A TIME like this may feel as if life has been paused, but in actuality, growth continued, creativity flushed and politicking carried on.
The movement control orders and lockdowns worldwide have brought forward the realness of class divides, social inequality and even religious and cultural disparities. But it has also given us a glimpse of how priorities have been reordered and what this paradigm shift might mean in the future.
Back to basics
We are making do with less, we are learning to source local, we are thinking about food security and we are being forced to reevaluate our spending and consumption habits. In the early stages of the MCO, most people were tidying up, decluttering and getting rid of all that is not needed.
We seem to be (re)evaluating how much we actually need. The fact that our priorities are shifting and wages are diminishing might make us more discerning consumers.
Being stuck indoors has also given us a new appreciation for the outdoors, fresh air and the importance of green lungs. With the 10km restriction limiting our movement, there is a renewed appreciation and awareness of the importance in having safe, easy access to well-maintained neighbourhood playgrounds, fields and parks. Perhaps this whole experience might translate to increased support in the conservation and stewardship of nature.
Going back to the heart of worship
We wear religion proudly here. So it has been quite a shift to not worship together. This change in religious traditions, habits and forms of fellowship has allowed us to strip away the pretentious, the pomp and pageantry to focus on the essence and importance of worship and personal beliefs. The switch to online sermons and prayers has also provided access to those who are unable to reach their congregation. For many, it also means limiting the policing of religion. This has allowed us to reevaluate how we actually practise our own faith and how we interact with other religions.
Increased community value
This part of the world is better known for the strong community-driven kampung culture. Over the years however, neighbourliness has dissipated and the definition of community has become more identifiable in divides of religion, ethnicity, social status and even class. This MCO period though has driven home that the closest people by proximity in times of need are our neighbours and there is importance and value in investing in the community we live in.
This pandemic has also made us gratingly aware of our interconnectedness to those who have, those who have less and those who have nothing left. It has forced us to acknowledge our (inter)dependence on the many who before the pandemic were invisible to us – the supermarket workers, garbage collectors, lorry drivers, cleaners, food delivery riders and factory workers. These are the people who earn too little to have the luxury of skipping work to rest because of a fever. If they are paid a decent wage, and have access to proper healthcare and sick leave, our health in turn is protected. As self-serving as it sounds, pushing for better social protection policies and systems help dismantle structural inequalities that hold down the vulnerable.
There’s nothing like a pandemic for things that were near impossible to suddenly work and seen to have value. The homeless who have long slept on the streets, are now placed into shelters with the promise of being trained and given jobs. Now I don’t pretend to know the conditions and quality of life in these shelters but what has seemed impossible, impractical and unrealistic is now being reported as doable.
Another has been health screenings for those without legal status. This is a tinderbox issue, but providing healthcare is a way to protect life itself – your life, my life and their lives. This could be the catalyst needed for better engagement with the undocumented and addressing their welfare needs instead of criminalising poverty.
Apart from this, creative initiatives have sprouted to fill in the gaps, like those connecting people to help strangers in need. Creative ways of internet activism has also mobilised virtual protests encouraging the public to raise concern about injustices happening in the country.
Most of us have been told to drink warm water for general well-being or been given sage advice that warm water washes down oily food and kills germs. So when the same advice was dished out by the health minister, Malaysians rubbished his advice. Instead, we looked to the experts and not the politicians for credible advice and information.
In our case, the director-general of health has garnered the confidence and trust of the people through clear, factual non-political information. We have come to experience the value in having a competent, effective and independent civil service staffed by experts and not political loyalists. This has also proven the importance of experts helming important institutions. Perhaps in the future we will cut through the fancy titles, hype, loud voices and celebrity status to value the experts who provide truthful, honest facts without an agenda.
While there is some truth that Malaysians are fed up with politics especially when the current state of mind is us fearing for our health, jobs and comfort levels, it is important to pay attention to the politics being played out right now. Malaysians though have been eagle-eyed in pointing out double standards and speaking up against poor judgment calls which has resulted in retractions after public pushback.
Common understanding tells us that during times of crisis, strong leadership is welcomed. But what does strong leadership look like after a lockdown?
This government has been given unbelievable rope as a result of the MCO. That is exactly why we have to question what the long-term effects of a standstill Parliament are, especially after an abrupt change in government and an almost immediate MCO.
Instead of flattening the Covid-19 curve, it’s time to flatten the power-privilege curve. That is why it is important to stay vigilant of the politics and to speak up because this is how the country is being reshaped while we are ordered to stay home. And what is happening now is insight into what to expect, once we are allowed out again.