Saudi Gazette - Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer - Social changes do not happen overnight, according to social experts. Generally speaking, this is the case in every society in the world. However, the situation in Saudi Arabia seems to differ from the above stated canon or common belief. The rapid move from a nomadic society to an urban society plays a significant role in this matter.
It is estimated that 50 years ago, nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s population followed the nomadic way of life of the Bedouin, living in large tents surrounded by their camels, goats, and sheep. Today, the number of truly nomadic people in Saudi Arabia is estimated to be less than 10 percent, and is rapidly decreasing. Many Bedouin, particularly the young, have left their tents in the desert for more modern luxuries and have moved to the city. This dramatic change has created over the past few years unique patterns of Saudi life that make the Saudi society a distinct one. It is unfortunate that this situation sometimes results in various negative social phenomena.
Let us take a look at the most noticeable negative features of our lifestyle, such as the overwhelming sense of complaining. Everywhere you go, be it a school or university, a government institution, a private establishment or company, or even a social gathering among friends or family members, the overwhelming tone is that nothing is going in the right direction. Once you introduce an issue for discussion, you immediately expect to hear unfavorable statements regarding the issue.
It is because of this common social practice that we are not pleased with what we are surrounded by or with what we have. This widespread social phenomenon comes at the expense of making the required efforts to create better circumstances. A lack of independent thinking and formulating our individual points of view are major aspects of the Saudi way of life. A large number of Saudi citizens tend to go along with or follow in the footsteps of others even if they do not really understand what they are doing. Their main concern is that they should not, under any circumstances, be different from the rest. Therefore, most of the time, they watch what people do and copy their actions.
The tendency to put the blame on others is another common aspect of the Saudi lifestyle. Instead of admitting their wrongdoings and mistakes, the majority of people here like to accuse others of being responsible. Among people of different classes and in different places, others will be blamed for what went wrong. I rarely encounter people who have the courage to point to themselves and confess that they take full responsibility for what went wrong.
Moreover, unlike people of other nations who have a heightened awareness and appreciation of time, Saudis often have a relaxed attitude toward time. This can be seen in all situations, from the punctuality of a driver to the start of an official event. One can cite a number of social events that reflect such a tendency.
Deadlines are not absolute, and frequent and unscheduled visits to friends and relatives are not considered a waste of time, but rather time well spent. It is considered discourteous to be caught looking at your watch during any sort of social gathering. Missing an appointment or showing up late is not a good thing to do. But it is also not a big deal.
Generalization is also a common social phenomenon for which Saudi society is notorious. Saudis love to make general statements on every matter. For instance, when you attempt to solicit an opinion concerning an issue, you will hear general statements indicating that all people involved “do this” or “believe that”.
Another feature of Saudi life is the constant habit of praising ourselves no matter what, instead of looking closely at our pitfalls or shortcomings. We always like to hear that we are the best county and that there is nothing wrong with our lifestyle, customs, or behaviors.
Another Saudi trait is the wrong approach a considerable number of Saudi citizens take when reacting to the contradictory opinions of others. Instead of weighing the expressed opinions to see how valid they are, we tend to personally attack someone for stating a contrary opinion.
We sometimes accuse a person of being morally degenerate or being intentionally hardheaded and acting to thwart our aspirations. Some of us go so far as to claim that other people are not thoughtful and know nothing about the subject matter. We often also beat down different views with cultural sticks.
Contradictory behavior or double standards are another common feature of life here. Most Saudis often state their firm belief on an issue but do not apply it on the ground. In other words, we do not practice what we preach in public. Such unpleasant behavior can be seen in a wide range of social practices in which we publicly observe our religious teachings and customs and restrain ourselves from doing things that apparently go against our known beliefs, but in reality, we tend to contradict our deep-rooted values and faith.
The negative aspects of the Saudi character do not mean that we are not people of good character. The rapid transition from a nomadic to an urban society has not led only to negative social features. Saudis still speak proudly of their roots in the desert, and the traditional qualities of Bedouin hospitality remain an integral part of life in Saudi Arabia. There are also numerous good characteristics that Saudi society possesses.
The shortcomings of society are all about human nature. Thus, no country can escape from having such unpleasant social features. No one on the planet can claim that their country is perfect and that their society is ideal. We, as well as our Saudi society, like any other society around the world, have good as well as bad attributes.