Malaysia is very blessed as far as nature is concerned, in terms of plantlife, wildlife, and natural beauty. More importantly, from time immemorial, the beauty was also reflected in its people, who were legendary for their gentle manners and charming politeness. The saying “Manners Maketh The Man” has always been ingrained in local society in the form of gestures, manners of address, and social interactions, which has infused a warm richness into the Malaysian psyche.
Unfortunately, it is becoming quite evident that that characteristic of gentility and politeness is no longer the norm – so much so that Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, a former Member of Parliament, was compelled to comment about it. Honestly, it doesn’t take a patrician’s observations to make us aware of the issue – the signs are already all around.
Elderly folk and pregnant women/mothers with children are often literally ignored in the LRT trains; parents and children bickering and shouting at each other in public; selfish drivers parking in handicapped spots when they are not supposed to; the exponential rise of bullying in schools – we’ve all heard of such stories one way or another, either having experienced it in person or hearing about it through various communicative means.
What could account for such a drop of social graces? Perhaps it is a tangible sense of unease and simmering anger at what is happening on a daily basis. Nowadays, you will hardly see Malaysians volunteering to help a total stranger in distress – because too many times, those helping have become victims in turn due to unscrupulous brigands pretending to need help in order to sting more victims. It really doesn’t help that authority figures, such as politicians and the police chiefs, seem to be helpless and clueless to do anything about it, judging from the amount of arrogant and self-centred statements that they have made in public.
There is also a regrettably virulent strain of male chauvinism entrenched in local culture, even in men who have an education. This behaviour colours society’s view of women as being more objects than human beings in their own right, where women are still seen as the weaker sex who are only good for “Kinder, Küche, Kirche”, as the German expression goes.
Sadly, this poisonous viewpoint has even seeped into women, a lot of whom don’t see themselves as being worthy of manners and better treatment. It has also resulted in a backlash of women who think that the only way to react against this is to be ultra garrulous instead – as seen by the number of women nowadays who do not acknowledge doors being held for them with even the barest nod nor smile, never mind actually using kind words. These include mothers with children – who probably do not realise that their rudeness is setting an example for their children to emulate.
The government is trying to combat this by introducing basic civil manners again in school, which is supremely ironic considering that they were the ones who removed such niceties in the first place. Moreover, having the lessons in school will not be super effective if parents at home don’t behave in an equitable manner towards their families, friends and neighbours. This is not to say that people should not stand up for their rights – but there is a whole world of difference between how Bersih was done and how the Red Shirt Rally does things.
There is a Malay proverb that is translated thus: “When they die, tigers leave their stripes; elephants leave their tusks; and humans leave their good name” – and parents need to realise that courtesy begins at home. Setting a good example of civility will certainly make life so much better – so let’s all chip in and start behaving well like how they used to in the old days. Please?