Published in The Sun 1 October 2012

RECENT interactions – faceless and face to face, real and surreal – have confirmed my thoughts about the human predicament. At its roots, our spiritual undertakings are common and universal as urged in our religions. In our lives we seek love and appreciation, desire peace and contentment, and want to share goodness with others. We are grateful for the blessings and pray for a better life. This is the human predicament at its most virtual.

Yet, because of the inherent inequalities in the human lot – yes, the Almighty did not make the world equal and equitable – all is not well. We see unhappiness and discontentment, envy and rivalry, frustrations and despair, ingratitude and hatred in the unequal home, workplace and society at large. All is not fair or just in the real world.

Looking at the traits (verbal and behavioural) of my fellow Malaysians, I draw the conclusion that they are no better or no worse than people in other parts of the world. Societies everywhere are in a state of flux and people are clamouring for change in a bid for a better life and a more equitable society. They strive and struggle to be more equal and to partake of the opportunities that society seems to have aplenty. To many people, it seems as though there’s nothing to be grateful for or to appreciate as they increasingly feel poorer while their rich countrymen get richer. Sadly, this is also the vicious cycle of human inequality.

However, in the bid to transform there is a major difference, viz the history and context of each nation’s struggles are different. For instance, our young Malaysian nation has gone through a peaceful and peaceable progression to grow from strength to strength in the first half century of its life. Yes, there have been hiccups and storms in teacups but we have overcome them rationally and reasonably, always with the people’s interest at heart. Successive developments have taken into consideration the nature of the society, its people and their communities and their ever-changing paradigms. If there is one thing that Malaysia cannot be accused of, it is that its regimes have been autocratic or tyrannical, ignoring the needs of its citizens.

Looking around at our impressive infrastructural developments, I cannot help but appreciate the bounties that Malaysia has been blessed with, inspired by the Almighty but built with the dedication and hard work of the people.

Looking into the thriving business and commercial life of the nation, I’m appreciative of the systems and structures that have been painstakingly put into place by the country’s workers at every level.

Looking at the service and hospitality industry, I acknowledge with appreciation that they have grown by leaps and bounds in the last 50 years. Experts in these areas will no doubt detect and point out the failings and shortcomings. This is for them to find solutions to for the people.

However, looking at the much-maligned national education system, a lot more wisdom has to go into its basic philosophies and policies before Malaysians will be appeased. The formulators of the Education Blueprint have to be clear about the national education philosophy before worrying about its details. In this, I urge the government to walk the talk and come up with a clear policy/philosophy statement on bilingualism to the effect that:

“The national education system upholds and promotes bilingualism (Malay and English) in the curriculum of national schools and higher institutions of learning in order to produce students who will acquire knowledge and skills through their mastery of both languages. Malaysians who go through the national education system will enter the employment market with a high level of proficiency in both languages, where Malay will optimise their work and career opportunities at the local level, and English at the global level.”

Which now brings me to the matter of why Malaysians appear to be such a disgruntled and unappreciative lot. Going by some of the comments, especially in the alternative media and the internet, it seems as though the country has gone to the dogs and its masters – that is, the government has done no right. I would like to ascribe more worth to Malaysians by suggesting that they are indeed appreciative of the nation’s achievements. Denying this would be tantamount to being in self-denial as an individual or a member of a group.

However, people are now taking this as a given, a right to deserve as citizens who have toiled for the country. It is logical to think the government has a duty to give back to the people for what they have toiled and sweated to build. For the leaders to ask for gratitude from the people for the promises delivered therefore seems politically incorrect – and semantically inaccurate.

To me, between the two words “gratitude” and “appreciation” the former is loaded with a higher, subliminal meaning traceable to the Almighty. At the national level, we are grateful to God for bestowing Malaysia with peace and stability to enable the nation to achieve its many successes. At the personal level, we are grateful to God for giving us a good family and a decent life. We are also grateful to our parents for all they have done. To me, gratitude can never be a repayment but more of a heartfelt appreciation when the blessings far outweigh the shortcomings.

On the other hand, “appreciation” is a more pragmatic, worldly attitude measurable in the number of “thank yous” we say. It is measured in a quid pro quo way. We appreciate people and their deeds when the benefits accrue to us. We acknowledge the government’s efforts to change and transform the nation but we cannot appreciate them until we see the positive impacts on our lives.

My point is, we have to take cognizance of another inequality in the human predicament. Not every human is imbued with the higher order vibrations that inspire us to be grateful for God’s blessings. For those whose lives are fraught with poverty, deprivation, frustrations and simply the lack of opportunities for education and a decent livelihood; gratitude and appreciation are hard to come by.

For them, aid and benefits are what they deserve and what the government owes them. Don’t ask them to be grateful – please! Instead, encourage them to understand that cultivating appreciation can be powerful in transforming their lives. Showing them how to use this positively is more effective than asking them to be grateful.



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