What ‘Malaysia Cares’ truly means

The word “caring” means the act of being kind and concerned for others. In another context, it also means the practice of looking after those unable to care for themselves.

The idea of caring is inbuilt within the concept of health as we know it today, which is why even the term used to denote this is “healthcare” – a combination of both these words.

It is impossible to separate the care aspect from health. The delivery of health in all its aspects, whether in terms of prevention, diagnosis or treatment of physical and mental ailments, has to be carried out with care, by caring individuals or institutions.

With Malaysia facing one of its greatest health threats as a nation, it is quite apt that our National Day and Malaysia Day slogan is Malaysia Prihatin (Malaysia Cares). During the past few months, we have seen these words truly being embodied by Malaysians from every walk of life, from frontline healthcare and other service professionals to people on the street coming together during these tough times.

Unfortunately, like the oft-quoted saying goes, “kerana nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga” (one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel). There are among us those who not only don’t care about anyone but themselves, but by displaying their nonchalant attitude and casual disrespect to society, threaten to undermine the fragile faith and trust formed among Malaysians.

Part of the requirement for us to be caring in these troubled times is to ensure that we have played our part in keeping ourselves and those around us safe, by not exposing them to the risk of being infected by Covid-19.

By sanitising our hands, wearing masks and observing the social limitations (including the need to stay in quarantine when required to do so), we are not only keeping ourselves safe, but also society as a whole. That is what Malaysia Cares truly means.

Then come these “bad apples”, flouting not only safety regulations but doing so in a casual, non-apologetic manner. Even worse, they don’t care whether their actions expose others to the virus. To add insult to injury, this sort of attitude is being egged on by others who support this selfish behaviour. Some even have the cheek to blame the authorities (that is, the health ministry) for being careless and allowing them to go unchecked.

It’s sad to see how these few “bad apples” are undermining the good work and exemplary leadership shown by our top leaders who have tried to “walk the talk”. Earlier on during the movement control order period, when some of the Istana Negara staff were found to have tested positive for Covid-19, the King and Queen went into quarantine. Similarly, when one of his officers tested positive for the virus, the prime minister went into quarantine.

They did so not to protect themselves but to protect those around them, because if they were carrying the disease, it could have been passed on. This was what they wanted to avoid since they truly cared. This was them embodying “Malaysia Cares”.

Public health, as demonstrated in the current epidemic, is underpinned by the willing participation of society as a whole. But this willingness is built on a mix of external and internal motivations for each individual. Some will abide by common regulations because they have internal motivation where they genuinely care about the well-being of their fellow citizens.

However, there will always be some individuals who have less internal motivation, and for them, the “stick” is through the enforcement of specific laws or regulations that force them to comply (that is, a form of external motivation). The fear of punishment is often enough to keep them compliant to regulations.

Now, here comes the interesting conundrum. Evidence shows that when external motivation is removed, internal motivation is reduced significantly. In other words, when people who break the law are not taken to task for their actions, those who are compliant due to their own internal moral bearings or beliefs also stop following the law. This is because they see there is no external compulsion for them to do so. This is true for every situation, whether for those flouting quarantine regulations or for those dumping illegal waste into our rivers.

Malaysia Cares, but when some of us don’t, will the rest of us continue to do so?


The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.