Behind the curtain

The more money one accumulates, the more important it is for one to have humility, our columnist learns.

"Have your kids ever looked behind the curtain at the horrors of economy class?”

I saw this comment on a friend’s Facebook post after she put up a photo of her daughter sitting in Business Class on a flight home.

The person who made the comment has a family with young kids. There were no comments after hers, which made me wonder: were their friends too speechless with shame to add to this conversation or were they just too busy averting their gaze from the realities of life, and the way millions of people actually live?

I just couldn’t believe this comment. I felt outrage, but also sorry for this person. And how shallow her children would grow up to be. It also brought to mind the movie, Titanic, in which those in first class boarded and were rescued first. In other words, the value of their lives was measured by how big their wallets were.

No doubt, snobbery has always existed, and still exists. But I would like to think that as we evolve, and as technology brings everyone closer – rich or poor – we become more aware of social injustices and develop greater sensitivity for those who are less privileged rather than feel superior.

Other Facebook posts show that there are plenty of people out there with a healthy dose of humility. People have told a friend of mine to drive a nice car to reflect his status. He replied he doesn’t believe in such ostentation.

True wealth, he said, is internal – in the values that he holds which no luxury car could possibly represent. I totally agree! I’m not ashamed to say I’m still driving around my trusty old Toyota Avanza, a car I’ve had for as long as I can remember.

And I travel economy. I still take the bus or LRT, whichever is more convenient, and eat at mamak stalls, many of which serve authentic food that is more delicious than what you get in restaurants and much cheaper!

When I was a much younger designer, I managed to fly Business Class a few times on the invitation of show sponsors. On these occasions, I noticed others in the cabin staring at me, maybe thinking: “Huh? What is this girl doing in this cabin?!” Even worse, this included the cabin crew. Perhaps that is why now, even if I can afford Business Class once in a while, I’d rather fly economy. The people are definitely more “real” and caring.

What I love about the Internet is the amazing access to information. When reading about inspiring people, I have come across many personalities that reaffirm my faith in humanity, which Ms Business Class should take some life lessons from.

Karpal Singh

Despite being the 11th-richest person on the planet with a fortune estimated at US$53bil (RM172.6bil), Ingvar Kamprad, 84, founder of Ikea, drives a 15-year-old car, flies economy class and encourages the thousands of staff members in his global empire to use both sides of company notepaper when writing letters.

Mexican Carlos Slim, whose fortune of more than US$73bil (RM237.8bil) has led to him recently being named the world’s richest man – that’s right, even richer than the uberfamous Microsoft founder – does not believe in indulging. Like investment guru Warren Buffett, another extremely rich yet humble person, he doesn’t own a yacht or plane, and has lived in the same home for over 40 years.

Chuck Feeney, the co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, quietly became a billionaire, but has given almost all of his money away through his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies. In addition to giving to his alma mater Cornell University, he has given billions to schools, research departments and hospitals.

Feeney beats both Buffett and Kamprad in donations, giving out less grants than only Ford, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations. A frequent user of public transport, Feeney flies economy class, buys clothes from retail stores and does not believe in wasting money.

Here in Malaysia, the late lawyer and politician Karpal Singh – though not as rich as the men mentioned above – had in his very productive life which had its roots in humble beginnings, made sufficient money to be considered wealthy. But he didn’t flaunt it and it certainly wasn’t his wealth that endeared him to so many Malaysians. Instead it was his humanity – the way he would help the most down-and-out fight their cases, often for free and how he literally saved the lives of countless men and women who would’ve been sent to the gallows.

No wonder his death has affected so many. How many of our rich and (in)famous would be so missed?

In the end, nobody really cares what class you fly, what car you drive, how many bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms your mansion has or how many diamond studded rings you wear. What matters is how you live your life and what you do to make this a better place for everyone.

So, instead of telling your children not to look behind the curtain at economy class, it just might do them good to do so.

> Award-winning fashion designer Melinda Looi tries to marry consumerism and materialism with environmental consciousness. She believes her greatest creations are her children. Send your feedback to

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Behind the curtain


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