Nov 06, 2015

    Malaysians don't know what they've got till it's gone

    IN AN effort to lose some weight recently, I went on a diet which required me to eat smaller portions of healthy food.

    When food suddenly became a precious commodity, I found myself eating more slowly and savouring each bite.

    Similarly, after months of unhealthy haze, the return of blue skies and sunshine last week prompted everyone to take out their cameras to record something that we had never really noticed or appreciated before.

    I found myself letting the sun beat down on my face and enjoying the warmth, as if I lived in a temperate climate unused to such an abundance of vitamin D.

    And yet, before we lost those rays all these months, we would complain about how hot it was and how our air-conditioners, already turned down to freezing temperatures, just couldn't cope.

    Is it a particularly Malaysian trait to appreciate things only after we've lost them? Or do we simply not think of that possibility, so we fritter them away as if there were no tomorrow?

    We don't appreciate our trees and forests until they are gone and we finally make the link between their disappearance, the heat and flooding. We even demand that trees in housing estates be cut down because we hate sweeping up fallen leaves, and then find ourselves keeping our air-conditioners on all day. Then we complain about electricity rate hikes.

    We are eager to buy cars for ourselves but then complain about traffic jams - caused by other motorists, of course. The building of public transport facilities such as the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) is meant to ease the congestion but meanwhile, we complain about the inconvenience their construction causes.

    It's not as if those of us currently in cars are going to use public transport much anyway when it is ready. No, we'll stay in our cars and continue complaining, thank you very much.

    The only way to get people to use public transport is to have incentives to use it and disincentives to drive cars, but what would some people do without their chauffeur-driven Mercedes?

    Maybe we need a tipping point when traffic jams become so frustratingly bad that it becomes a major incentive to use public transport. Then we might see our politicians using the LRT like everyone else.

    The point is that we have a tendency to not appreciate something until we have lost it. Take our wonderful multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. The way things are going, one day we may look back with nostalgia at a time when we all got along without any problems.

    But perhaps we deserve to lose some of the things that we have always enjoyed due to our own laxity and penchant for taking things for granted. We don't seem to appreciate how quickly we are losing so many of our freedoms, for example.

    Every day, through one law or other, our freedom to say what we feel about anything is being curtailed. Some of us may think that the way to avoid trouble is to simply not say anything. But then we become complicit in the curtailing of our own freedoms, which are guaranteed by our own Constitution.

    We think none of these will matter to the majority of us - only troublemakers need worry. But given the almost random nature of the current persecutions of people who speak their minds, how do we know we won't be next?

    We might think that only "famous" people need to watch themselves, yet there are many previously unknown people who have been caught for one thing or another. We might not care too much about them now, until one day it's us cooling our heels in a lock-up.

    There would be no point in being nostalgic then, to finally appreciate our right to speak once we've lost it. Once it's out of the gate, it's hard to bring it back. Better to do all that we can to protect it now.