First published by Remag in 2011. Reproduced with permission.
When you ask young people what they hope for, the common answer goes along the lines of “study hard, get a scholarship to study overseas, then settle down and work there”. It says a lot when the Malaysian Dream of many Malaysians is to get the hell out of the country. And when you ask these same people, “What are your hopes for Malaysia?” it is not uncommon to get no answer at all.
People want a better government. They want to ride trains without sweating along the way, and pay their fines for speeding rather than bribing officials (alright, so maybe not always). They lament the racism plaguing schools and the civil service and they decry the dysfunctional education system. But what nobody wants is to do something about it. The many passionate people you meet online brings a bit of hope but then you realize they’re just one in a million – the ones who don’t do the blogging, the protests, the reading, they just pass on by and hope they can get out one day.
So we have the ‘don’t-cares’ and the armchair critics. I’m not sure which is worse.
The buzzword of the 1900s (or perhaps just post-WWII) was independence. The word that may define this century may be reform. Change. The past few years have seen politicians throwing about those two words left and right. Obama used it. Maybe Obama started the trend. The people in the Middle-East are overthrowing their tyrants and Malaysia had the March 8 elections. But I say it may be the word of the century because I have yet to see the promised change – America certainly isn’t vastly improved yet, the Middle Eastern nations have not yet stabilised and Malaysia isn’t very much better off than it was in 2008.
So what characterised the ‘independence’ of the last century? WWII came and went, and the big countries were hit hard. Afterwards, the colonised countries began producing intellectuals. More importantly, they began producing passionate intellectuals. Whilst the earlier revolts against colonialism were characterised by stupidity in its opposition, the more diplomatic approach of the later nationalists was the one that eventually gave rise to independence (it helped that the colonialists were almost dead broke).
See the trend? You need people for the change. Our hopes for Malaysia have been rather simple, and if you go around on the ground and ask people, it really does come down to simple bread-and-butter issues – the economy, opportunities, fairness. We hope for these things but right now it’s not the right thing to be hoping for.
My hope for Malaysia is that we start producing not the clever or the passionate, but both. We need people clever enough to vote for long-term issues rather than just promise bridges and money for schools. We also need our best and brightest to care enough not to run away. Currently we do have some people like that (plenty on ReCom, of course), but it is not enough. Ergo, rather than hope for the what, we need to hope for the how.
The hope of many Malaysians is to live a comfortable life. For some that means leaving Malaysia. For others it means staying back to help. But the hope that Malaysians should have is for more people to step up and make things happen. A nice present for me would be to walk into a mamak stall in Malaysia see teens talking about politics, and voting, and change. Will I get that?