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Dear Madam,
Malice, non co-operation, prejudice, and hostility permeate the occupational environment in the Bangladesh Civil Service. We spare no means, as foul as they may be, to cling to a tenure at some hierarchal position, sacrificing our human values on the altar of artificial and often undeserved rank and status that fetch power and material possessions. To me, the seniors are mostly responsible, failing (with rare exceptions) to establish themselves as role models for the junior. In this situation, how to preclude the juniors from being misguided because they are to ultimately take over and lead the family, the organisation or in future the society? I seek responses from your wisdom. Are we destined to witness continuity of this unhealthy environment and to bemoan in a helpless fashion? Your very comprehensive, incisive analytical answer to my question on sycophancy makes me tempted to ask on another issue.

Dr. Syed Naquib Muslim

Ans: Your question is food for thought for everyone concerned. I'm contributing my thoughts here though I believe only time can answer your question.

Malice, non co operation, prejudice, hostility- these are your personal opinions about Bangladesh Civil Service work environment and this is likely to be regarded as just one person's opinion. Opinions can get biased depending on whether it is feeling- based or evidence- based. The pervasive negative environment that you have described in Bangladesh Civil Service is your subjective reality (if your opinion is based on feelings alone), which can be different from the subjective reality of another member of this group. In fact, how you feel about it is your truth, which may or may not reflect the whole truth. The truths we reach are also based on our beliefs and the data we “select” to prove our beliefs (ladder of inference). We draw an inference from what we observe and experience through our particular “mental filter” which can be different from another person's “mental filter”. As more and more people start drawing the same inference, the personal subjective reality is likely to get closer to whole truth.

Feeling ticked off too often (most of the time of a day, most days of a week and most weeks of a month for few months) is neither good for self nor for the environment. Depression, anxiety, stress etc., can also negatively influence our perception and how we relate to others. If the system (as per your analysis) is encouraging people to adopt negative attitude and educated people have no insight or remorse about doing so, then this is an alarming sign for the whole nation. A rule of thumb is- people treat others the way they want to be treated in return. Face the dragon with all your guns out (I mean psychological ammunitions)! Or allow them to use you like a doormat! These methods could work for a short while though would take its toll in the long term.

As a nation we are already suffering from lack of trust in each other as our trust has been broken over and over again in the past. Bangladesh Civil Service, physicians, engineers, politicians, businessmen, police- just name it, most occupations have earned bad names- what good can that bring for us? Over generalised negative comments can demoralise the nation and create unnecessary panic amongst people. A poor, uneducated, demoralised, frightened nation is doomed to go downhill.

An important self-care practice is to stay away from people who transmit negative energy and are toxic in nature. Being selective in making friends and surrounding self with nurturing and positive minded people is very important. Sometimes talking about negative stuff becomes an obsession and goes on and on in a circle without getting anywhere! Honest and courageous people are always a blessing for a society. Trying to be a whistle blower to draw other people's attention to this negativity may or may not work depending on how the group feels as a whole. Are they in the same page as you are and ready to bring a change? Or are they actually enjoying this situation as it serves their shallow purpose and are quite comfortable in this life style? If nature and nurture both are working in their favour, only a handful of people can't really do much by ranting and raving about it. When vices outweigh virtues, evil takes over. In the quest of personal peace (if you are not a martyr kind of person and would love to run for life)- transfer, time off from work or even quitting the job might also be considered.

Intellectualisation, rationalization and blaming are psychological defence mechanisms that allow us to ruminate and feel angry about the things that are not in our control (becomes a coping strategy) and excuse us from taking responsibility of the things that are actually within our control. Since this is a fine line that separates what is helpful and what is not, one has to be very much in touch with his/her inner issues that might be working underneath these defence strategies.

You are right; the nation is facing the consequence of failure of seniors at all level. Never the less, if it was not for the seniors, Bangladesh would have been wiped out of the world map long ago. However, it would be wise to acknowledge that we are talking about a generation (seniors) who have lived through riots, war, killing, hatred, lawlessness, famine and gross social and political instabilities. They have learned to live in a “basic survival mode” (that only focuses on preserving genes in a selfish, self-centred way). A civilized society, where people learn to cherish human values and positive environment, requires more than this basic survival skill to operate. This is how constant social and political unrest forces people to live in “crisis mode” and rob the nation of its full potential.

Traditionally people used to join civil service for job security, respect and reasonable salary. Serving the state and the nation at a greater scale were additional attractions. Since corruption has invaded this service it is attracting greedy unscrupulous people for all the wrong reasons.

Regarding your concern about junior officers, I would like to comment that they are not children. They are highly educated, intelligent, matured adults. They are supposed to be capable of making good choices and right decisions, they are supposed to know the differences between right and wrong, good and bad-otherwise they wouldn't be getting this job! People learn about values, manners, compassion in their childhood from their family. If people are holding important positions without these basic social learning, it is indeed an alarming sign for any nation. Despite what they have missed in the past, it is now their turn to learn it quick on their own and be their own role models. After all, they are fast learners! They know money, status, power is important in life, how come they don't know being civil, co-operative and respectful is essential to live in a civilized society?

Politicisation of Bangladesh Civil Service has probably played a big role in escalating this problem and destroying all important institutions. Since the birth of this nation, we have witnessed how leaders/parents/seniors have used blaming, rationalization and intellectualisation to justify their wrong doings. To me, every adult is responsible for his/her action. Blaming others (seniors) for one's poor choice of action is a defence strategy to protect the sick mind inside. If someone says “seniors have set bad examples, so juniors will do it too “- this is rationalization. Regressing to defiant childhood by repeating the anti-social behaviour and getting away by doing that is unfortunate. I've no intention to condone the wrong doings of seniors; they are to be held accountable for their actions too. In my view, breaking the cycle and not repeating is the only possible solution.

I guess service rules clearly stating code of conduct and disciplinary actions against those who violate rules are important measures to maintain peace and harmony. Regular intra departmental staff meetings to address conflicts and non violent conflict resolution skills are necessary to resolve the issues. Proper training in this regard and a guideline about conflict resolution techniques, a grievance policy and educating people about effective communication skills can be helpful to start with. Assessing individuals for their team work capacity, screening personal beliefs (prejudices), background check for any evidence of personality disorder etc. can be helpful in the selection process and placing people in right positions. If people want to live in a peaceful positive environment they have to work hard to build the desired community.

Since work related stress can lead to various mental illnesses, it can result in loss of productivity and high financial stakes at national level. So, there is no scope to minimise the benefit of ensuring a healthy work environment.


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