Hornbill Unleashed

December 8, 2013

Malaysia’s Biggest Problem: Our Attitudes

Filed under: Human rights,Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
Tags: , , ,

Cassandra Chung

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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8 Comments »

  1. I AM OF THE OPINION THAT THE WRITER IS WAY OUT OF LINE. SHE SHOULD NOT SENSATIONALISE THE TRIVIAL ISSUES BUT CONCENTRATE ON THE BIGGER WOES PLAGUING THE COUNTRY. ALSO, SHE SHOULD DISTINGUISH THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘EMPATHY” AND “SYMPATHY”. UNLESS, SHE HAS NOTHING BETTER TO WRITE!!!!

    Comment by Geronimo Miller — December 11, 2013 @ 6:45 AM | Reply

  2. To the person who advocate cash handout. This is the type of attitude which is against toward building a progressive nation. This hand out have an ulterior political motives that is to ensure the survival of the ruling power. Our rural brothers need genuine developments proper education and access to medical facilities,upgrade of social economic development. Without these opportunities they would continue be pushed to ever backward situation and still craving for this ‘ cash handout’. Layla sujang said ‘who are to tell the politicians…’ is correct because many of us is still having this ‘handout mentality’. Stop this attitude and work with our natives leaders to fight for equal distribution to the wealth of this nation. There is no such thing as stupid dayak but we know many of us are ignorant. Rid this ignorance, the dayak will be as good as any other Sarawakian. Our expertise would be in the other fields of endeavour not necessary in the world of business. Wake up our dayak brothers. This handout mentality would shut out our intelligence faculty to be progressive. We have to learn from the proverb of ‘ giving the fish ‘ .

    Comment by thinkingstraight — December 10, 2013 @ 10:55 AM | Reply

  3. In order for us to build a better nation, we should first change and do the right thing even no matter how immaterial it is to others. Corruptions, racism, – all these happen everywhere. e.g in any companies, most that I know practice all those misdeeds. But for politicians, you were voted by the people to lead and therefore, no matter which side you are on, walk the talk.. Remember Micheal Jackson’s song, ‘Man In The Mirror’?

    Comment by Saran Tajau — December 9, 2013 @ 11:38 PM | Reply

  4. Very well said!
    To add to her point on Empathy – To those who call the Dayaks especially in Dayaks in the rural areas as ‘’stupid’’ for voting the ruling government, be more careful with your choice of words.
    Berat mata memandang, berat lagi bahu memikul.. the cash handouts is one very good example.

    Comment by Melanie Endawi — December 9, 2013 @ 2:43 PM | Reply

  5. Anyone who believes that any great enterprise of an industrial characteristic can be started without hard work must have little experience of LIFE. The gem cannot be polished without friction nor man can succeed without hard and honest work.Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. I simply do not know to what level Malaysians know about LIFE ?

    Comment by thinkingstraight — December 9, 2013 @ 11:18 AM | Reply

  6. An honest piece that every Malaysian should read. It’s our nature to pick out the faults in others and think ourselves unblemished by racism, corruption and other human weakness. Fact is, ALL of us are guilty of these things even if it is in different degrees of severity. We flout the rules all the time – traffic offenses, racial stereotypes, laziness at the workplace. Change has to start with us. However someone in public office is held up to higher standards – that’s the price you pay for your position. They of all people should lead by example. Cut the rhetoric and clean-up your act first dear politicians – you know who you are! If you are no-nonsense about good governance, the people will follow suit.

    Comment by Sasha Pranth — December 9, 2013 @ 8:46 AM | Reply

  7. Attitude – the ultimate enemy of success in Malaysia. Agree. The other one is culture of blaming everybody except yourself. The Malays are backward because of British policy of divide and rule, UMNO performed poorly because of the Chinese and Malays do poorly in business is caused by the Chinese who are involved in haram business which Malays must not imitate. Non-muslims must not use the common name for the Almighty otherwise the majority in Malaysia will terpesong. If chauvinists in this country just stop believing (a bad attitude) that they are supreme, everybody will feel equal and the same, Malaysia will advance into the ranks of Utopian nation.

    Comment by I am Right — December 9, 2013 @ 7:48 AM | Reply

  8. I would have to agree with the writer especially on us being racists and hypocrites. Who are we to tell the politicians what to do when we do not practice the same ourselves..

    Comment by Layla Sujang — December 8, 2013 @ 9:21 PM | Reply


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