Listening to the Naysayers: A Perspective of Bangladesh

Md Shidur Rahman
Thursday, December 15th, 2016


The practice of paying almost no-attention to the people who naysay anything is so common in Bangladesh. Instead, the yea-sayers are welcomed and rewarded even if sometimes they are wrong at saying anything. This situation seems to be prevailing in many aspects of Bangladeshi people’s lives family, education, politics, jobs, and others.


In most families, for ages, the males have been holding a dominant position for deciding any family matters; whereas the females hardly have opportunities to get involved in making any decisions, let alone to present their opposite views. This is particularly true in rural Bangladesh. The family autocracy of this kind is not likely to happen only between males and females but also between other family members. As an instance, mostly the junior members’ (children) words are bothered to a very lesser extent. Thus, the leader of the family likes to be all in all, and does not want to leave any space for others to express their opinions or alternative views. According to many, this appears to be an undemocratic behaviour.


But, extracting remarks and arguments unfolded by others can work for the decision-maker rather than work against her/him because new vital ideas may come up from any remarks and arguments. More importantly, taking others’ opinions may yield a feeling that their voices are heard not ignored! Thus, from the family as an origin of education, the children who are next generations can learn what the freedom of expression is.


The education arena in Bangladesh often paints the similar picture. Precisely speaking, most of the classrooms yet not all either in primary level or tertiary level are teacher-dominated and teacher-centred in which students’ tapping into an argument on a topic is insignificant. In other words, students have had no autonomy. To some students, challenging a teacher’s arguments is like a blasphemy. Many teachers also think that their arguments are beyond dispute. Others put a rubber-stamp approval of what students say. It means when a student says something, a teacher immediately says yes, good or excellent. This kind of teacher’s rubber stamping tendency restricts other students, who may have different arguments or answers, to be engaged in an activity. Consequently, so many students do not find enough room to express their counter arguments.


This conventional classroom education system, however, does not let the students become free thinkers, critical thinkers or skeptics. Looking at an issue critically, however, may help someone judging that issue fairly and rightly. Being skeptical or critical towards any idea does actually enhance its credibility, not undermine it. Believing this, the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and many other countries in the world put more pressure on students to be critical at their academic works, and students’ counter voices are hard with a special care.


Afterwards, the political landscape of Bangladesh has appeared to become worse in terms of tolerating differences or oppositions. The two largest mainstream political parties (AL and BNP) seem to be reluctant to listen to each other, and the bitter rivalry between them is obvious. Many political analysts have opined that these two parties are rarely found to be in agreement with any issues, especially since when the representative democracy began in 1991. At times, they get engaged in a violent confrontation; no matter what it affects the civilian’s daily life.


One of the best examples is the recent political deadlock which has occurred due to that the two parties cannot reach a consensus in particular with the election process and peaceful transfer of power. In this respect, it is worth mentioning that the leader of opposition (outside the parliament) is asking the government for a dialogue, but the government are rejecting it.


Then, on the face of it, the situation of suppressing the alternative views in the intra-party politics is akin to the situation of inter-party politics. As is evident from the words of Professor Ali Riaz who discussed (in a book titled: An introduction to South Asian Politics, published in 2016) that within the party, the party members who have the memberships in the decision-making forum do not have freedom of expressing their opinions because dissenting views are regarded as disobedience and disobedient members are typically disciplined regardless of their opinions’ validity. While, the yea-sayers who are aligned with the party chairperson’s decision whether it is wrong or right, are prized. This sort of tradition could jeopardise a political party, because none can dare to stand up for saying the right thing even when the leader steers the party into a dangerous direction. It expresses the leader’s absolute monopoly over her/his party.


While the political parties in other democratic countries, especially in the Western world, such as in the UK politics, the parties accept criticism; anyone within the party can criticise the leader’s decision, one party can object another party’s activities. The freedom of expression is not curtailed at all. So, in UK politics, the critics are not thought to be like enemies – instead, they are deemed to be of democratic importance. According to Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, academic scholars, “The more you give voice to your critics’ objections, the more you tend to disarm those critics, especially if you go on to answer their objections in convincing ways.” It sounds like a paradox, but it is a matter of fact that, through convincing the critics’ objections, one can prove that her/his actions are valid. Hence, there is no harm of getting opponents to voice their opinions on any important subjects.


This is all not to suggest that listening to the oppositions’ voices means always accepting them. It all depends upon whether it is convincing or not. At one extreme, if it is convincing, there needs a positive mindset for embracing it – not to have a predetermination for denying whatever the objection is. At the other extreme, one should not show scepticism at everything, and go through never believing anything she/he hears and sees. It would be better to hold open the possibility what they know and bring an element of polite doubt. In a word, it is necessitated to hold a compromising mindset.


So, having taken the concept of hearing others’ voices as a crucial element of democracy, all should come forward to establish the habit of tolerating the counterparts at every walk of our life: family, education, politics, work, and so on. Then, the people (from children to adults) in Bangladesh would most possibly be able to comprehend the real democracy. This will result in a peaceful society and lead to a developed country at large in the long run.


The writer is a doctoral candidate at School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast, UK. He acknowledges the input of in this piece.

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