by Marina Tan
For those of us non-Muslims who went through the government education system in secondary school; you know as well as I do the ‘joy’ of Moral Education- memorizing and regurgitating 36 moral values and their definitions… But I digress. Though I still believe that system is futile and completely misses the point of moral education, one of the moral values we were taught has recently really struck me as one that all Malaysians need to take to heart: Sikap Keterbukaan, or the value of openness.
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/60789188@N00/282476004/ | Open-mindedness
Like the other 35 values we all know by heart now, we know, in a corner of our minds, that openness is an essential value to practice in our lives, but we often take it for granted and wave it away as ‘so been there, done that’. Recent experiences, however, which I will tell you about later, have convinced me that this value is more than important for our lives; it is especially important for our society, our country. It is the missing piece of the Malaysian puzzle- which always, no matter how much we may deny it, always comes back down to racism. How does being open resolve racism?
The word openness, as my trusty dictionary/thesaurus tell me, conveys the following sensibilities: frank, forthcoming, communicative, impartial, unprejudiced, receptive, responsive- honest. When I say it like that, it again sounds cheesy and altogether much too cliché to be taken seriously- we all know we should be honest and unbiased etc. But, in the Malaysian context, it hits you much harder once you contrast openness to its antithesis, step back and take a look.
The antonym of openness and the antithesis of every sensibility conveyed by the word is a simple 5 letter word: taboo. (This is not dictionary-approved but rather my own contextual definition) We live in a country where everything is taboo- but selectively so, because Malaysians simply don’t know how to be open.
Self censorship has come up a lot recently, and for good reason. It’s funny how some hotheads, politicians and plain old busybodies like shouting out innocuous statements in the most vindictive, hateful, snide and vexatious way possible. These are the people who need to shut up. These are the people who need to learn that they can present facts, and even opinions- but never with the intent to cause offense.
Ironically, while some fools out there definitely need to learn self-censorship, most of us have to learn to let loose and speak up- not just to ‘our people’ (i.e. along racial lines), but to everyone.
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/orrin/2102981584/ | Refusing to share thoughts
We refuse to talk about issues like vernacular education, the NEP or even scholarships with people outside our racial groups because we feel that we are on opposite sides. We refuse to touch on ‘sensitive’ issues like race and religion are taboo (except at the kopitiam) and we don’t even mention any news that has the slightest racial connotations in the presence of a person of that race. This is just not right. Sensitive issues, you say? What sensitive issues? Nothing is so sensitive that it cannot be sensibly said, and everything is sensitive that is foolishly said.
What I hate most is people making light of censorship laws (Careful careful, later kena ISA!). If you really think what you’re saying is going to land you in prison, then you’re saying it wrong. I maintain that there is no opinion you cannot voice if you are level headed and rational. Be as negative as you want but the fact remains that we are a relatively mature democracy now- no one’s going to throw you in prison for saying something they don’t like hearing. It’s the way you say it, and you better darn well learn to say things nicely. Mummy always said “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything”, but it’s really about how you say what you say, not what you say itself.
These barriers have to be broken down. We have to start communicating without hesitation, without indecision, without the slightest hint of reluctance or apprehension. And it all starts in your own head. We need to stop ourselves whenever we hear ourselves about to give voice to a racial stereotype. we need to stop coloring innocent remarks with a snide tone that conveys contempt, insult or indeed any form of negative emotion. Openness goes hand in hand with respect- learning to respect the views, religions, opinions, stances of others- and be open to them.
If you can broach a ‘sensitive’ topic with a person with an absolutely open mind- i.e. no stereotypes, no snide remarks and absolutely no hesitation- the person recognizes that you are being honest, frank and open, and in most cases, will reciprocate accordingly. Even if what you are saying is of a less-than-pleasant nature (e.g. pointing out a flaw in the system or a negative tendency/stereotype), people will accept your opinions if they are justified, and presented in a manner that is unmistakably honest and sincere. This is a lesson I learned in KYUEM where I spoke to my Malay friends about the NEP or the racial bias in local university placements. They were hesitant at first, but once they sense that you are not trying to judge or accuse, that you are truly just speaking to them – being open – they responded with more heart and openness that I could have hoped for.
Speak with kindness, and I shall respond in kind. That’s the rule. It doesn’t mean you will agree and all will end happily ever after, but it does mean that whatever needs to be said can be said. ‘Better out than in’ refers to gas in the movie Shrek (if you know what I mean) but it applies to speech and opinions as well. Too much ill will and negative energy is pent up when you have something you need to say. Get it out! Ranting on the Internet or to your buddies at a kopitiam will not give you half the satisfaction or the vindication of just saying what you need to say to the people who need to hear it- just make sure you say it right, make sure you go in with an open mind and an open heart.
This little piece of writing really goes out to my peers; the youth. There are many open and mature people in the generations before us- our parents and grandparents, some sterling journalists whose articles never fail to hearten me, and some true leaders of the past. But our generation is one that is hot-blooded and easily crazed for the inflammatory snide remarks so easily spread around by social media. We are the ones who are in dire need of rediscovering what our parents know, what our grandparents knew. We are the ones who need to hearken to the call to be honest, frank, rational, unbiased, and receptive. In essence, we need to be OPEN.
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/78553581@N05/7078202225/ | We must do away with taboo
In our Malaysia, there is no taboo.
Sikap keterbukaan: Bersedia memberi dan menerima pandangan, pembaharuan dan kritikan selaras dengan kebenaran fakta dan norma masyarakat Malaysia.