Myanmar and us
Village Behaviour and Discipline
I continued my observations of the Rohingya villagers by watching their behaviour whilst sitting at various small shops, snack stalls, and houses.
Where there was an absence of visible known adults, such as during the heat of the day, there were many boisterous children who didn't have too much self-control. As a consequence, teasing of more vulnerable children occurred, as it does worldwide. But the open taunting of some elderly people was surprising.
In one instance, an older teenager who often showed-off loudly began shouting insults with rude noises at a passing elderly man. The man retorted angrily, which led to others in the teenager's group to join in the baiting. The man tried futilely to chase the youth, swearing, saying he knew his father. This was even bigger entertainment for the bored group of children.
The quieter younger ones now copied the older teenagers with shrill calls and laughter, which enraged the man further, only escalating the situation. Verbally overpowered, the derisive cries continued for some time as the man slowly walked off along the track.
The younger unsupervised children had learnt behaviour that got them acceptance and approval from the older more dominant teenagers. Peer pressure and the need for social inclusion play a part in antisocial acts of unmonitored groups. Exclusion of the Rohingya from mainstream education leaves non-working youths more susceptible to peer group influences when parents are engaged in other activities.
The casual teasing of adults was not confined to the more vulnerable. I observed muttered low-key rude remarks from this group directed towards many passing adults, men, women, and children alike. The teenage girls' tactics were to ignore or just smile and carry on as if unperturbed.
The mocking of elderly villagers may not be unsurprising when adults do not treat children with respect themselves. Sometimes the cultural acceptance of put-downs directed at the more vulnerable are so accepted that few people realise how harmful it is, what the consequences are. For example, in Bangladesh the belittling disrespectful word "picci" used by adults towards children in public (rather than as a sign of affection at home) is common and is never challenged by any observers. What if the child said "bura bacca" in response?
Widespread verbal abuse of children through loud public reprimanding, name-calling, teasing, shaming, gossiping, and rudely interrupting is culturally acceptable. Children are avid learners and copiers of what adults do to themselves, to perpetuate the same. It inhibits developing compassion. At times their anger is channelled and sublimated into thinking or doing clandestine retribution, sometimes overt revenge.
The myth amongst some slightly more educated Bangladeshi people is that the bad manners and unruly behaviour of children is due to their uneducated parents and the children's lack of education. This elitist thinking is just a mechanism to perpetuate feelings of superiority. They don't level this lack of schooling accusation at wild, rowdy youths of parents with a higher social status.
It was approaching dusk. In a small tea shop about ten minutes walk away from the mocking group of youngsters, was a huddle of men enjoying their patriarchal company without the knowledge or bother of what the young children were doing. The adults wouldn't know how their aloofness was helping to create an antisocial gang. When the children got home, they would behave perfectly, scared into temporary submission by strict words or the threat of corporal punishment.
Many people confuse traditional 'respect' of seniority with controlling by fear. People earn respect. Children won't respect those who unjustly abuse them. The same principle applies in schools. But it's hard to challenge the methods of seniors such as grandparents due to 'respect' and the observance of family power hierarchy based on age (and gender).
Nor will men in traditional conservative patriarchal households easily give up their notion of respect where a woman obeys what a man says. Sometimes religion is co-opted as a further excuse to subjugate and control women. Unfortunately, this 'respect' doesn't extend to good manners, respecting other people by listening calmly to their opinions or treating them equally.
The conditioning of some children to fear adults or older youths because adults perceive it as the best way to control children is a basis of corporal punishment in traditional villages. A short-term solution - shouting, rage, hitting - often works to dismiss the problem, so why should those people consider other methods?
In many conservative Bangladeshi villages, you can hear villagers use the threat "marbo". It's usually accompanied by a hostile tone of voice, priming the recipient to aggression rather than an affectionate outlook. When adults practise this discipline method, invariably children copy: you will hear them saying the same to younger toddlers themselves. For growing children and newcomers such as brides, society is founded on cooperation, and we cannot benefit from it unless we gain acceptance by adhering to the unwritten rules.
When in the presence of their parents, both the Rohingya and Bangladeshi youths will not have internalised the reasons for polite, moral behaviour. But they have observed how unsuppressed displays of anger are part of one's demonstration to show power and dominance. This can lead to emotionally immature individuals, people who have not learnt to regulate their emotions.
Morality is a devise for solving the social challenges of everyday life where the problem is to get selfish individuals to work together as a group and enjoy the benefits of cooperation. Studies have shown that the way people respond to moral situations in texts and their inability to articulate their reasons seems largely independent of their religious beliefs or lack of them.
Moral instruction to promote conformity by adults telling a child how to behave, by schools teaching a student how to act, by religious groups instructing a child what to do, leads to acquiescence but does not necessarily lead to moral behaviour.
With all the threats and actual physical admonishment against weaker and younger people, it was surprising how dogs were treated. There were many dogs in both the Rakhine and Muslim villages. These canines walked around nonchalantly or lay resting on the ground. They appeared happy and not threatened by humans. Unlike Bangladesh, I never once saw any signs of aggression from adults or children towards any dogs. The Rohingya children eagerly explained how dogs were useful; they were guard dogs in the night to warn about thieves.
Curiously, although we can judge a society by the way it treats the most weak and vulnerable members - children, those with physical and psychological differences, those in prison, animals, etc. - Myanmar might be much higher than Bangladesh in compassion to animals but not to some fellow humans from another religious group. Though in both countries we see widespread examples of how society sanctions abusive treatment of those weaker, younger members, and the effects this has on them to perpetuate the same when they become older. A degree of lawlessness, impunity, political protection and a lack of protective legislation for certain types of domestic abuse are further factors allowing some dominant adults to continue misusing their power.
(To be continued...)