Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An article to share..


Ask any Malaysian where the best place is to eat in their area and chances are you will spend at least 15 minutes listening to him or her waxing lyrical about the fantastic fish-head curry or mee rebus just around the corner. We Malaysians love our food and are unapologetic about it.

Ask the same person about unionising labour in Malaysia or about the latest contractor to spill concrete onto one of our priceless coral reefs and what he thinks about the matter, and unfortunately the response is often much less enthusiastic. Why don’t we care about things that really matter?

I have a theory. Socrates believed that all men (and women) necessarily seek “the good.” However, most people do not know what is good for them.

Fortunately, there is salvation. One need only seek knowledge to know what is good for true knowledge necessarily leads to true good. Some would claim that the pursuit of knowledge is the pursuit of God. My belief is that once men (and women) know what is truly good, they will pursue it and see that good is done. Simple. All we need now is an education.

We Malaysians are by and large an uneducated lot. Blasphemous but true. Education is not just going to school and getting a diploma or degree. That is “merely” formal education.

I mean critical and ethical education, the kind of education that bestows upon us not mere knowledge but that elusive quality called wisdom, or common sense if you prefer.

Think of it this way. A little formal education will teach you not to trust propaganda. True common sense would teach you not to trust the person who tells you to question propaganda.

All this seems well and good on paper. However, how is one to get a critical and ethical education, especially since formal education seems to be the only education that we’ve grown to know? My answer to that is a simple and effective two-step program called “Ask & Act“(A&A), which promises to help you become the wisest person you can be (or your money back).

This is of paramount importance. If you are aware of the image of Malaysians sipping teh tarik while talking cock, you must surely also realise that the mamak stall is a poor place for seeking and disseminating knowledge. Read and listen widely, ensuring that both mainstream and alternative ideas are heard and understood. You will be a limited individual if you foolishly limit your knowledge base. Also, you will end up finding only information that supports your bias. A local newspaper is no less informative than an alternative blog, especially since both can only give one point of view each (ironically, the people who believe The Star is worthless are the same people who don’t read it).

After that, ask questions. In doing so, one should be careful not to keep speaking to the same people. Speaking to one set of people tends to give only one side of the story, which not only tends to persistently reinforce or refute your own personal beliefs, but is also frequently a lot less exciting for arguments.

Though activism comes after inquiry, it is no less important. Knowledge and wisdom must guide one’s actions, or you risk becoming someone else’s pawn. However, once you have a point of view, it is surely your duty to defend it to the umm… principal’s office. This in no way implies that activism is strictly associated with radical activities. That would be a grave misinterpretation.

Activism in the context I intend is all-encompassing. The oft-repeated refrain against any action is that it is too hard, troublesome or dangerous. However, I sincerely doubt a community service volunteer would face grave danger.

Even so, on a personal level, a simple minimum can be met with ease. Writing - whether on a blog, for a school magazine, or even in a letter to a newspaper - can be a meaningful way to contribute to issues of concern for the individual.

The less literary among us may decide to volunteer to care for sea turtles, while the adventurous may decide to venture into where even deep-sea dwelling turtles don’t go – politics. Even changing your diet to a vegetarian one in the name of animal activism counts.

At the end of the two activities above, you will be a wiser, more mature individual. Too often, we settle for intellectual sloth, believing without criticising, and abhor the intellectual rigour that must accompany any sort of knowledge seeking.

If by the end of your A&A program you have changed your position on at least one major belief and acted on it, you would have contributed in a small way to changing the apathy of your generation.

NG WEI LEEN is an average guy who tries as much as possible to stay in touch with the country of his birth, which isn’t easy even though its only a bridge away to the north. Pragmatic but idealistic, he wants to reconcile rationality with patriotism.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very well said. Bravo