Myanmar people are always “arr nar de”, which means we are always unwilling to upset anyone or make anyone feel bad. We ask someone “Do you like it ?”, and the response will be “Yes, it’s good.” A psychiatrist will probably tell this is due to deep seated fears and longings, but, for the short term anyway, it leaves everyone feeling happy.
I believe however that it is rooted in our culture. We are taught from a very early age, as soon as we are able to crawl in fact, to pay respect to our parents, grandparents, and of course, to the Sangha or Order of Monks. “Oo daw”, meaning “bow in respect”, is one of the first phrases we learn to respond to as babies, and all babies learn to bow down to monks and grandparents before they learn anything else.
When we are a little older and off to primary school, we stand up with folded arms when teacher walks in and chant, or shout as loudly as possible, “Good morning’ teacher and you” without understanding any word. Rote learning starts early. No thinking is required or encouraged. All this by the way has nothing to do with “laws”, and anyone who thinks passing laws will solve the problem of rote-learning in schools is in for a surprise. It is our culture of respect for teachers. “Fold your arms and bow your heads when you pass before teachers.”
For a tiny majority of children who go to expensive private schools, the roles may be somewhat reversed. In these private schools, the kids rule the classrooms. Perceptive kids know their parents are paying high fees and expect to be pampered. The teachers are careful not to upset the kids. They know the kids’ parents are paying their salaries. Habits learned early are hard to change. For most children, respect for teachers continues into high school and university, and later into respect for authority. We become habituated into responding with “Yes Sayar” and “Very good Sayar”. It pleases everyone and requires no thinking on our part. Government officials too are a product of this culture, and expect compliance and agreement from one another. But clearly, if we are to learn and grow in knowledge as individuals, and to prosper as a nation, we need to be more honest with one another.
Strange though it may sound, it is not always good to be so nice to one another. Sometimes, we need to make an effort to think carefully, and to speak honestly. In the long run, it will prove better for everyone.
By U Hla Maung
About author : U Hla Maung went to school in London and graduated from London’s Imperial College of Science and Technology in 1966.