February 15, 2013
The Ugly Malaysians we have become
by Prof. Dr. Ibrahim Baijunid*
THE worst and the best of personal cultures are emulated in homes, schools, community, the media and politics.
The best society can only occur when there is a critical mass of people, the mainstream, particularly those in power and in the corridors of power, who uphold the highest principles and culture.
There are uncouth people in all societies with ugliness in behaviour. The notion of ugliness is not about looks or beauty, but rather ugliness in thoughts, intentions, schemes, conspiracies and behaviour.
Such ugliness leads to a Ku Klux Klan kind of mentality and ethnic cleansing drives. Ugliness transcends every code of decency.
Bad people with hatred in their minds and hearts have some kind of psychological disconnect with humanity, although they may profess to have good connects with their in-groups.
Other societies, for instance Americans, have heartily criticised ugly Americans, those in politics and in daily lives. The Ugly American, for instance, is a political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, published in 1958.
The novel was so influential that a movie starring Marlon Brando was made. The Ugly American failed to understand not just local culture, but human nature.
Ugly Malaysians are those with double standards in everything, from personal behaviour to public actions. They are those who plan and instigate riots, as differentiated from those who organise peaceful and legitimate demonstrations; those who lie to family, friends, neighbours, the community, the people and to themselves; those who, when abroad, distort every fact about Malaysia; those who hate others and hate themselves.
They are those who sneeze into other people’s faces and cough into other people’s food; who clear their throat gutturally or blow their noses while people are eating; those who smoke and intrude into people’s breathing space.
They are school and road bullies; political bullies who become little “Hitlers” when they have a little power. They have ill intentions towards others.
Ugly people anywhere tend to be arrogant, greedy, envious, lustful, slothful, loud and ostentatious. They expect others to conform to their culture, attend to their needs and obsequiously address their every political or cultural whim and fancy.
Not-so-beautiful Malaysians take themselves seriously as individuals and groups which cannot err. They can attack others harshly and be ungenerous in every way, but will not entertain the slightest criticism of themselves.
Mature societies are willing to criticise, joke and laugh at themselves. In the American television comedy series, All in the Family, the character of Archie Bunker is presented as bigoted, but lovable and decent.
There are Malaysians who are bigoted, but neither decent nor lovable, some would say. There was a time when the nation was very political in the struggle for independence but society was not politicised, and when Malaysians could joke and laugh at themselves.
The humour in many of P. Ramlee’s movies was evidence of the ability of society to reflectively laugh at itself and its racial, cultural or even religious stereotyping.
It is not enough for the nation or individual institutions to highlight the academic successes of their students with a string of As. The ultimate outcome which really matters is whether the education system has educated a generation of students who respect democratic principles, participate actively and contribute meaningfully to the betterment of societies.
Any educational reform must give priority to outcomes of genuine positive behaviour beyond the cognitive domains. The affective domain is about the feelings and matters of the heart, respect for people, filial piety, love for country — about right behaviour, good manners, courtesy and civility.
In terms of values, knowledge and behaviour, the school system must reinforce the best from home culture. In every classroom, there are the dynamics of class, culture and aspiration in play.
Teachers and principals are at the centre of managing the dynamics and ensuring that the best behaviour, not the worst, become the norm.
A university, for example, must set the highest standards and culture, and not allow squatter-like survival culture to be the norm, whether in the cafeteria, in discourse, in writings and thinking.
Educational institutions and the media must also shape personal cultures to ensure that high culture opportunities are made available to all children and citizens.
Prof. Dr. Ibrahim Baijunid is Deputy Vice-Chancellor, INTI Laureate International University, Malaysia-www.nst.com.my