Fresh liberty

By Abeer Farooqui

One of the most valuable advantages that come with being a younger sibling is the gift of someone else’s retrospect. Four years older than me, my brother’s life gave me a considerably fair view of what my future would bring. It allowed me more time for careful planning before execution, and helped me identify factors he had previously overlooked. At the least, his areas of trouble helped me prepare the right kind of ammunition for my future. To give the simplest of examples, he guided me through my university experience: “No, you idiot, don’t take that course: it’s useless. You really need to speak up in this professor’s class. This is how you file your internship paper work. Start applying for jobs now. I repeat: START NOW.”

However, having this foresight doesn’t always feel like a superpower. Superhuman sight isn’t always an advantage. Sometimes, when you X-ray yourself, you spot cancers. Sometimes I spot these little formations, these questionable, asymmetrical shapes. My brother is in a low-paying, unsatisfying job, that he has no passion for, which he can’t wait to assign to retrospect. He’s frozen in place until he can find something else—if not better. He’s frozen in place until he finds someone who knows someone who knows someone, because as they say, it’s often not what you know, but who you know.

But here’s the truth: no one we know can or will give us what we want. Meaning..

According to Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston, researchers and developers of the Centered Leadership Model, meaning is everything. It underlies and over-aches everything. It is the highest level of happiness, and of personal well-being.

Perhaps, for a fresh graduate, demanding meaning in his/her first employment is asking for too much. But that’s not what I, my brother, or any other graduate, is hoping for. What we want is much simpler, much less complex than that. What we want is the opportunity to eventually find our way to meaning.

John Stuart Mill famously advocates individual liberty. He argues that for a society to do well, individuals must do well. And for individuals to do well, they must have the liberty to explore and exploit their potential. It’s not enough to just tell people, “You’re free to do whatever you want to do.” Opportunity must be provided. Now, many will say that opportunity is, in fact, provided in today’s world, in this region of the world. But I ask: is it equal opportunity? Or, as the concept of “wasta” in the Arab world illustrates, is it who you are socially, economically, or ethnically that determines how much opportunity you have access to?

Globalisation has been one of the most widely-discussed concepts in the past few decades, in living rooms, classrooms and parliament rooms around the globe, so forgive me for bringing it up here as well. But I find it quite essential to bring it up. With the blurring of national boundaries comes a multicultural world. Theoretically, all doors are open – or that’s what it seems like.

The truth is, they are not open for everyone. I realised this first when I started to apply to jobs and observed that some jobs blatantly excluded selected nationalities from applying by listing only those nationalities that were allowed to reply. Others did so indirectly, by listing strict visa requirements.

As an overseas Pakistani citizen, I found myself at the bottom of the pyramid. I curse when I’m asked for my nationality on a job application. I fume when red-tape (forms and more forms to fill) accumulates at the sight of my green booklet of a passport. I know there are political—and even rational—decisions why my passport is discriminated against, but is any of it really a reasonable justification for a common individual? Why are we limited from access to the same opportunities as our counterparts from different nations? Should we have to accept that we will eventually succumb to what Mill claims abhorrent: a state of individual and societal mediocrity?

I don’t want to be mediocre. I want to excel. I want to be among the travelling youth, who flit from country to country, volunteering, working part-time, trying their hand at different professions—finding themselves. Finding meaning.

I want to know that my peers and I have the hope to participate in this globalised economy. I never thought it to be an exclusive event. I want to go to a job interview, and not have my nationally determine my worth. I want to determine my own worth. I want opportunity, and I want open doors.

I hope younger siblings in the future don’t look upon their older siblings’ lives and shrink back when thinking about their own destinies. I want what Mill wanted. He said self-improvement brings societal-improvement. So let not this globalised world discriminate. Let this globalised world propel us forward, so we can take it along with us.

By: Abeer Farooqui