In 2017, I visited the West for the first time to pursue my masters. I was welcomed by so many cultural differences in the West, but thanks to my anthropological courses during undergraduate and my innate ability to observe social behavior of the people that I was aware of cultural sensitivity and managed to learn from the challenging environment.
One of the things that fascinated me while visiting six different countries of Europe was the absence of ‘yes sir’ culture. By ‘yes sir’ culture I mean the culture of hierarchy in relationships where power subsumes as one goes below in the pyramid of a given relationship structure and where the person on the top of the pyramid enjoys unquestionable authority. Whether one looks at family structure or professional environment in our country, hierarchy is common – the more power one has, more he or she is able to influence decisions and the lesser his or her decisions are questioned. This is the ‘yes sir’ culture we have in Pakistan where questioning the person with authority including his or her decisions is discouraged and even punished at times.
Having worked professionally myself for almost five years in Pakistan, I have not been oblivious to this ‘yes sir’ culture; however, it was only after visiting the West I became consciously aware of its existence in our part of the world. I remember my first interaction with the university professor to whom I called ‘sir’ following the cultural norm I had always observed. He smiled and requested me to call him by his first name. Right there, my understanding of hierarchical relationship shattered and I was exposed to the concept of equality. I observed how I was free to criticize literary works of my own professors and how they not only took the criticism positively but also appreciated the feedback.
I took it as an element of cultural difference, something that did not concern me much after coming back to Pakistan till recently when the Sahiwal incident shook the whole nation. The policemen belonging to the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab Police opened fire on a family, killing four innocent citizens including one teenager girl who were accused of terrorism. When interrogated, it was found that they were given orders to kill four ‘terrorists’ who were traveling in that car. They killed the exact four people they were asked to kill, blindly following the orders they received from the authority figure above them. Yes, this ‘yes sir’ culture of Pakistan took four innocent lives – the culture where authority’s decisions are only meant to be followed and not to be questioned, the culture that demean critical thinking (or mere thinking if you want to say), the culture that kills creativity, the culture where one pays heavy price for not following the orders of an authority.
This ‘yes sir’ culture has deep roots in our education and administration system. A nation who finds discipline only in the institution of military and who idolizes dramas such as Alpha Bravo Charlie would encourage its youth to adopt similar discipline. For this, parents of our society try their level best to get their children admitted to Cadet Colleges or similar educational institutions to instill discipline in them. No doubt discipline is important for institutions like military, but its adoration by common people to an extent to get their children trained in similar way, is producing generation that advocates ‘yes sir’ culture . There is no counter to it unless we ourselves take up this difficult task to encourage young people or people who are below in the pyramid of hierarchy to be confident to question any decision and offer new solutions through their critical thinking. This thinking does not need to be limited to the educational and professional environment, rather it should start from our homes so that it can change the existing culture. The equality is to be pronounced in every relationship – among husband and wife, father and children, boss and employee. We need to review what we are giving to our children in the name of discipline and training. We need to teach that critical thinking and moral values are as important as discipline and that the latter should not take precedence over the former.