"When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts,” said the world-renowned Tibetan leader Dalai Lama. Bangladesh today has a huge youth population, and they are our future. The idea that “education of the heart”—that is instilling moral or character values in children—comes from home is impractical. Undoubtedly, parents and family form a child's first relationships. They are a child's first teacher from whom they learn their morals and self-worth and learn to develop trust and love for others.
But there are many other aspects of the social environment that young children may imitate as they grow and develop. They learn by watching the world around them, by what they see and hear. They learn by observing the behaviour of adults. They watch their family members, how they communicate with each other and their way of living. Simply put, children pay more attention to what they see than what they are told and uphold those values in their daily lives. Now, the question that comes to mind is: What kind of values are we passing on to our younger generation?
Unfortunately, our society that once used to value morals and ethics has now become fickle and shallow and has lost its moral compass. Values such as honesty, trust, integrity, respect and tolerance of others' opinions no longer play an important role in our daily lives. Apparently, there is nothing wrong in amassing a fortune by taking out bank loans with the intention of not paying it back, smuggling, bribery, tender manipulation, drug trade, shady land businesses or by extorting money from street hawkers, transport sector and other unethical means. Society today largely defines “success” as the monetary wealth one accumulates, and is least bothered about whether it was acquired legally or illegally. It's very unfortunate that our society is now in the process of gradual disintegration into a fragmented, greed-oriented, selfish entity.
Moral decadence has resulted in indiscipline at all levels—from the literate to the illiterate, the aristocrat to the underclass, all suffer from a disease called the “get-rich-quick syndrome”. The need to become wealthy is so deeply ingrained in our psyche that our leaders, teachers, students, doctors, engineers, public servants, social workers all have lost their real goal, forgotten their real identity, moving towards only one thing in their lives: money. It's at the centre of virtually all thoughts, decisions and activities.
What is most dangerous is that society's attitude towards corruption is changing. Once upon a time people used to avoid corrupt and unethical persons but now their presence isn't just tolerated but regarded as normal. We all know who the tax evaders, loan defaulters, stock market scammers and land grabbers are, but nobody dares speak up against the guilt of others or admit his/her own. This erosion in social and moral values and increasing cynicism make a society less humane—thus it becomes poorer in social capital.
Family is the basic building block of a society. Children learn all teachings of right and wrong from the family. Because of the changing realities of current times, absence, emotional distance or preoccupation of parents strike at the very heart of those values—trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring for others, etc. Not all parents have knowledge of how children spend their free time, where they hang out, who their friends are or what they do on the Internet. People have more of a connection with the world through social media but have lost connection with their own families. Some parents, due to a lack of time, pressures at work and so forth, try to “buy” their children's love. They feel guilty for not being around as often, so when their children ask for things they simply say “yes” to compensate. This spoils children.
Politics has become characterised by conflicts and corruption; almost all political parties have introduced corruption and violence among young groups. Instead of teaching them the concept of sacrifice, consensus, compromise and negotiation, they are taught violence and destruction. It has become a tradition for all political parties to use young people as picketers during political programmes. Some of the picketers are street children, some are students. In the name of movement, they create violence on the streets, engaging themselves in fierce feuds on behalf of their political mentors and, in the process, they themselves become victims of violence sometimes. These young people are treated as expendable foot-soldiers by all political parties.
In Bangladesh an estimated 27.76 percent of the population is aged between 0-14 years and around 19.36 percent belongs to the age group of 15-24 years. This means that nearly half of the country's total population is young people. This bulge of young people, if moulded carefully, can help generate a massive amount of economic activity. On the other hand, they can become a threat to stability if we are unable to take proper care of them. Unfortunately, against the backdrop of corruption and moral bankruptcy all around and manifestations of muscle power, today more and more children are growing up with little empathy and respect for law and order and civility. Almost every day, we read about incidents of abduction, child abuse, rape and sexual harassment, in which the involvement of young people is common. According to the Department of Narcotics Control, children as young as eight years old are consuming cannabis and cigarettes and sniffing glue while children aged between 12 and 18 are using phensedyl and heroin. Criminals are turning to children as young as 12 to peddle hard drugs.
The late South African President Nelson Mandela once said, “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.” Therefore, we must take greater responsibility for the care of our children and the best way to do that is to encourage and nurture them, help them establish a positive approach to life, and equip them with values, information, skills and confidence, so that they grow up into the well-rounded adults of “tomorrow”.
Abu Afsarul Haider studied economics and business administration at Illinois State University, USA, and is currently involved in international trade in Dhaka. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org