WITH young leaders like Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman in government, efforts to promote positives in our evolving Malaysian culture can happen. But the journey will not be easy.
Politicising garbage collection
Who knew that picking up rubbish could elicit such divergent responses depending on who did it?
When the Japanese football team left their dressing room virtually spotless after their loss to Belgium in the World Cup in Russia, social media was in full praise.
On the other hand, when ‘Bro’ Syed Saddiq, the Youth and Sports Minister, picked up rubbish at the Bukit Jalil Stadium after the recent FA Cup final, it was actually met by jeers – there were cheers too – from a number of social media users who labelled it an opportunistic gesture to gain cheap publicity.
Having known Bro Saddiq since his days at the Royal Military College and International Islamic University Malaysia, if there’s one thing he’s been consistent at, it’s to conduct himself in the service of others.
While they say politics is perception, his simple gesture of altruism in cleaning up is commendable. How not to emphatise with a hardworking someone who tweets at 1.10am about not remembering “the last time I was home before midnight”.
Back to the Japanese. Their cleanliness culture and disciplined hardworking nature are legendary.
This wasn’t always the case. Japan during World War II was a very different place. Their education system is often attributed as the source of enculturing these positive habits.
Ultimately, these are also ideals and reforms we strive for within Malaysia’s education system.
Now, imagine the impact a photo of Saddiq picking up rubbish could have on the millions of Malaysian school children. Suddenly, this uncommon act becomes an educational opportunity on leadership by example which can lead to generational and cultural change.
Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, one of the founders of modern cultural history, once said, “If we are to preserve culture, we must continue to create it.”
Where to invade next?
Adopting positive practices and cultures was the premise of an insightful documentary titled Where to Invade Next? by American activist Michael Moore. He made this documentary to address the nature of American culture, where racism, xenophobia, selfishness and materialism are on the rise.
In it, he visits various European countries and examines their education, work life, health care and more.
In Finland, he discovers its education system is one of the best in the world because of its student-centric approach. Homework is minimal to enable students to grow and learn experientially by playing (socialising, sportsmanship) and observing.
In Slovenia, Moore marvels at the free education system and the non-existent student debt.
In Italy, he’s amazed employees enjoy lunch breaks of up to two hours (to encourage healthy eating) and generous vacation time.
The documentary concludes with Moore suggesting, tongue in cheek, that America should “invade” these countries and “take” their cultures.
Malaysian culture is great but still growing
Malaysians are a unique lot. We have a great set of cultures that aren’t often easily defined because of our diversity. Among the good, we are a food-loving society, spiritual, quite “awesome chill” (special shout-out to Sabah and Sarawak) and friendly.
Who we are as Malaysians has been evolving over many decades.
My parents are the children of Merdeka. My mother describes the prevailing culture as a shared world, a commonality of universal values and virtues, reinforced most everywhere – especially in schools.
When a Form Four classmate dropped out owing to poverty, her fellow students persuaded her to return to school, and for over a year, they pooled their money monthly to pay her school fees, bus fare and other minor expenses.
Mother’s moral of the story: Culture based on commonsensical and positive values is life-long. It shapes adaptability and attitude towards new environments such as workplace culture, business culture, etc.
I feel there is generally a widening empathy gap among the younger generation. With growing technological influences and the load of happenings (videos, chats, postings) at home and abroad at our fingertips, inter-personal communication is changing rapidly.
By the way, my column’s name, What’s Your Status, is influenced by Facebook’s status updates (a-ha!).
The notion of a caring society is noble but it is, without a doubt, a necessity. Bless people like activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi who day in and day out strive to change the ‘tutup mata’ culture in this regard.
So, what does it take to change culture? To me, it takes bravery. It is the courage to stand up for what one believes is right and fair and that eases the suffering of others.
Syed Saddiq had to pay a ‘cost’ in regard to some segments of society casting aspersions on his credibility. But the trade-off is that he continues to inspire others.
In Parliament, we can see his predecessor, Khairy Jamaluddin, often enough adopting positions contrary to those of his Umno party members. This may cost him internal support, but in the long run, maybe these are possibly the reforms his party needs. After all, party founder Datuk Onn Jaafar had “contrarian” ideas too.
Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, more than once was quoted as saying, “I am the happiest Prime Minister in the world”.
What most reports omit was that the sentence ends with “...of the happiest people in the world”.
I believe when our cultural tapestry is rich with positives old and new, we can once again achieve this state of being.
Danial Rahman has education close to his heart and welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at email@example.com.
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