Malaysia’s Biggest Problem: Our Attitudes

Cassandra Chung makes some observations about urban Malaysians and a prevailing problem among them.

Just last night, I attended a dinner and my table mostly consisted of those over 50 years of age. Like every typical dinner conversation, our conversation led to politics. My parents’ friends started talking about how those in the rural areas determine the ruling government. In some way, that is true. If a single coalition were to win all the parliamentary seats in Sabah and Sarawak alone, 25% of the majority needed to form a government would already be fulfilled (57 parliamentary seats all together). I usually follow politics very closely, whether or not it is election season, but that night I chose to remain silent, partly because I had a lot on my mind. However, that didn’t mean I wasn’t listening.

1. We lack empathy

“Why should they have a say in who runs our country? They know the least,” said somebody at the table.

Just like that, a thousand thoughts flooded my mind. Why? Well, perhaps because they are citizens. It is every citizen’s right to elect the candidate of their choice, whether we like it or not.

They know the least? Of course they know the least! They don’t have access to alternative news like Malaysiakini or The Malaysian Insider. You could say they have Radio Free Sarawak but here’s the catch: Could they really be bothered about what Radio Free Sarawak reports?

Many of us — including myself — have never properly stopped to consider that question, proving that we lack empathy. Perhaps we have grown complacent. We have a proper house to live in; our education has secured our future; we have food to eat; the list goes on. What do these people have? Definitely not money. I remember a member of the Methodist Church council telling my college’s Christian Fellowship that one of the biggest problems faced by Malaysian Christians in Sabah and Sarawak is the lack of money. Christian parents there discourage their children from attending youth service because they fear their children might become “too passionate” and end up becoming a pastor — an occupation that doesn’t earn much.

Yes, that’s how bad it is. Money is so scarce that following God’s possible calling is something to be sacrificed. When one lacks cash, basic necessities become scarce — putting food on the table becomes a problem. This is precisely the concern of the majority of rural folk. Honestly, why should they be bothered about their land being taken away from them? They get paid (as little as it is) for it, don’t they?

You might argue that it’s the long-term that matters. The Opposition can help these people have a better, self-sustaining life through transparency and good governance. While I do personally believe that, if you were in their shoes, would you take the risk? To give up all the cash handouts that feed your family for promises that possibly might go unfulfilled? As urban dwellers, the majority of us don’t know what it’s like to go hungry, to worry whether or not money might come in tomorrow and because we don’t know, we lack one of the essential things that enables us to relate with each other: empathy.

2. We are racists

We don’t notice it but we are. When we think of racists, we think of Bible-burning bigots, we think of people who advocate the concept of Ketuanan Melayu. We don’t think of ourselves. The ugly truth is, all of us practice racism. Something I continue to struggle with to this day is when I hear of Malay people gaining entry into public universities. Some time back, my Malay friend told me she got into a public university. She applied with an excellent A-Levels forecast of 1A* and 3As, and yet the first thing that came to my mind was; “You only got in because you’re a Malay”. For a split second, the bigot in me totally forgot how hardworking she is, how amazing her results were.

I once had a teacher who started deleting people off her Facebook friends list simply for the reason that they supported the Bersih 3.0 rally. When I told my parents that my teacher deleted me, their first reaction was to ask “Malay ah?” Just recently, a close friend of mine confided in me that when he was younger, whenever he refused to listen to his parents, they would threaten him by saying, “Later the Indian man come and get you.”

Our little acts reflect the true prejudices of our heart. Apparently, all Malays have something against street rallies, conveniently forgetting the massive number of Malays at Bersih 3.0. Apparently, all Indians are monsters — we forget that everybody is capable of heinous things. Apparently, those who enter public universities are lazy, incapable Malays — forgetting that the poor, hardworking and capable students, regardless of race, have no choice but to go there.

The GE13 fiasco only serves as evidence. Videos of us beating up foreigners went viral on the internet. If we didn’t beat them up, we resorted to calling them ‘Banglas’ — which is derogatory, by the way — or telling them to go back to where they came from, the very same thing our politicians do to some of us. It never occurred to us that some of those ‘Banglas’ we saw at the polling station are hardworking citizens of Malaysia. Granted, there were a massive number of foreigners illegally voting at polling stations, but we were supposed to defeat them with our vote, not through physical or verbal violence. What is sadder is that some people feel the need to defend their actions of blatant racism.

3. We are hypocrites

We often criticise our ruling government of being corrupt. They cheat and lie to us. Truth is, we do the very same things to the people around us and to ourselves. We see no problem in benefiting from exam paper leaks, especially if it’s for the SPM or trial exams. A lot of us don’t realise that one extra ‘A’ could determine whether you get a scholarship or not; by cheating, we potentially deprive someone else of a scholarship and we end up cheating the college out of their money. Sounds familiar? Depriving certain parties of scholarships to protect political interests and cheating taxpayers out of their money — that’s what we criticise our government for.

School exams aren’t the only things we cheat our way through. Students would gladly bribe their driving examiners and likewise, their driving examiners would happily take a bribe. We then proceed to criticise the government for caving in so easily to bribes. We bribe the policeman to get us out of trouble and then proceed to complain that the police force is so corrupted. Instead of being part of the solution, we contribute to the problem. By easily caving into bribes, we enable those who take bribes. Corruption is an action which involves two or more parties; we don’t realise that most of the time, we are the second party. While I do sympathise with individuals who cannot afford to pay for driving exam retakes and have to face examiners who deliberately fail them, I believe more affluent kids have no excuse. Likewise, I believe that getting stopped by the police for violating laws can serve as a lesson for us to be more observant of the speed limit.

Nobody said doing the right thing was easy, cheap or convenient. If we cannot practice integrity in such small matters, we cannot expect the ruling government to do so.

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Often wonders just what exactly is God trying to say.

Posted on 27 September 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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