Lessons from an elder citizen

DRAWING lessons from the memoir of Robert Kuok, it dawns on me that age is more than just a number. What is known as "chronological" age is vastly different from "biological" age for example. Or mental and physical age for that matter.

It is important to straighten this out before Malaysia joins the company of ageing societies sooner than we thought. We must first acquire the right attitude otherwise there can be many unintended consequences and injustices due to unkind remarks spewed unnecessarily that humiliate our own "warga emas". To consider elderly people as "decrepit" is offensive. We must be "wiser" than this.

Take Robert who was born in 1923 and hence is 95 years of age, chronologically speaking, that is the time he spent living or being alive. Many have the tendency to write off this age group as "old" – even "senile" by those who are less informed. Nothing can be further from the truth if the memoir of Robert Kuok is anything to go by.

Just by looking at his overall physical persona (as in the photos provided), no one would have guessed that in less than five years Robert will be a centenarian. His hair is still black and thick as compared to some younger people who are fast losing their hair or "greying". So physical age alone can be deceiving, more so when it comes to biological or mental age. In the case of Robert, one can sense that his mental agility outshines his chronological age many times over as demonstrated by his wits in the memoir released late last year.

On the contrary, given the vastness of his experience he seems even "wiser" – much like how vintage wine is valued. The older the better. This is evident from the pearls of wisdom in the almost 400-page book. Some are mesmerising and others "intoxicating" coming from a "wise" Malaysian.

And this is not just coincidental because some of his contemporaries like Lee Kuan Yew and our former prime minister, to name but two, demonstrated similar razor sharp independent thinking, as illustrated in their (auto)biographies. This further suggests that chronological and mental or biological age can be diverse and cannot be stereotyped without coming out as being disrespectful or rude. Worst it is uncalled for.

Until recently the younger aged Donald Trump at 71 years was unfairly alleged to be "mentally unfit" to hold office.

Perhaps so each time he opened his gap especially via twitter.

As it turns out, this is now "fake news". Trump was vindicated by his personal physician claiming that he passed a test for signs of dementia (scoring 30 out of 30) and is in overall "excellent" health.

Summarily to judge the book by its cover is dangerous. And use the "age" to mock someone (just because we do not like what we hear) is far too simplistic. It is unethical and can boomerang back to the accuser as simpletons. So let us be reminded!

Going back to Robert, there are more than ample lessons that can be shared (as soon as we put our prejudices aside) from his memoir. Consider the following rarely heard quotes:

"So I began to differentiate between form and essence. I realised that true human values and human worth have almost zero connection with money (wealth)." p.47

"Bankers live by a simple creed: Lend money to those who do not need to borrow. When you're penniless, your banks will desert you as if you're a leper. That is one irony of the world." p.99 (think Yunus, the Nobel Peace Laureate)

"One of the first things that drove me to make money in business was the humiliation I suffered at the hands of the banks." p.99

"There were a great many decadent Chinese and Europeans around me. I made a few simple resolutions: I would not become a member of the decadent world ..." p.100

"... I can only wish for you to be colonised one day. Then you can understand the indignities suffered by a colonised people. The worst thing in life is not shortage of food; it's human dignity." p.109

"I saw very early on that these symbols (material things) of luxury and pleasure are not real things in life, and that they tend to distract you from focusing on what is important." p.112 (think the corrupt practices)

"Be humble; be straight; don't be crooked; don't take advantage of people." p.146

"I didn't depend on technology for success. People are still making money and people are still losing money, but the floor has gotten much more slippery." p.147

"If you can help a nation, surely it's more satisfying for your heart and soul than just making money for yourself." p.160

"... I'm a Malaysian. I was born and brought up here. It boils down to that. I cannot rape my country or my fellow citizens." p.174

"Why are we suddenly sitting in judgment on the morality of the whole thing when we have been part of these deals?" p.192

"... the ultimate goal of society should be true socialism, where man truly works for all his fellow beings on a totally selfless basis." p.290

There are many others ranging from being simple and humble to valuing employees, from colonial discrimination to being principled, and speaking out to being alert and protecting self-image and dignity.

So think hard before mocking an elderly person. If in doubt a public debate would be timely for the world to judge.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com