You’ve heard this line everywhere—from politicians, principals, teachers, parents. You’ve read it in some cryptic, preachy moral textbook that assumes memorising moral values will somehow make you a better person. You’ve absent-mindedly invoked this phrase in some clichéd BM karangan (because your teacher promised you it was worth 5 marks) along with some peribahasa (idiom) about how we all should join shoulders like the aur (bamboo) tree and the river bank, hop around and sing Kumbaya till 2020, at which point we would have reached our ultimate life goal and floated off to a sort of utopia where all is perfect (complete with an endless supply of free food; how else would it be perfect?)
So if young people like you and me are the heralded future leaders who will march our country into a glittering future where no man, woman or child will ever go hungry, why are there so many complaints against us? Why is it that we’re so often accused of being obsessed with Justin Bieber (God forbid!) or Jessica Alba (guilty!) and care about little else? Why do older people constantly describe us as apathetic, lackadaisical and immature? Why do they complain that we don’t know anything about the world, and that we shouldn’t have the right to vote because we wouldn’t know how to use it anyway?
Well, while some of their accusations may well be true, I think we’re not entirely to blame. Here’s why.
Why we like that one?!
Let me give you a simple analogy. My mother expects me to get straight As. She nags gently reminds me every single day that I should not disappoint her and dad, my aunties, uncles, the countless generations of illustrious Ongs and our family dog. Her expectations push me to work hard. A tiny little voice in my head whispers “you are destroying your future!” every time I reach for my book—Facebook, that is.
On the other hand, I have a friend whose parents don’t expect as much from him. Okay, perhaps that’s an understatement. They reward him with fantastic prizes such as an iPad just for taking the SPM. They say he can always just take over the family business. He’s a nice guy and all, but his academic results just aren’t that great, to say the least.
My point is, when people expect more of us, we tend to work harder, care more. This applies in everything, and that includes caring about the world at large. When we ask curious questions or butt into intense political discussions to give our two cents’ worth, we’re often told that we’re too young for these things, that we wouldn’t understand, that there’s no point worrying, that we should run along and busy ourselves with our studies instead.
“Aiya… no need to care la.. No point now, wait till you get older,” they say.
Our elders don’t expect us to care about civil society. Sometimes even, they don’t want us to care. And because of that, a lot of young people don’t bother! Why should we? It’s not like politics or stuff like that concerns us, right?
Why we should give a sh**
The complaints students have are largely the same. They complain about how stupid and stifling the education system is, how they hate sejarah (history) because it’s so rigid and didactic, how there aren’t enough scholarships, and how annoying it is to keep switching back and forth between BM and English.
Hmmm. Don’t these seem like political decisions to you? They are all decisions made at the top level of administration, that trickle down and profoundly affect our lives. Even for people who aren’t the type to complain, don’t forget that the rising costs of living and the way the budget is used still affects what shoes you can buy, which restaurants you go to and how many nights you can afford to go clubbing.
But you know why we should care even more than anybody else? Because policy decisions affect us more than many other segments of society. Take as an example the recent government move to extend and improve the LRT service to the larger Klang Valley (the My Rapid Transit project). By the time the project is finished around 2016 or so, the people who are going to be working and utilising public transport will be us. Another example is the government’s move to regulate and limit medical degree programmes—again, the people who should really care are potential medical students: you and me! Need any more convincing? The move to abolish bumiputera quotas will probably only really take effect in four or five years time—again you and me. The Lynas plant, which will process rare earth minerals, could be a potential health hazard—to our health and our children’s.
The point is, we should care for the simple reason that we have a huge stake in how things pan out. But how can we contribute? Is it possible to make a meaningful contribution?
Yes, We Can.
Not to plagiarise Obama, but it’s 100% true. There are plenty of ways for us to contribute. UndiMsia is a fantastic civil education programme that educates people on their rights, and has workshops on how to exercise those rights, open to all. LoyarBurok is another such website, where people of all ages and backgrounds are given the opportunity to express their opinions. Then there are also venues such as the Malaysian Public Policy Competition (MPPC) where young Malaysians harness their brain power to rethink public policy.
But beyond the large-scale events and camera flashbulbs, there are plenty of simple ways we can empower ourselves. Sharing a news story on Facebook, simply mentioning issues while at the mamak stall, and just reading the newspaper (not just the comics or sports section, mind you). Awareness goes a long way in making us better-informed citizens and voters for the future. Remember Auntie Bersih? Her photograph was taken by Hugo Teng, a youth just like you and me, and look at the waves those poignant shots created. Small steps can move a nation.
The reason so many oppressive regimes ban university students from participating in politics or rallies is simple. It’s because they fear young people. They fear us because we are powerful.
It’s time to wield that power.
Originally published in a pre-university student newsletter, meant to stir up the fires of activism amongst the young. I know many of you here will already have been exposed to all this, but for every one of you are, there at least fifty who aren’t: So spread the news and let the people who really need to read this read it!