“You can judge a man by how he treats others who can do nothing for him.”
A quote that’s been appropriated and re-appropriated over and over. I’m pretty sure it shows up on your social media feeds once in a while, accompanied by some well-wishing person’s inspiring caption (and the “hands up with sparkles” emoji).
I have a young son. Sometimes, we take delight in simple things, like observing a butterfly on a leaf or a snail in the soil. Having played in the garden growing up, I have no qualms picking up a slimy snail very gently, and talking about how the snail lives. We then put the little guy back to where he was. That’s the way I want my son to grow up: To treat the powerless, the ones who are weaker or smaller than him, in size and status, as he would anything or anyone else.
It resonates with the recent Golden Globes speech given by none other than Meryl Streep. Without ever mentioning the person’s name, she had called out America’s President-Elect for making fun of a disabled reporter.
“It was that moment that the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back … Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
Once, while I was out at a park, I spotted a snail. I was about to point it out to my son with excitement when a man, middle-aged, found it in his path first. With one swift move, he kicked it and the snail flew into the air (presumably into smithereens). There was no way it would have survived.
On the man’s face: The most pained, angry grimace. Why? What had offended him so much that he felt that he needed to get rid of the snail — that he couldn’t just literally, live and let live? How did the snail’s mere existence offend him to the point he had to destroy it? How did he find it in him to hurt something that wouldn’t have caused him harm, ever?
It was difficult to ignore the debate about our National Footballer Faiz Subri winning the FIFA Puskas award and his acceptance speech which, reportedly, was not up to scratch. English being his second language, understandably, it would have been better for him to have spoken in Bahasa Malaysia. There was even smack talk about how he should have been dressed in Malaysian garb, rather than a lounge suit. Really?
What’s done is done. Honestly? I haven’t watched the acceptance speech and maybe I don’t need to. Because when the news broke, we were all just very proud. Happy at the very least, that Malaysia is in the news on the global level for something positive — no matter the circumstance.
To me, it was a veiled attempt to take a jab at the “sorry state of our education”. But it wasn’t really the time or subject matter. Faiz Subri ultimately collateral damage. An innocent bystander who received flak for things he wasn’t meant to be representing. Are we sinking to the level of curmudgeonry that we need to gripe about absolutely everything?
This isn’t the Malaysia I know. We know, everyone has varying degrees of opportunities. If everyone was the same, or had the same amount of knowledge or skills as everyone else, what world would we live in? It’d be sanitised and so damn boring to the point there would be no ideas flowing, nothing would happen.
Everyone would be good, and bad, at the same things. If you needed help, no one could help you.
Why do I need to talk to an English professor at every turn? I don’t want to order my nasi lemak from my favourite makcik in fluent English. I want to start with an “Apa khabar“; or order Thosai in basic Tamil (nandri, very much). Where else in the world could you say: “Anneh, nak tapau satu teh ais, please?”
I know I’m going off on a tangent. But for someone in a commendable, respected position of being skilled, fluent and proficient in English, by virtue of his own upbringing, determination, skill, focus and hard work, there was little reason to call out someone else for not being at the same level. Having glanced at his profile, our national footballer wasn’t raised in an urban setting. He came from humble beginnings, not from a position of privilege. Yet despite that, he got to where he was. He received a global award for something he worked hard for — football. He got there through grit and determination. He had those types of opportunities granted to him. Perhaps not a scholarship for a Masters in Literature.
Fine, the commentary sparked a debate for reasons we also need, a brand of “negativity” or discontent that makes sure our politics isn’t sanitised to the point that there is mindless consensus. But instead of making someone the random subject of your frustration, be the change. There is no use in griping.
The Malaysia I know (or knew) didn’t focus on the negative. We live and let live. We all get by.
If a Malaysian wins an award, we stand up, and we say congratulations, and thank you for doing this for us.