It’s not just the politicians — Muhammad Mikhail

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NOVEMBER 2 — People swerving and manoeuvring treacherously, eyes straight ahead unflinching. “Me, me, me — forget everyone else!” seems to be the philosophy of players of this dangerous game.

Malaysians would agree that the above would be a good description of our politics, especially in these past few months. In recent weeks, in particular, politicians returning from Sabah have been spewing the Covid-19 virus to their constituents from the very mouths ringing hollow the tagline “Kita Jaga Kita.”

Making things worse is the double standard with which the situation has been handled — disgusting as it is blatant. But even more than the material and public health damage these politicians have done to the country all these years, more tragic is the helplessness that their long-term selfishness has made us experience.

For the average Malaysian, the distressing feeling that one’s life and the lives of one’s family are in the hands of selfish idiots who have power over us is a sort of mental torture.

As a reaction to this, we seem to have become increasingly apathetic and cynical towards everything:

“Tak kisahlah what they want to do!”

“All those politicians are the same only-lah!”

“Whatever-lah..I have bigger problems to worry about in my own life!” are sentiments echoing louder among the people as the political class keeps playing their destructive game. Apathy and cynicism, after all, can be calming balms for heartache.

Thus, it may come as a relief to the reader that this is not just another article focused on the politicians and their antics — there are enough of those articles out there! Rather, I would like to take the spotlight away from them for a precious moment and point it elsewhere — on ourselves, the rakyat.

On this point, I invite you to read this paragraph again:

“People swerving and manoeuvring treacherously, eyes straight ahead unflinching.

“Me, me, me — forget everyone else! seems to be the philosophy of players of this dangerous game.”

and see if it accurately describes typical Malaysian drivers.

It cannot be denied — there is an uncanny correlation between the behaviour of the Malaysian politician and the Malaysian driver: Both practise a huge deal of brinkmanship, having no time (or willingness) to properly think, constantly sacrifice basic etiquette for personal gain, and live with the motto “eat or be eaten.”

Funny that we are quick to complain about our politicians’ lack of moral values and principles, but we act the very same way on the road!

No, this is not a defence of the politicians — far from it! For I am as angry and as frustrated with them as the next Malaysian. I am particularly furious at how easily they constantly manipulate our feelings with negative sentiments that pit us against each other, while they enrich themselves of our nation’s wealth at the top.

No — let it be clear that they have to be held accountable, as any servant of the public should! But I am making the argument here that accountability of ourselves is a vital component in the process of holding our authorities to account.

Why? Because the culture of our politicians will not change until the culture of our driving changes; For the toxin at the root of both our politics and our driving is one and the same — selfishness!

This culture of selfishness reveals itself in a people obsessed with his own rights, while being ignorant of his responsibilities; in his “tak cukup” culture which forces him to chase after and hoard more, more and even more for himself at the expense of everyone else; in his attitude screaming: “Me, me, me — forget everyone else!”

Selfishness is the toxic culture of littering on the pavement because it’s someone else’s job to clean it up; it is the habit of breaking SOPs designed to stop the spread of Covid-19 just because I’m not part of a high-risk group; it is the dumping of chemical waste into rivers from which people drink because it’s the cheapest way to get rid of it.

Selfishness is what is poisoning us. So what’s the antidote?

Firstly, we need to realise that burying our heads in our own problems is not the right way to react to the messed up state we find ourselves in — because although apathy and cynicism may be calming balms, they are not cures to the disease.

Rather, apathy and cynicism themselves can be diseases if left unchecked — leading to helplessness and bitterness in the long-term, thereafter leading to lethargy and inaction, which are the very things those in power depend on to manipulate us! For the sake of our children and our society, we cannot let ourselves drown in helplessness and bitterness!

So where do we go from here?

It is by wresting the true meaning of “Kita jaga kita” from the mouths of corrupt politicians who have made it into an empty slogan. It is by taking steps towards becoming better citizens. And happily enough, these steps are the very same ones it takes to become better drivers: Slow down, look around, be aware of others, look out for those in need and help as much as we can.

In practical terms, that means asking ourselves: among my relatives, friends and neighbours, are there anyone in need financially or emotionally? And how can I help? And! Though as an individual my sphere of influence may not extend to changing huge things like national policy, I do have influence on myself, my family and my neighbourhood.

And if your response to all this is: “Isn’t this the job of the government? Why should I have to do anything?” then with all due respect, my friend, you are as much a part of the problem as those selfish politicians you despise so much.

Your behaviour demonstrates the fact that our politicians are merely members of our society, they are from us, and if they are so rotten it’s because they reflect the rot present in our society.

Once again, I underline the fact that I am not absolving the government of its responsibilities and that we will have to continue holding them to account. Rather this is an invitation for us to take responsibility in our spheres of influence.

Only by being better than our politicians can we influence them for the better, and not them influencing us for the worse!

So today, why don’t we reach out to someone in need?

Covid-19 may have forced us to stay home but we can always share enough with someone in need — if not enough to fix their home, perhaps enough to repair their vehicle; if not enough for that, perhaps enough for them in need for them to buy a meal; and if even that much is unaffordable, why not at least give way to someone else on the road?

* Muhammad Mikhail Shamsul Bahar is an Ikram activist

** This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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