We went to school to learn about the 3 R’s. Now we must learn to deal with the real 2 R’s.
There’s a lot of drama about how well we are learning the three Rs, though it could possibly be a comedy or perhaps even a tragedy, and not likely to have a happy ending for our nation.
We grew up learning the 3 R’s – Reading, ‘Riting and ’Rithmatics. But now we seem to be fixated on another set of R’s – Rights and Responsibilities.
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I take back my words. Our fixation seems to be purely on Rights.
You can hardly hear yourself think amid the deafening noise of yet another politician shouting about his or her battle to fight to protect our rights.
Malays are especially lucky to have so many rights, and so many heroes fighting for their rights. If I can get one ringgit for each Malay political or non-governmental organisation or religious hero (are they different?) fighting for my rights, I would probably be as rich as them.
We do have the Constitution to thank for some of our unique privileges that make the Malays “special”, and I hear a lot of pride in this special status. Which leads to a lot of fighting to protect them.
The question we don’t ask often enough is whether this special status means we are super-duper top of the world, or special as in an endangered species that needs protection?
Bonus question – should Malays fight to keep this special status, or fight to lose them because we no longer need protection? This is a tough one.
The special status gave us decades of special affirmative actions, where the special privileges afforded to us are increasingly becoming “rights” — 7% off the sale price of luxury properties anybody?
Disclaimer: I am also a beneficiary of some of the said affirmative actions. Without them, somebody like me, born in a kampung in the 1950s without electricity or running water, would probably still be there in the kampung worrying about electricity and running water.
What we don’t seem to care very much about nowadays is the other R – Responsibilities. Stuff that some of our parents drummed into our head when we were growing up, but that seems to have gone out of style lately.
Sure, I get it – responsibilities are tough. They require hard labour and fortitude and carry risks with no guarantee of the desired outcome. You can do all the right things and still fail. The only reason they seem to be important is the same reason bitter medicines are important – they’re needed to ensure you get better.
There’s also that part that fulfilling your responsibilities is the right thing to do, or so say all the major religions and many minor ones too.
The shift from responsibilities to rights has left us with a very entitled citizenry. All that were privileges have now become rights, which of course must be protected. We now have a professional class of politicians whose only raison d’etre seems to be to continuously fight battles to protect these rights.
And such serious fighting also seems to allow for a few breaks in the rules. You can lie and cheat and steal and be corrupt because you are fighting the supreme battle; anything goes if you are fighting for your people.
I am still waiting to see that politician who had fought so hard and sacrificed so much for his people that he is now dirt poor, having lost or given away everything in the good fight. Still waiting.
A clever tactic is to invent your own enemy – which in Malaysia means people of “the other races”. A great unifier against these enemies is of course religion. Since religion is a sensitive topic, no debate about it is allowed. You own the forum and make all the rules. You are untouchable.
While it’s nice to be a hero, for some of us fulfilling our responsibilities is somewhat important.
My kids could easily have won public scholarships, but that would have deprived me of the pleasure of educating my children through my own blood, sweat and tears (with the right to brag about it ad infinitum). And since I could afford it, why deprive myself of that pleasure?
Plus, if I had allowed them to take those scholarships, some other unfortunate kids growing up poor and without electricity and running water in some kampung somewhere would have been deprived of them, in spite of being eminently deserving of public help.
That wouldn’t have been very responsible of me, would it?
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.