and short-cuts seem to be taking precedence over merit, hard-work, perseverance and dedication in our society at present. No doubt we have exhibited unparalleled resilience and invincible fortitude in times of severe distress and devastation over the past three decades, bouncing back every time we were at the brink of getting drowned and decimated by death, disturbance, destruction, earthquakes, floods, strikes and shutdowns.

Our hardwired, time-tested survival instincts and insurmountable spirits of recuperation and rejuvenation amid some of the most testing, miserable and desperate times have been very well acknowledged worldwide. However, our work culture continues to remain a grim area that needs urgent attention and prompt action by all sections and stakeholders of our society.

One of the ills that appear to have been plaguing our society for long is laziness and lethargy. Late nineteenth century travelers to Kashmir including Tyndale Biscoe and Walter Lawrence have written a lot about this trait of ours. Lawrence describes a Kashmiri in his 1895 travelogue entitled, “Valley of Kashmir” as; “he is effeminate, lazy and helpless. He will not work or try to improve his condition, for experience tells him that this is superfluous. It is in his opinion the duty of his employer to feed him but he himself is unfettered by any duties. He objects to innovations, and when reforms are suggested he howls with indignation. He ridicules drainage and streets as wild ideas of another world”. Sadly we seem to have retained this undesirable feature even today.

We perhaps are the hard-core status-quoists who are conventionally averse to any substantial progressive change obviously because that involves some amount of hard work and labour. We feel utterly dismayed by any idea that seeks to bring us out of our cozy little comfort zones.

We are not generally inclined to work hard because we do not value merit, competence and capability. Most of us want quick money that can lift us from rags to riches overnight.

We cherish sycophancy, deviousness and chicanery as our ladders to success and we hate accountability and transparency from the core of our hearts. Much to our furtive delight, red tape and babudom is perceived by common masses as being too rampant in our offices, as a fall-out of which we consider ourselves as demigods the moment we occupy some chair of authority and start wielding as well as misusing power brazenly.

Our inherent sufarishi culture has penetrated deep inside every sphere of our life. Whether we have to secure admission of our child in a school, college or a university, or seek an employment or even an appointment with a doctor, or get hospitalized and receive treatment, procure a ration card or some documents from any government office, or to get our telephone line repaired, to receive tuition from a tutor, or to get one’s by-lane macadamized, we inevitably seek a sturdy (dae’r) sufarish or recommendation to get things done to the best of our satisfaction or may be without that things don’t work the way they should. Sufarish is all pervading in our culture.

Our students usually reckon that only a sufarish is going to fetch them a govt. job making merit an all too meaningless entity. Hence they feel no need to study hard for obtaining good grades and high merit in their examinations. They even leave no stone unturned to escape from the assessment and evaluation process itself by seeking mass promotions on the drop of a hat.

They might have witnessed people treading ahead on the ladder of success by kissing the feet of the one above and hitting the head of the one below, on the rungs of this ladder. Amid all this melancholy and desolation, corruption, nepotism and favouritism appears to be flourishing day-by-day in our society while merit and competence is unfortunately taking a backseat.

Consequently when merit gets relegated to background, it is the mediocrity that rules the roost. Mediocre people who have nothing much to offer to the world keep scouting for short-cuts while resorting to sycophancy to achieve their mean goals. They keep themselves busy coaxing and cajoling their bosses all the time in order to fulfil their selfish motives. Richard Yates writes in Revolutionary Road, “Mediocrity is a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares anymore; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.” Mediocrity is the main culprit responsible for lax work culture prevailing in our society. We need to get rid of mediocrity in order to restore any semblance of sanctity and credibility in our work culture and work ethics.

Nigerian playwright and poet Michael Bassey Johnson has said that “to be of good quality, you have to excuse yourself from the presence of shallow and callow minded individuals.” Meritocracy and talent alone must prevail in all our appointments, promotions, assignments, assessment, evaluation, dealings and decisions. That alone can bring us out of the morass of mediocrity and laziness, failing which we will keep losing our meritorious, capable and competent manpower that can contribute significantly towards nation building, to the western world.

No wonder that in civilized, polished and learned societies that value talent and aptitude, our gifted youth religiously follow all norms and statutes in vogue, make a mark for themselves and shine like stars. It is time that we nurture them and hone their talent towards building our indigenous institutions as world class centres of excellence, otherwise there will be no enticement and opportunity left for the merit-holders to work hard with sincerity and diligence for the upliftment of their nation and society.

The culture of grandiosity, extravagance and show-off in our society prompts some of our youth to attain wealth, positions and success quickly via short-cuts by emulating the policy of appeasement and gratification of their peers and predecessors.

Tendency to live a luxurious life beyond one’s own means of sustenance has led some of our youth towards amassing wealth, seeking jobs and grabbing positions by fraudulent and illegitimate means by-passing the deserving meritorious aspirants who in spite of toiling hard with utmost zeal and dedication reach nowhere and find it utterly frustrating and discouraging for themselves to offer their services or continue working under such deplorable conditions. In a fit of despair and disillusionment either they get sucked and consumed by the shoddy system and follow the same path or else they move abroad in search of greener pastures, in turn depriving us of a precious pool of talented human resource and sinking us deeper into the abyss of darkness and oblivion.

Practice of yes-manship is an outcome of such an atmosphere that in turn squeezes any space for free debate, discussion, disagreement, logic, reason and objectivity. Such a legacy is then inherited by many more future generations and the vicious cycle relentlessly continues to bug all our systems. Unless we overcome and break this vicious cycle, it is hard to make any tangible and sustainable progress and development. Hope we institute necessary reforms well in time and improve our work culture and ethics before we arrive at a point of no return.

(Views expressed are author’s personal)