Respect is a two-way street

Seniors in society ought to have equal regard for the younger generation as they represent the future and are reshaping the world.

WHEN a 72-year-old Member of Parliament told 28-year-old Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman to sit down during a recent Dewan Rakyat session, he used the word budak.

The MP tried to justify his action by mentioning his age in comparison to Syed Saddiq’s.

One need only to check Kamus Dewan (published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka) to know the meaning of the word.

It has only one definition, to mean “a child” – whether boy or girl.

Kamus Umum Bahasa Indonesia has just one meaning: a slave.

Among the Malays, to be called budak when one is no more of that age is an ultimate insult.

Ironically the Speaker of the House seemed oblivious to the commotion when Syed Saddiq protested and the MP from Segambut demanded a ruling on the use of the word.

Like many other unsavoury words being used in our Parliament over the years – some of which are downright sexist and racist – those who uttered them escaped punishment.

They will repeat the words, knowing, perhaps, that they have licence to say whatever they like in Dewan Rakyat.

The culprits are largely the same people. And sadly, they claimed it was nothing more than gurauan (a joke) when cornered or told to apologise.

Standing Orders mean nothing when such words are uttered, perhaps with sinister intent.

I am sure Syed Saddiq, being the second youngest member of the elected representatives, felt slighted.

Mind you, he was a minister in the previous administration.

The truth is, Syed Saddiq is in the minority in Dewan Rakyat, as hardly 9% of MPs in Parliament are in their 30s and below.

Today 84% of Malaysians are below 54, yet the median age of our Parliamentarians is 56 years old.

In comparison, the median age for Malaysia is 29.2 years – 28.9 for male and 29.6 for females.

At least 16% of the population of Malaysia are between 15 and 30 years of age – 5.3 million people.

Globally, 27% of humans are in their mid-20s and mid-30s.

The 72-year-old MP represents hardly 6.5% of the population of Malaysia or about 2.2 million or 9% of the total world population.

You don’t call a 15-year-old budak, let alone a 28-year-old.

Get used to the term Generation Y or millennials, to which Syed Saddiq belongs – those born between 1980 and 2000. There are 11 million of them in Malaysia, and represent perhaps a fourth of mankind.

Whether we like it or not, today’s young ones are reshaping society, lifestyle, consumption and, more so, politics.

They are changing the look and feel of nations. They are largely well-educated, articulate and independent.

New media is a powerful tool for them. They are using social media platforms to be heard, loud and clear. These are the children of the globalised world in the true sense of the word. They are rewriting the rules of engagement in almost every discipline.

Politically speaking, they are a force to be reckoned with.

The recent Unites States’ presidential election is another indicator of how their votes matter.

Joe Biden won 61% of the votes of those between 19 and 29 years old. In a supposedly tight race their votes can make a difference.

Governments the world over are realising the need to engage them, not just assume they are mere numbers and statistics.

It is no surprise that they are by nature intensely cynical and distrustful of establishments, more so governments.

Ignore them, or worse, insult them at your own peril.

With the lowering of the voting age to 18 for Malaysia, we are expecting seven million new eligible first-time voters.

There is always conflict between the baby boomers (represented by the one who uttered the word) and the millennials.

We’re not just talking about the generational gap here but the value system, worldview and perspective.

The young generation of today grew up in an ecosystem so different from those who grew up in the 60s and 70s. The dynamics of society have changed drastically.

As much as we expect them to respect us, we must also put in the effort to understand and respect them.

Syed Saddiq was right when he reminded the MP from Pasir Salak, “Your grandchildren are watching!”

The entire nation is watching too.

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. And a diehard rugby fan. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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