Transformation within ourselves

There has been much hype over TN50 — the brewing of Malaysia’s new national blueprint and vision for the future (that future being year 2050). As with Vision 2020, the government is seeking to identify features and aspirations of what will make up a future Malaysian utopia.

While it is exciting and necessary to set goals for the future, we often only put our hopes in “physical things”. Our wish list typically comes in the form wanting better infrastructure, advanced technology, higher salaries, and generally a comfortable standard of living. We think about wealth, zero poverty, equal opportunity, freedom, greater longevity, peace, an integrated society, and so on. While all these aspirations for development are well and good — one thing was absent in Vision 2020 and from the tone of things, remains to be overlooked by TN50.

I’m talking of course about people.

But doesn’t all the above cater for the people? Sure, there are numerous initiatives looking into how to alleviate poverty, or introduction of affirmative action policies that tackle disparity, emphasis on the importance of education to build much needed skill and knowledge, loans and grants are available to enable entrepreneurship, and the list goes on. These initiatives are certainly necessary to improve the lives of each individual in society.

However, in a developed nation, society is not restricted to wealth, comforts, infrastructure, and technology. How people think, behave, and interact with one another are equally important. This comes in the form of developed attitudes and mindset, which in turn affect the way we behave and interact with one another. Unfortunately, there is little emphasis on this when it comes to any Vision or Transformation programme.

The society of a “developed nation” should display a high level of civic mindedness. That is the attitude and mindset of looking out for another member of society for mutual benefit, or perhaps without even expecting anything in return — that we’re just following a set of values which compel us to be more mindful of others.

This is something Malaysian should aspire to and is equally important if not more so than the other “wants” in TN50. Yet, we are still lacking far behind in this area. It is not difficult to find the woes stemming from the lack of civic mindedness. We regularly see it on the road, especially during traffic jams, where we can still constantly see drivers using the emergency lane or cutting in towards the end of a turning, causing a bottleneck and perhaps the jams themselves.

Observe how we are at the LRT or KTM stations, where passengers are seldom able alight without almost being forced back in by an incoming group of inconsiderate passengers. Despite 60 years of Merdeka, littering is still a common sight committed by all strata’s of society — even the rich and affluent. Though we proclaim to be a friendly society, simple manners are often forgotten when we deal with one another.

The fact that we tell ourselves that it is “not our problem” on an individual level has instead inflicted a larger problem overall upon society, and indeed on ourselves. The failure to realise that we are all tied together in society, that every small our action has a wider consequence is what’s causing us to stumble.

Malaysia is still far behind in its civic behaviour. But why is having civic minded necessary in order to become a developed society? It is because this is the very thing that pushes back growth when the people as a society hold each other back. To sustain our drive to be a developed nation, it is necessary for us to thrive in a culture, environment, and mindset that spurs each other forward.

How do we achieve a higher level of civics and how can this be institutionalised? This can only be done if absolutely everyone plays a part. Not one institution nor government agency alone can be responsible, though the state is still required to play a leading role. Civic transformation begins from ourselves and it is our role to influence others to cultivate the same habits.

Yusuf Waghid, a philosophy professor at Stellenbosch University pointed out that attributes such as compassion, criticality and a sense of responsibility are necessary to enable he calls “civic reconciliation and transformation”. The concept of civic mindedness holds that there needs to be a voluntary sense of responsibility towards the community. A strong sense of belonging to community must be cultivated for the roots of civic mindedness to take place. Identifying and cultivating these elements should also be part of TN50.

One of the identified aspirations in a TN50 overview document made public in January 2017 highlighted “inclusive, open, and vibrant society”. This includes the areas for transformation in diversity, equality, arts, sports, and religion, which are the also the only indications thus far of a “human transformation”. Perhaps developing a matured civic mindedness should be made one of the priorities.

We cannot be rich, possess machines of high technology and still behave no differently from the apes living on trees in terms of how to regard one another if we aspire to be a developed nation. Instead, it will be far more rewarding to become a developed and matured society that is able to treat one another with mutual respect, helping each other thrive together. Perhaps, this is the transformation we should seek.

*Voon Zhen Yi is Manager, Research & Programme at the Centre for Public Policy Studies, CPPS.

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