25 April 2014

Common courtesy has been poisoned by those with nothing better to do than to think of endless ways to be rude to others.

IN recent times I have felt like Alice in Wonderland. In Lewis Carroll’s tale, Alice falls down a rabbit hole and suddenly the whole world is turned upside down.

She either becomes too small or too big, and all the odd characters around her speak in riddles. The world of Wonderland is a very puzzling place.

The world I live in too has become a very puzzling place. Things mean differently from what they used to, and reason and logic are no longer what they were.

Once upon a time, being kind to others was a very good thing to be. We were taught by parents and teachers to be nice to others regardless of who they were, because how we behaved was a direct reflection of how we were brought up.

We were also taught to be fair to others, to not take what was not ours and to be considerate to those who were older and wiser than us.

Today we are told that while being kind is still a good thing, we have to mind who we are nice to. Being considerate and polite to some people is now considered a mortal sin simply because they believe in things differently from us.

We cannot, for instance, wish that a dead person rests in peace because apparently having not believed in the same faith as we do, they cannot possibly have a peaceful afterlife.

While in all likelihood the dead person will not know what we wished them, there is still the living family and loved ones to consider. Surely we should not add to their sorrow by wishing their deceased husband or father ill in the afterlife. Not unless we want them to dislike us.

What was once just harmless common courtesy has now been poisoned by those with nothing better to do than to think of endless ways to be rude to others. Happiness today is defined by how many people you can make unhappy each day.

When we lost all those people in MH370, did anyone differentiate between which families they sent their sympathies to and which ones they didn’t? Didn’t that tragedy affect everybody equally?

Aren’t the families of MH370 now all forever linked to one another by this common disaster, regardless of who they are and where they come from?

Yet the loss of one person to an equally tragic car accident (as well as his assistant) was treated as if it was cause for celebration. Where once people were mindful not to show their ill feelings publicly, today they are advertised proudly. The world down that rabbit hole has come to the surface.

In a time not too far away, people thought that the cutting of hands and the stoning of humans were too uncivilised for a modern democratic country like ours. When some tried to introduce it, it was greeted with derision.

Today, even the most unlikely people are welcoming it as if it is the answer to all our problems. Is it because people we admire because they have lots of money have now decided that they will impose such barbaric punishments on their citizens and non-citizens alike?

For what reason do we admire this move when, apart from conspicuous consumption, there is absolutely nothing else to say about that country?

Why do we choose to ignore that this new “justice system” exempts the elite from the same punishments they want to impose on everyone else?

Is that why our elite are also rushing to endorse this new move? 

Because they know that it will not affect them at all, only those who are poor and marginalised as well as those whom they dislike?

What sort of society do we foresee when the poor are left crippled because they cannot afford to get justice from this system so many are now eager to introduce? If it is meant to be better than what we have now, what do these improvements look like?

What, for example, would be the equivalent of the Domestic Violence Act in the hudud laws? Or will it be completely void because in a pure “Islamic” state, men will be able to beat their wives with impunity?

Today, reason is being chiselled away daily only to be replaced by religious gamesmanship, with no thought for what the consequences will be. Everyone is trying to outdo one another with ever more “religious” pronouncements, even though so little of it makes any sense at all.

Is a religious state merely about punishing people? How does such a state deal with practical issues like globalisation or climate change, or even more mundane domestic issues like our water woes, public transport or even education?

Or is the answer simply to be like the Queen of Hearts and say “Off with his head!”?

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

17 April 2014

Shoddy work is considered normal and we now accept standards which are much lowered.

SOME years ago, I remember there was a lot of discussion on the “tidak apaattitude” in our country.
Many Malaysians, it seems, had a very nonchalant outlook on their work. If anything was not quite working well, “tidak apa lah”. It doesn’t matter. If someone hadn’t finished their work but it was time to go home, “tidak apa lah”. When something is made shoddily, “tak apa lah”.
We put up with below par products, attitudes and work because they all still functioned, more or less. So why put in the extra mile to do something properly?
After years of the “tidak apa attitude”, we now have the logical follow-up catchphrase: “biasa lah”. That’s normal. And usually it refers to when something goes wrong.
Let me give two illustrations.
Some years ago after I had moved into a new house, there was a huge power surge which blew out a total of 27 electrical appliances and lights. One power outlet melted and burnt a patch of my parquet floor. Phones that were being charged were all fried.
When the technicians from the power company turned up, their explanation for this phenomenon which could have burned my house down was “biasa lah”.
Apparently it is perfectly normal for the earth wire on the electrical poles outside houses to be so badly fixed that there is nothing to stop power surges that are so strong, we could still get a shock from the microwave oven even after the power had been turned off.
After I made some noise, the power company told me to claim compensation from them for all the repairs that needed to be done.
To cut a long story short, it took me nine months to be compensated but not before we had to endure many unanswered emails and made to feel as if we were claiming more than we should have.
When I complained about this, I was told the same thing: “Biasa lah.
Another story: When I needed to fix broadband in my house, five young men turned up from the phone company. They were dressed as if they were going to hang out at the 7-Eleven.
It soon became clear that only one young man was doing the work while the other four stood around to watch.
Things naturally did not proceed at jet speed. It soon got dark, making it difficult to see the cables they were trying to lay in my garden.
Did they have a torchlight so they could continue to work? Of course not. Instead they innovated. Four of them stood around the sole worker and used their mobile phones to give him light to work in.
Seeing their plight and feeling a bit frustrated by now, I lent them my torchlight. When they finally completed their job, they packed up and went home, torchlight and all. I had to spend another two days tracking them down to get them to bring it back. But, “biasa lah”.
What all this means is that after years of tidak apa, we have come to a situation where shoddy work is considered normal.
We have become so inured to it that we accept standards which are much lowered. People now tell you that they didn’t reply your email from two months ago but provide no excuse for it. That’s just the way it is.
I really wonder where this is going to lead. Are our standards going to deteriorate further until, despite our fancy buildings, we truly become a Third World country again?
The street sign where I live displays one street name on one side and another street on the other side. How could that have happened in this bureaucracy-obsessed country? Doesn’t anybody supervise their subordinates’ work?
I am afraid that if this “biasa lah” attitude carries on, we will see a real deterioration in all our services and professions.
Already, sales people who can’t answer any questions have a tendency to disappear rather than face an irritated customer.
Sooner or later, our trains will be even later, roads will go unrepaired and more strange radar blips will be ignored.
Compare this with my recent experience in Japan. I was buying a T-shirt in a boutique. When I went to pay, the cashier looked at it, left and returned with another T-shirt identical to the one I had picked.
“The one you chose,” she told me, “is from this season and therefore has no discount. The one I brought is from last season and is 30% off. Which would you like?”
I can be excused for gaping for a while at such beyond-the-call-of-service honesty. But that is the mark of a really advanced country. In Japan, “biasa lah” means you just received exemplary service.
Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.