Cover of Smart People
MUSINGS By MARINA MAHATHIR
In a land of opportunity for all, people should remember John F. Kennedy’s famous words: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
THIS is going to be one long sigh of exasperation, folks. I get like this when I think of my country sometimes and despair at the sheer shallowness of how we talk about her.
How, amid protestations of how much we love her, we insist on treating her with such disdain and thoughtlessness that in fact we are ruining her every day.
Once upon a time we used to talk about our country and what we could do for it. We used to think that what John F. Kennedy said – “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” – was so admirable.
We wanted to make our country so good that we could hold our heads up high anywhere in the world. Instead, all we hear these days is what can I get from this country, how can I get rich off this country.
While this should be a country of opportunity for all, why is there this attitude that this country owes us a living? Indeed, some of us think that we are entitled to be cosseted and pampered to the nth degree for as long as we live.
When I was little, my aunt gave us children a book that taught us about how to be good people. Basically, it meant expelling from our vocabulary two phrases: “Give Me”, and “I Couldn’t Care Less”.
People who used these phrases often were selfish people who were not considerate of others; indeed, thought the whole world was only about them. We learnt that it was better to give to others than to take, and to always care about other people.
So my jaw has to drop to the floor when I read the papers these days, and almost all that anyone says is “Give Me” and “I Couldn’t Care Less”.
“Give me,” they say, even though they have done nothing to earn it and even though it will bring ruin to the country. When asked to consider the feelings of others, basically they show a finger and say that they could not care two hoots.
Obviously nobody gave them the same book.
It’s hard enough to teach values to our children these days without adults showing every day in our papers and on TV that they have none at all.
How do I teach my children that nothing comes without hard work and discipline, and that consideration for others is not just a value but a duty as a human being?
As a little girl, I was taught one of the biggest sins was telling lies. Nothing made God angrier, it was drilled into me, than telling untruths, especially about other people. To this day, I cannot fib much, not even about my age or weight.
But nowadays people tell such blatant lies. You can always tell when a person is lying; they always feel the need to shout it out, as if sheer volume makes it truthful.
I’ve never known people with clear consciences to ever be anything but calm. So you watch this lying and you have to wonder how come their parents didn’t scare them to death about God as mine did?
Of course you only tell lies because you think that people will actually believe them. Which means that you think that such people are fools.
And indeed they often live up to the label. The astounding thing is, why are there so many of them? Are there absolutely no smart people around?
People who see through all this, and say something about it, are somehow made to feel as if they are unpatriotic.
Just because we don’t buy into the improbable stories, we are not playing by the rules. Of course, nobody wonders if the rules are good in the first place.
Actually, rules have been broken a great deal in these past few years. The rules of simple civility, for one, are long gone. I used to think of my people as the gentlest, most polite people on earth.
Until I saw a video of a meeting with much shouting and screaming, and someone pulling a chair from under an old man. We don’t censure behaviour like this, but we tut-tut at people kissing. Go figure.
I struggle to teach my children to be kind to others, to mind their manners, to never emulate those who are doing things that are wrong.
I tell them that whether it’s five ringgit or five million ringgit, if they take what’s not theirs, it’s called stealing. And if they make up stories that can cause harm to others, they must own up and apologise.
But when adults are the ones doing these things, what do I tell them?