Building trust in Malaysian society

WHILE visiting a village just outside Amsterdam not long ago, my wife and I met a total stranger who was walking his dog, a black Cocker Spaniel.

We stopped to stroke it, and the dog’s friendly owner kindly invited us to his home. We gladly accepted and spent a delightful hour with him.

At other times while in Europe, I have asked for and got the senior citizen’s discount without having to show any documents to prove my age.

Contrast this with my experiences at home. Here, I am invariably asked for my identity card when requesting for senior citizen’s discounts for cinema or train tickets. When this happens, I ask, “Don’t I look at least 60?”

I am 71, and look it.

Recently, I rang a professional body to ask for some simple information in their area of knowledge. Instead of giving me a straightforward answer, I was referred to the head, who took the bureaucratic route and emailed me to ask why I wanted the information. Clearly, they were suspicious of my motives. Anyway, I ignored the email and got the information through Google.

Reflecting on other similar experiences in the past, I sense a lack of trust in our society. While it may be irritating to be asked to show one’s identity card, it can sometimes have pernicious consequences. At times, it can even be heartless. Not long ago, a wheelchair-bound man was made to come to a telco’s office for the simple matter of cancelling his telephone contract.

Not only was he made to come in person, staff at the outlet also gave him and his daughter, who had brought him, the run around. Sensing no recourse, the daughter took to social media and her report of the incident went viral. The company rightly and sensibly apologised and proceeded to do the needful.

One can only hope that it would be easier for people, wheelchair-bound or otherwise, to cancel their subscriptions and get a refund of their deposits without any fuss after this episode.

A few months ago, an international survey revealed that Finland was ranked the happiest country in the world. Sadly, Malaysia stands at about 80. When I asked a good Finnish friend why her country was consistently ranked so, she answered with a single word: trust.

She said that in her hometown in northern Finland, people did not lock their doors. And if someone lost a purse, she was confident that it would be returned intact.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Finland is on top of the Transparency International Corruption Index list as well (Malaysia ranks about 57/180).

So, why are we less trusting, and could we reduce this trust deficit?

We can start by inculcating strong personal ethics and values in our children. Parents and teachers play a key role here. Teach them also to respect other individuals regardless of their place in society. This is especially important in a multicultural society. Teach them the importance of honesty and integrity. Explain to them the importance of both material and intellectual honesty.

Lead by example. Once these values permeate, people will become less suspicious, more trusting and more compassionate.

No society is perfect. It is sometimes risky to trust and there will be disappointments when trust is betrayed. But in the long run, we may become a happier people if we trusted more.


Kuala Lumpur

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Society; human values


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