Why Some Malaysians Are “Ignorant”

The new Malaysian?

The Malaysian dilemma?

Why are some Malaysians “ignorant”? Because … A.  they are brought up to do only what their elders tell them they should or can do. B. they fear something “bad” might happen to them. C.they are trapped in the “comfort zone”. D. they believe one person is insignificant. E. All of the above?

I have only been in existence for 20 years, born and bred on the soil of Malaysia. As a child, elders used to tell me that if I did something wrong (in the eyes of the adults), the policemen would come and take me away or if I did not study hard enough, I would be a garbage collector; such advice now appears to be redefined. Instead of emphasizing  the right way of doing things, elders tended to focus on “what not to do.” Looking back, I now feel that it is a rather unhealthy way of bringing up a child. I speak for myself because it would be an unfair generalization to say that all elders are alike.

The effect of this upbringing based on fear comes around when the child grows up. After umpteen years of being told what not do, these children tend to lose sight as to what it is that they should or could do. With such mental limitations and barriers created over the years, these children fail to willingly take risks or do things that are (to them) out of the norm. This then creates a general society of followers, unwilling to step up to the platform and be different. Of course, this is not applicable to everyone. Due to the presence of fear of authority, some may not even step up to the plate to voice out personal opinions for fear that something “bad” might happen to them. Is the government body that suppressive? Personally, I do not think so.

To date, I still encounter elders who advise me against expressing myself while some tell me I am unnecessarily opinionated. I would like to think that this is due to a generation gap or perhaps just an abundance of contentment in them that makes them so “okay” with everything that is going on. It almost feels like they live up the phrase ‘mind your own business’. If everyone really does live their lives on their own without considering the others around them or even the things that may affect their lives, I cannot help but wonder if they truly live with a satisfied smile on their faces. Does not the sense of accomplishment mean anything to them?

I vividly remember that I was once told that if I was present when a crime was committed or when an  accident occurred, I should never hold my hand up and become a witness. This was perhaps a decade ago, but it stuck in my head. I remember responding to that “advice” with a question, “Why don’t you want to help people if you can?” At that time I was probably 10, at the most . To me, a child’s innocence is the purest of its forms, uncorrupted and curious.

Then, another thought came about, a less judgmental view; maybe these people are just in a “comfort zone” trap. Economics carry poverty traps and unemployment traps, perhaps similarly human lives have traps too. I understand that mindsets have always been a topic of conversation in many conferences, discussions and even casual chats among friends but what it lacks most is the action in pushing for change. I for one needed a whole lot of head-knocking reminders  before I made conscious decisions to change certain mindsets, namely the one of conformity. I refuse to be satisfied with being just another human being in the world. Maybe it takes a whole generation or two to really develop the drive to achieve or perhaps it is just the “comfort zone” trap that people tend to be submerged in (and eventually stay there without feeling the need to come out of it).

There are many possibilities as to why some people are contented with just being a bystander or spectator. Ever heard a citizen say that his vote does not really matter since it is just one vote? The Egyptians have recently showed us that many “ones” can come together to create a force too strong to hinder. A force strong enough to end 30 years under the rule of Mubarak because the Egyptians finally decided that they have had enough.

Sometimes I wonder, what would make (more) Malaysians build their guts and take a stand? We do not have to be anti anything, but at the very least have an opinion and voice it out.  Being a weak society with no backbone can be fatal because it fails to be part of the positive and progressive checks and balance system for the government. Every nation is bound to have its flaws but with citizens who boldly point out through constructive criticism without negative blame hurling, a healthy government-citizen relationship would flourish. Of course, provided the government body is up for it.

I am not asking for an uproar of opinions and I do not believe in baseless ones; I am merely asking that more Malaysians grow into the culture of speaking up without fear (this does not include politicians). As much as it is a hopeful wish, I hope that the present generation and the generations to come gradually transform our  society into one that desires change, one that is willing to speak up for change and is willing to make it happen. Can we do it? You tell me.

Yeoh Ee Ping is a student with years ahead, but an avid supporter of work with a cause. She sees herself learning a whole lot on a daily basis just by talking to people; some who teach her what to do while others show her what not to do. While attempting to cope with her principle of living with her feelings on her sleeves, she is hopeful that one day, the government might follow suit.


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Posted on 21 February 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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15 Responses to Why Some Malaysians Are “Ignorant”

  1. Alexa

    Sometimes is not the matter of not to speak out, some people only speak out, criticize but they are not in the position of knowing what to do to solve the problem. Yes, i agree with you, our voice should be at least speak out, it would better if it could be heard (meaning people concern about it and try to solve it). Choosing the right medium, telling the right person, doing the right decision (3 rights), then only the problem can be solved. Merely, giving statement, speak out, does it really help? Even, we have done the 3 rights, how many of the right person has strong determination to do it if that person has a lot of obligation and concerns? Some parents will tell us "dear do what you suppose to do, if what you are doing is not done or you cannot cope with it, how can you concern about others?" I think this is right, but i am not in the position anymore.

  2. V-Theorist

    Tak kisah lah – not my problem. That is what you always hear from an ignorant person*

  3. V-Theorist

    Tak kisah lah – not my problem. From my point of view, there are two kinds of ignorance.

    1. People who doesn't bother about anything that doesn't concerns their welfare. They are selfish and hypocrites. They can be spineless Malaysians and when something bad affects them, they cause uproars.

    2. People who CANNOT afford to poke their nose into matters. You should have heard of the saying that 'A person may be in danger of knowing/ saying too much'. If everyday in the news, an average citizen sees news about powerful, influential and rich people murdered because they tried to fight for a cause, does that not bring even greater fear to an average citizen who has no wealth, no power, and no influence?

    So the question is — what can you do to get rid of the fear from #2?

  4. Milo

    I, for one, find the whole Junior/Senior thing very patronizing.

  5. Pei Ling

    It's very easy to romanticise Egypt, but it would pain me greatly to have to see more Malaysians fall into poverty before "change" comes.

    You forgot March 8. And the students', indigenous peoples' and leftist movement's resistance throughout our nation's history. The spirit of resistance can be found all over our history, way before independence. I think we always give too little credit to the people, the tendency to dismiss them as "apathetic" and "ignorant" is great, but therein also lies the danger of ignoring the people's potential and capacity for change. For they are diverse and flexible (than your usual politician or advocacy groups).

  6. bennymat7

    When Rosa Parks refused to give in to racial segregation in America she was a lone brave woman who history now acknowleged her contribution. We all can make a difference by voicing out views and opinions.

    For over 40 years we have lived through dark days of Mahathir's racism where over 96% jobs in Governments,GLCs,Opportunities,Scholarships were given to only one race. As Malaysians when we go overseas, we are made to feel like we dont belong when we see Embassy staff are all staffed by one race only. Hopefully one day we will see the end of Racist policy in Malaysia and all will be treated as Malaysians equally.

    For this to happen we all need to play our part no matter how small-like take part in politics,make a stand,voice out our opinions,write to press,comment on internet media,volunteer to help in NGOs and interest groups and encourage all to participate in voting for the right party.

    We must leave our children with a better future where Race/Religion do not determine their future or opportunities.

  7. Brian Fong

    Hi EP – u hit the nail on the head. Though I am more senior than you what you describe is akin to what I have experienced and is still experiencing. On and off i talk to people abt our seemingly worsening political situation and the responses is always – sigh# this is Msia. what can we do.* – got this responses esp from the late 30's – 50's group.

    We can say it is political indifference/apathy, rational ignorance or political helplessness but i would also like to ascribe it to a lack of political exposure esp in social activism.

    To this group of people, social activism is very close to being taboo as it invoked, somehow in their mind that it is akin to speaking up against the government (with placards etc) or taking to the street and it will never come to anything.

    What most dont understand is if we dont speak up at all against politics impropriety?abuses of power by politician, corruption and such, the situation will only get worse as the people in power will surely metamorph into something more sinister.

  8. There is no generation gap Ee Ping. The generation before me and mine and no doubt yours will wear it like a necklace around their necks. Fear is stil the enemy. Courage is not the absence of fear but the strength to do what is right in spite of it, said J. Johnson. When I was your age I became a student leader abroad and began to activate for change. But I found a higher purpose outside student politics though I still believe politics is a high calling hijacked by unprincipled politicians. Fear stops people from acting for change but once you overcome it you see the results but be prepared to pay the price. Keep writing and overcoming evil with good…because as Edmund Burke said, "What is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing." God bless you and Malaysia.

  9. Hi, Mustafa. Am glad you like it. Am honoured by your invite. Perhaps drop me an email with an identity reference? You can get my email via the link on my name. Would truly appreciate that. Thanks again, Mustafa.

  10. Mustafa

    I like what you wrote.

    What about a private dinner with me to discuss your essay?

    Cheerio.

  11. Thank you for reading, Sean. Am grateful for your well wishes. Will keep moving forward, that's for sure.

  12. sean

    Interesting way to put ones foot forward.

    Look forward to the further steps on your journey.

    Good luck

  13. Thank you for reading, Missah. Am truly humbled by your words. Yes, mindsets are generally the toughest to change, especially when roots are planted deep. At the same time, we do see a gradual shift in the newer generation, although not in totality, at least there are a handful or two. I love the dialogue you quoted! Just shows how everything is a matter of perception, really. Thank you once again, Missah. I truly appreciate your feedback.

    Thank you for the respond, Miss Sathya. I am most humbled. We will do what we do and make a difference in our own ways. I tremendously appreciate your support.

  14. sathya

    an article that should be read and digested by all, if not most adults.The very attitude of turning a blind eye to the rubbish that surrounds us that has brought us to a state of lack of apathy.

    Speaking with reason and wisdom is something that we all need to inculcate wihtin ourselves and also to the younger generation. We can always make that little difference. I am ready……….

  15. Yes, the prevalent mindset of silence and merely parroting opinions is 'difficult' to alter. It takes years to uninstall the programme in our minds. Ee Ping is indeed already years ahead outside the confining societal box.
    I can't resist sharing this dialogue from my favourite movie(s), The Matrix :
    Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
    Neo: What truth?
    Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
    Neo: There is no spoon?
    Spoon boy: Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.