Thursday, 24 January 2013

Some reflections on peace versus happiness

Mo Chaudhury

Peace versus happiness

January 24, 2013
Photo: Hassan Bipul
The state of our life at any given point in time is defined in two spaces, the multidimensional state of physicality we are in and the multidimensional state of our mental being. The chances of a good state in the latter space is generally enhanced by a good state in the physical space, such as good health, clean environment, nice home, negligible incidence of crime, and seamless physical mobility, etc.  However, a good physical state is neither necessary nor sufficient for a good mental state. For example, various surveys indicate that the people of Bangladesh rank high globally in terms of happiness despite living in a low ranking state of physicality. We even see many people face their imminent expiration with an astounding state of inner peace. The intriguing question is then what are the key dimensions of our mental being, and how do we rank and manage these dimensions.
While dimensions of our mental being are numerous, two key dimensions seem to dominate in defining our mental state, namely, peace and happiness/joy. Clearly, most of us prefer a state with more of both peace and happiness to one with less of each. What is not clear is how the state of greater peace with lesser happiness compares to lesser peace with greater happiness. If we have to trade-off one for the other, peace vs. happiness, which one we would rather have more of for a better state of our mental being?
An example should facilitate visualizing the peace vs. happiness trade-off. Consider a Bangladeshi couple from Dhaka with two school going children, husband and wife are both established mid-level professionals, the family lives in their decent small apartment (60% mortgage financed) and use their small car for daily mobility needs. The family recently learnt that their application for immigration into Canada has been successful and is currently pondering whether to avail the opportunity to move to Toronto, Canada. The couple is aware that in terms of physical (lesser crime), financial (better social safety net), and medical security (free, advanced and dependable medical care, albeit longer wait time), and educational opportunity (low cost, high quality, cutting edge) for the children, moving to Canada will provide them with great peace of mind that they never had living in Dhaka. On the other hand, they will dearly miss their very lively social life amidst family, long time friends and colleagues, the sumptuous feasts and festivities, the discriminating array of Dhaka cuisine and of course their very enjoyable and successful careers in Dhaka (professionally they have to struggle all new in Canada). In other words, the couple evaluates that they have to give up a great deal of happiness/joy leaving Dhaka for Toronto. The couple is thus tormented facing the choice of physicality of their life, Dhaka versus Toronto, they themselves have created, and its implication for their mental being, jagged happiness in Dhaka versus vanilla peace in Toronto.
The trade-off above starts tilting toward Toronto, once the prospects over time are factored in. In time Toronto life may not be as insipid after all. There is a large Bangladeshi expatriate community in Toronto with ever growing amenities (including eateries, fashion aisles, salons, cultural outlets, etc.) of Dhaka life, the rich multicultural mosaic of Toronto offers the exhilarating and diverse experience of living in a global village, you can actually enjoy driving around in Toronto, numerous neighbourhood parks and vast and panoramic outdoors can give immigrants a new meaning of family fun, and of course it is a matter of some years only to experience the consummate bliss of seeing the children graduating from world class universities to launch their professional careers practically anywhere in the world. Further, the happiness/joy of Dhaka life need not be lost altogether if occasional trips back home is within means.
If revealed preferences are any guide, it seems that a great many Bangladeshi families do in the end favour the immediate peace (and longer term happiness prospects) of Toronto over the peppy and effervescent life of Dhaka. In fact, such peace versus happiness choices are quite commonplace everywhere in many different spheres of life. Examples influenced by the multidimensional state of physicality include suburban versus downtown life, metropolitan versus small town life, urban versus rural life, etc. The meta-physical examples involve our workplace associates, neighbours, friends, etc. Typically we find peace and harmony in dealing with some colleagues, neighbours and friends while others are more fun, and occasionally but rarely we get lucky to encounter both aspects in the same person.
In the examples so far, a better peace versus happiness outcome is attainable by changing the physicality. But what if changing physicality is not feasible? For example, most Bangladeshis do not have the option of a Toronto life, employment circumstances may only permit living in a metropolitan area, a farmer needs to live in a rural area, a government employee may be assigned to a remote location, etc. Even more restrictive are the meta-physical bindings of the nearest and dearest ones like the parents, siblings, spouse and children.
For illustrative purpose, consider first a mid-age couple (with two school going children) working as mid-level employees of a private business enterprise operating out of Dhaka only, as such the physicality of Dhaka life is inescapable for this couple. This means that their happiness along the savoury social, cultural and culinary dimensions is conflicted with their dwindling peace due to trepidation about physical, financial and medical security, clogged up education systems for their children, compromised food chain, frenzied pace of life, etc. Between peace and happiness, it seems that, for this couple, there is relatively more room for greater peace than for happiness.
This brings us to the question of managing peace, given the multidimensional state of physicality. Oddly enough, it is our mind that we human beings have the most control over, and as such we ourselves are in a powerful position of managing our own peace, essentially by refracting the negative vibes into neutrality or possibly even into positivity. Lacking a magic wand, the process of refraction could simply start with the hackneyed and still useful phrase, the glass is half full, not half empty. For the Dhaka couple, for example, the security situation could have been worse. Second, the couple could recognize that they are not alone, most others around them face the same challenging physicality of security and in fact many others have it worse. Third, being perturbed about things would not make them go away. Fourth, while the society at large needs a sense of inspired citizenship to mend the circumstances, that collective process is often painfully slow. Except for the politically charged and the exceptionally gifted, the ordinary citizens are perhaps better off resisting the prophetic and restive urge to rectify things that are beyond immediate and fast repair. Lastly, those who believe in divinity, may find peace by being fatalistic about the physicality, believing it to be ordained so.
Managing the peace and happiness impact of the constricted meta-physical reality of relations with the nearest ones is, however, daunting.  This is, because, here peace and happiness are profusely tangled. For conjugal relationship, based on general experience, it appears that a couple can be at peace without being happy in the sense that there is no bitterness between the two and each is quite at comfort with the other, but one or both may feel that their relationship is not sweet enough or animated enough. However, it seems implausible that conjugal happiness is attainable without peace. In other words, peace is a necessary condition for conjugal happiness, making peace a higher priority in this context, especially considering the welfare of the children. In managing conjugal peace, in addition to the recommendations mentioned earlier, it might be useful to avoid a blame game, to allow sufficient time and space for any burst of bitterness to die down, and to avoid projecting a sense of mistrust. Essentially, patience and forgiveness are together the elixir vitae of conjugal peace.
Given peace, the vaccine for happiness is managing expectation since happiness is dictated by the expected thresholds or benchmarks. In this context, a common and controversial yardstick of conjugal happiness adopted by many couples is the fun time the two spend together, more such time often taken to mean greater happiness. The pitfalls here include underestimating the importance of the quality of time spent together and disregard for happiness beyond the conjugal sphere. There are times and things (e.g., eating out, shopping, going to movies or sports events, travelling, attending festivities, etc.) we enjoy sharing with friends, family and children, all separately, and some just by our individual self (like reading, contemplating, praying, ..). Thus, setting lower thresholds for each other and importantly respecting the happiness of the spouse in other legitimate spheres may go a long away to boost happiness for both.
When it comes to parents, and siblings and children (especially when they are married), peace clearly dominates over happiness as a priority. Frictions and irritations with them can easily disrupt our peace, and hence our happiness as well. Once again the earlier principles of advancing peace largely apply. Additionally, the concept of "too close for comfort" perhaps applies more so in managing peace here than in other relationships. With respect to children, too often we ignore their individuality and privacy, and overly protrude ourselves into their life, albeit with the best of intentions, only to see peace and happiness destroyed at both ends. It might indeed pay to be minimalist in terms of setting thresholds of happiness here. After all, children are the greatest blessings in our life, and even when we might not be the happiest with their behaviour and performance, every morning we wake up just to know that they are alive, healthy and secure, it should be another beautiful day in our life with incomparable peace and happiness, and also to be thankful (if we believe in a Creator).
Ultimately, the greatest peace and happiness medicine is perhaps the realization that life is beautiful (re: Italian film, La vita e bella) the way it is in its totality. The next time we feel annoyed or unhappy about our nearest and dearest ones, let us think of what it would be like for us or them to return from a near death experience. In this author's opinion, almost surely even the deepest of disappointments would then appear hare-brained. The next time we feel wasted stuck in an insane traffic jam, just look out at the canopy of the sky or a tree waving its leaves or a structure/street hawker that has hitherto escaped our notice. Even these nondescript symbols may suddenly appear meaningful and beautiful since they essentially define the physicality of our life that is too brittle to extend into the next moment.
Mo Chaudhury is a Professor of Practice in Finance at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Prioritization of Key Issues by Government

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Priorities at hand

The governance of a country requires setting priorities and implementing a plan to advance the prioritised goals. The purpose of this commentary is to explore key dimensions of this process.
Priorities matter since they are to guide the operational dispositions of or governance by the government, in legislations, policies, development plans, budgets, and various projects, initiatives and campaigns during the current and expected future mandates. They should simultaneously reflect the ruling party's comprehensive vision and its deliverables to the people.
The defining characteristic of a set of priorities is its rank ordering of the issues, from the highest to the lowest.
As a matter of practice, however, only a short list of key priorities is often identified by a government, without any ordering. Once the key government priorities are determined, they should then be reflected as such in the actual workings of the government. Without this essential consistency, the country could very well wander into precipitous circumstances.
Bangladesh examples of grave inconsistency or lack of priority include the Padma Bridge financing, the banking scandals and the RMG factory fires.
Of course, the priorities themselves need to be consistent with each other. Absurd disregard for this consistency is illustrated by the recent government's approval of a host of new private banks while forcibly acquiring greater control of the member-borrower owned Grameen Bank.
Similarly, the government continues to rely heavily on the state owned commercial banks for its own finances and then defy greater regulatory power of the central bank over these banks; despite their chronic poor performance and massive banking scandals.
Setting key priorities and acting upon them involves tradeoffs that can be costly and unpalatable. An important area of priority tradeoff in Bangladesh is clean governance, the lack of which has been a constant enigma and a severe impediment towards harnessing the development potential of the country.
As influence peddling by the members of the ruling regime is the most dominant and prominent source of governance failures, a ruling party may find it extremely unpalatable and even unacceptable for the long-term survival of the party to seriously arrest and punish influence peddling by its own members.
Instead, strategically, it dawns as an attractive tactic to ceaselessly persecute the current opposition for their alleged misdeeds when in power previously. One potential way of resolving this dilemma has been discussed elsewhere [M. Chaudhury, How to establish clean governance, Financial Express, September 08, 2012].
A very challenging aspect of prioritisation is that the priorities may vary over time depending on the needs and aspirations of citizens, evolution of the philosophies of political parties, and the ever shifting global developments.
For Bangladesh, political self-determination and cultural liberty followed by economic fairness in the spirit of socialism were the overarching priorities during and immediately after the liberation war in 1971. But in 2013, the prioritisation process needs to start with the priorities of the post-liberation generations of Bangladeshis in the new millennium.
The need for this crucial transition is best understood by noting that the remarkable economic and socio-cultural achievements of Bangladesh since liberation are at odds with and at risk due to chronic and severe political turbulence, governance failures coupled with rampant corruption, alarming deterioration in the sanctity and security of life for ordinary citizens especially in the urban areas, fatally compromised consumer food chain, daily life and businesses paralysed by sharply reduced mobility and vastly inadequate power supply, and an ever shrinking stock of cultivable land and other non-renewable resources including below and above ground waters.
Lastly, the key priorities need to be designated as immediate, medium-term (five to ten years) and long-term. Some priority issues such as transportation, health and education infrastructures can be addressed over a medium-term while others, such as power and water supply, can only be satisfactorily addressed over an extended period of time.
Nonetheless it is important that the work starts today as the first phase of a planned capacity that should prove to be excess capacity for a long time since adding or reconstructing such capacities is usually expensive and time consuming, and may even be nearly impossible (e.g., reconstructing Dhaka city with high rises and wide boulevards). The London tube and the New York City bridges and subway system are worth noting examples in this regard.
Arguably the greatest risks to the well-being of future generations of Bangladeshis are the lack of adequate power supply and physical mobility network.
Almost surely, the immediate priorities need to include:
Redeployment of the law enforcement forces (and possibly the BGB and the armed forces) from managing political activities and protecting corrupt ministers and government officials to improve the sanctity of life and security for ordinary citizens and safety of the food chain;
Ensuring compliance with the governance demands of the international financiers so that the Padma Bridge and numerous other development initiatives may progress;
Improving safety measures at the all-important RMG factories; and
Privatisation of the state owned commercial banks or failing that allowing the Bangladesh Bank to exercise stringent regulatory oversight over them.
Additionally, the prosecution of the war criminals of 1971 should be fast tracked to serve the long-awaited justice once for all so that the country can stop fighting the old battles and instead engage, without distraction, in the challenges of the new millennium.
To conclude, it is time that the political and governance dialogue in Bangladesh shift from litigation of the record of prior regimes and constant mud slinging to articulating visions of managing the present and the future, preferably through a set of mutually consistent key priorities (immediate, medium and long-term) and action plans.
Eyes glued to the rear view mirror may not be a smart way to drive a nation forward.
The writer is a Professor of Practice in Finance at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

স্বাধীনতার ফলাফল, ২০১২ সাল

স্বাধীনতার  ফলাফল, ২০১২ সাল

"স্বাধীনতা তুমি পাপনের ঝরে পড়া ক্রিকেটের স্বপ্ন
অলোহীন কুঠুরীতে কিশোর নইমুরের রুদ্ধ শ্বাস প্রয়াণ
স্বাধীনতা তুমি শিশু অনীকের বুলেট বিদ্ধ কোমল বুক
খেটে খাওয়া যুবক বিশ্বজিতের রক্তে জ্বলে উঠা সকাল
স্বাধীনতা তুমি কি জানতে, তুমি হবে আশুলিয়া থেকে গোশ্বাপারায় বিস্তীর্ণ আহাজারী"

Young cricketer Papon was killed by muggers for his cellphone at the outskirts of Dhaka. Naimur, 13, from Bogra was kidnapped and then killed by the kidnappers. Anik, a child, was kidnapped from around Dhaka, and then killed as his parents could not pay the ransom. Biswajit, from Gosshapara of Fardidpur Area, on his way to work in old Dhaka, was brutally murdered by student activists. More than one hundred garment workers perished in the deadly fire at a factory in Ashulia near Dhaka, the exits were locked and the owners were known to be grossly negligent in terms of safety measures.