ABOUT a decade ago, I chanced to go through an article ‘The Decline of Neatness’ by Norman Cousins and I assume I have forgotten most of its content. The present trend of behaviour of individuals and institutions in our country has, however, triggered my memory and has led to posit that sloppiness, like virus, is spreading almost all segments of our society.
With exceptions, sloppiness seems endemic in families, educational institutions and corporate bodies. Symptoms of sloppiness are apparent in their conduct and practice. Work apathy, indolence, non-conformity, non-committal behaviour are immediate indicators of the sloppy behaviour. It is also reflected in hasty moral judgements and ill-founded conclusion.
What is then sloppiness? To be plain, sloppiness is a state of mind. When people behave their own way without caring for accepted norms, rules, laws and systems, sloppiness creeps in. A sense of shamefulness has seemingly disappeared; the virtues of civility and humility have become elusive. Decency, neatness, sophistication, sympathy, empathy and compassion are to be found only in textbooks. Altruistic pluralism is being supplanted by selfish individualism. Today, the sight of a dead or wounded person lying on the street no more evokes a feeling of sorrow.
The first victims of sloppiness are children who are burdened with weighty books and costly tools. The result is that children who have otherwise been found docile and introvert now turn recalcitrant and take to the streets to voice their grievances. Guardian-level supervision is slack. Affluent guardians have no time to keep their children under their aegis. They are rather locked in social rivalry and are busy earning more money to meet their lofty ambition. Psychologists believe that toys teach values to children. These can teach them innovation and creativity in a subtle way. But we find parents under the spell of sloppiness take their children to market and as birthday gifts buy them pistols or guns which they immediately use targeting members of their family. In western countries, selling or buying toys built after dangerous weapons or ferocious animals is banned.
Sloppy behaviour has reached the classrooms of schools where faultily recruited teachers can hardly teach. Sloppiness is found in the school curricula design and the result is an unbearable burden of books. Before new session sets in, booklists are handed over to budding children asking them to buy the kind of books they can hardly digest. The practice of rote learning is their only recourse. Exams grade takes precedence over creative learning. Sports and athletics that build sound body and mind are now a missing ingredient as playgrounds are often occupied or encroached on by neighbouring political musclemen. University campuses turn into gossiping centres.
Students hardly get mentors beside them to be guided about how to pursue a bright career. Again, students study one discipline and join the service quite different from that. The result is: engineers become magistrates, doctors become diplomats, and most generalist students languish aside for failing in the competitive exams. The question, therefore, arises where goes the hard-earned money invested by the guardians who dream of seeing their sons and daughters as engineers or doctors or specialists.
At the social level, guests, mostly in-laws, behave in a sloppy fashion. They will visit the house of the host at odd hours and will lapse into leisurely conversation until the dead of night, without caring for the latter’s inconvenience. Wedding entertainment is another area where sloppiness is clearly visible in the design of wedding menu that include all the meat items, no vegetable item. Wedding guests with all reluctance take the meat items and back home find themselves suffering health problems.
Doctors’ chambers naturally form another area where sloppy treatment is endemic. Physicians charge high fees and hand over to patients a long list of costly diagnostic tests. Some doctors treat or examine them in a sloppy way for which vital bodily organs get damaged and it becomes too late for patients to seek treatment elsewhere. Stories of suing physicians at fault are, however, rare. In contrast with developed countries, doctors themselves approach the mistreated patient to sue them.
Dress has a powerful impact on the body and mind of the wearer. It is observed that today wearing sloppy dress has become a fashion. Wearing blue jeans, partly torn and discoloured, putting on muddy sneakers is perceived by a group as smartness. College and university students who are potential executives or leaders of the country prefer to pose carefully careless, and show themselves up as uncombed, unshaven, and unclean.
Women, affluent or middle class buyers, show sloppiness in making emotional purchases of some items that ultimately lie unused at home and turn into breeding ground of cockroaches. Ill-built yet costly flats owned by rich class of people are cluttered with heavy, needless furniture items. The apartment committee however, sits every month to take tea and meat without noticing what is there inside each flat. Clutter keeps on increasing making the entire building vulnerable to collapse during tremor.
Sloppiness prevails also in the office. Fashionable tables pose an untidy look for being littered with useless materials. If, for example, you happen to be a senior and inspect the office of a subordinate employee and drag out his/her table drawers and almirahs, you surely find a plethora of items crammed therein. Many officers having no specific job descriptions find it convenient to spend time in gossiping in the chambers of dedicated officers who later find piles of files to be disposed in a hurry resulting in faulty decisions.
In television talk shows, a few politically powerful talkers are seen to articulate violent phrases to the dismay of the promising viewer-politicians. Usually disoriented, aggressive public figures use sloppy, unrefined language to terrorise the illiterate electorate. This reminds us of Norman Cousins’ words: ‘Violence in language has become almost as casual as the possession of handguns.’
Sloppiness is also noticeable while you travel by bus, by air, or by train. The boarders/travellers are, unlike those of America and Japan, hardly found carrying books or magazines to read during transition. If they are garrulous, they will lapse into a gossipy conversation centring mostly round local politics, debate on superficial issues and, as they reach the destination, will quickly depart without exchanging parting good wishes.
Street-level sloppiness is another menace. If you as innocent, law-abiding passers-by are walking on the footpath to reach home after day’s work, you are likely to be hit by motorcycles that overtake the cars plying the main road. Riders will simply say ‘Sorry’ without airing a sense of guilt. Many young people belonging to affluent class drive cars in a reckless way; they violate traffic rules and hit others’ cars injuring innocent passer-by or even killing them. The traffic police on duty often give a helpless, blank look at the delinquent drivers.
One of the main reasons of the sloppy behaviour is the permissiveness of guardians at all levels, rich or poor. Today, culture seems to have turned upside down. Earlier, children used to fear parents whereas now parents tend to fear their grown-up children. Sloppiness goes to the extreme violence when a mother decides to kill her baby and a son kills his father for deterring the former from drug addiction. Educated youths despair and stay jobless. Their vitality is eaten into by the onrush of addictive chemicals, including Yaba. Consequently, terrorism, as we find today, is flourishing beyond the knowledge of guardians. Young sons and daughters gripped by consumerism visit and enjoy costly foods at posh restaurants without considering that the hapless and hungry children cry for foods just across the street.
Violence in television serials, erratic sexual behaviour in films are desensitising our young groups. Marital disintegration or divorce is occurring almost everyday. Television/film screen writers must, therefore, be discouraged to write on violence; fashion-designers must produce styles that evoke a sense of respect, dignity and beauty. Experts/scholars should be engaged in devising curricula that stimulate curiosity and creativity in young learners. Television channels should introduce such programmes that children feel benefited ethically and intellectually.
When we experience sloppy conduct in this part of the planet, and when welfare-oriented people everywhere dream of a unipolar world where peace, progress and productivity will be the main global agenda, we witness in once seat of civilization and culture i.e. Great Britain in a different condition that can described in the words of T S Eliot : “London bridge is falling down and falling down...” People in various parts of the world now say, with gloriously announced Brexit, i.e. withdrawal from the EU through an otherwise sloppy voting, Britain is confronting a kind potential disintegration. Sloppiness is so fatal!
All these, of course, do not mean that sophisticated, disciplined or responsible people do not exist. They are rather turning to be minority and they are being driven ‘out of circulation’. Ethical people fear to raise voice; they fear to speak, fear to use their potentials, fear to commit themselves to the welfare of the service-seeking masses.
Now the pertinent questions that creep in our mind — should we not dream of an ideal, disciplined, creative, smart, and welfare-oriented society free of sloppiness, messiness, joblessness, terrorism, injustice and discrimination? Are we not diving deep into a culture of sloppiness? If so, what is the outcome? Sloppiness is throwing us in a state of uncertainty making family, social and professional life precarious. It will quickly foster growth of mediocrity in all sectors. The big problem with this malady is that it is highly infectious. It engulfs the entire society or the nation, like a wildfire.
Now what is to be done? Intensive supervision of children at the guardian level and monitoring their conduct at the school level have no alternative. The mind is shaped by the parental care, family background, the state culture, academic curricula, personality of teachers, quality of socio-political leadership. Thus guardians, teachers, and the government have to appreciate that character-building cannot be achieved by hiring foreign consultants. It is we who should take up the task of shaping the ethos and attitude of our children who are to take up leadership in future.
Unless this condition is halted, our society is likely to break down and if it really does, we become economically, intellectually and morally bankrupt. On the whole, if we want to groom ourselves into a dignified nation, we must get rid of the malaise of sloppiness.
Dr. Syed Naquib Muslim is a former secretary to and HRM practitioner.
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