Putting society before ourselves

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  • Wednesday, 27 Jul 2016

YOU’RE welcome,” I exclaimed exasperately.

I had just given way to another driver who has been attempting to cut into the lane I was in, causing a jam behind him.

I did not get even a wave as a “thank you”.

Sitting in the traffic jam ahead of me, I reflected on how often I had made that sarcastic remark, even though I know that all these other drivers could not hear me.

I also wondered if they were at all apologetic about it, or did they think there was nothing wrong with what they had done.

There are numerous bad driving habits I can list here with regard to those I consider selfish drivers.

I am sure each and everyone of you – whether you do drive or not – have similar stories to share.

Those of us privileged enough to drive larger and newer cars often complain about how motorcycles and old beaten-up cars are a menace on the roads.

My bet is that they say the same thing of us as well.

Let us not even get started on double-and triple-parking, beating red lights, illegal U-turns and more.

I am not sure, however, how many of us are aware of the way we behave, and think that we are wrong.

But this sort of behaviour – and let us be honest, it is an anti-social behaviour – is not necessarily just found on our roads.

I have returned to Malaysia, several weeks ago, to find my childhood home now part of a “gated community”; people trying to barge into trains or lifts way before allowing those onboard to alight and blantantly littering; whether throwing things out of their car windows or in religious places.

However, all this is not necessarily a new phenomenon.

Perhaps it is further amplified because I have been away for a while and now live in a small city where people are generally kinder and more courteous to one another.

Life in big cities are different.

Things are more hectic, we are busier than ever and it is every man (or woman) for him (or herself). Right?

We have accepted this “logic” for years, but we have never really taken a step back and wondered if this is the direction we want to head towards, and if this is who we really want to be.

I say this because I truly believe that culture is shaped by the people.

This means that we need to start to look at ourselves and wonder how we have contributed to this culture of thinking of ourselves first, and why we chose to leave many of the good traditions of togetherness and community living behind.

When, for example, was the last time we had a decent chat with our neighbours, and do we trust each other enough to hand our keys over to them if we are going away?

I am not trying to be nostalgic for the past, but I do think that we need to take a hard look at ourselves and our life choices.

Already, the world – and our country is definitely not exempted – is increasingly polarised.

Just look at the politics of the United States and Europe to see how divided people are.

In Malaysia, the consequences of decades of racial politics seem to be coming together in an ugly way right now.

Domestic and regional politics aside, we are waking up almost daily to news about terror and murders across the globe – in developed countries and the less developed ones.

I often wonder how we continue to live our lives day in, day out, when there is so much fear and distrust.

Even our networks of friends cannot always be trusted – look at the number of people who have been victims to people in their trusted networks screenshooting posts they have uploaded onto social media and reporting them to the authorities.

These are big problems that we cannot, as individuals, fix – let alone soon.

What we can do, however, is to take a few minutes to look back at our own lives and see if the little things we do on a daily basis – whether it is bad driving, not saying “thank you” when someone holds the door open for us, or just greeting and checking in on our neighbours.

We need to ask ourselves if we like who we are or have become, and more pertinently, even if we have no problems with it, what are the consequences of our behaviour to society.

The unfortunate fact is that we seldom think we are in the wrong but the reality is that we are all part of the problem.

Because the fact is that no man (or woman) is an island, and we are part of a community of citizens (in our neighbourhoods, city or country) whether we like it or not.

Is this the kind of society we want to leave to our children?

If we do not do something about it now, things are only just going to get uglier – and we already spend so much time in our lives each day complaining about how ugly things are anyway.

Niki is a PhD researcher in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at The University of Nottingham, UK. Connect with him online at www.nikicheong.com/fb.

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