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.