We need to wise up

MALAYSIANS are generally known for their politeness and obedient too, at times bending backward to remain so. This has led to harmony among us with minimal social upheaval relative to other countries. Some say this is the key reason why Malaysia survives as a plural society even though we know it is only skin deep at times.

This attitude can be likened to that of the Japanese who by and large want to make things "easy" and "comfortable" for others. Why they are punctual for example is to ensure that the host or the persons involved are not kept waiting and inconvenienced. And at the slightest slip in etiquette they apologise unreservedly, and even resign if the act damages their reputation or causes embarrassment publicly, what is more as public servants. Malaysians have yet to embrace this aspect. The concept of "malu" has vanished from our etiquette.

The case in point was illustrated during the recent stir that took place at a well-known hypermarket way south. Those patronising the outlet were offered RM3,000 worth of groceries per person to be carted home. This led to the outlet closing early to replenish stocks. And apparently to clean up some of the mess caused by the frantic buying. The outlet, however, was polite enough to sidestep the issue (typically not to implicate others) but to the rational-minded it was not difficult to figure out why based on photos provided in the media. The incident confirmed an "ugly" trait among Malaysians. It boils down to 2Gs: "gullibility" and "greed".

At the whiff of "freebies", crowds are drawn in droves. Open houses are not excluded. Some bring along bags and containers to tapau home their favourite delicacies. So when a RM3,000 offer was dangled, one can imagine the scene. It was an opportunity not to be missed.

A fellow columnist summed it up well last Friday in the context of healthcare: "It is in the Malaysian DNA to take all these services too much for granted without caring two hoots (emphasis added) about how expensive they are to maintain." If the same offer is extended to those visiting a hospital, many would unthinkingly jump to get something done because it is "paid for". This perhaps points to the DNA as alluded defining the "ugly" Malaysian.

In contrast, still fresh in my mind is how the Japanese reacted in the aftermath of the Fukushima tragedy. When food was in short supply, people were anxious to lay their hands on them, yet they remained calm and civilised. They maintained decorum as they would have under normal circumstances and took only what they needed, leaving ample items for those who were queuing patiently behind them. There was no report of crowds going berserk to hog more than what they need or depriving others of their share. Because of this they earned respect and admiration the world over befitting the dignity of a bangsa so well deserved based on actions, not mere impulsive words.

That discipline was kept at all times is a lesson to many. In contrast, we were unable to maintain even simple manners despite the fact food stocks were plentiful, and the situation was nowhere near that of Fukushima.

In a nutshell, being "gullible" and "greedy" is a sign of weakness that could be exploited at all levels: individual, national and global by just anyone. In particular those with some vested interest not just economics and politics. In a world inclined towards global domination through soft power play, the 2Gs in combination become a strategic entry point. The hypermarket stir taught us a vital lesson about our vulnerability. We should have known better.

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