Apathy has always been a part of our culture


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Apathy has always been a part of our culture
By Zan Azlee

What were the initial thoughts of many Malaysians in the Klang Valley the day an under-construction pedestrian bridge near the Midvalley Megamall collapsed? The first reactions I received were to stay clear of the area and complaints that it’s going to take longer than usual to get home from work.

Not a single public reaction was about the people who were working on the construction site who could have been either injured, trapped or killed. At the end of the day, one Vietnamese construction worker was killed and another five were injured, with one forced to have his limb amputated.

So, what is it with Malaysians and their feelings of empathy toward others? Have we become a society that is so apathetic that we don’t care about people but ourselves? Where has our humanity gone? Or did we ever have it in the first place?

I remember working in the newsroom a little over a year ago when an Indonesian migrant boat capsized off the coast of Port Klang in Selangor. It was a scramble to save lives and during the news break, the authorities were attempting to save the 80 or more passengers who were believed to be on the boat.

Initially, the news was big and trending online. Everyone wanted to find out what had happened and was going on. Then, as the news developed, it was reported that the passenger boat was carrying illegal Indonesian migrants back home.

Of course, the mood of the reaction from the Malaysian public changed drastically. They lost interest. It’s just illegal migrants from Indonesia. The boat was bringing the Indonesians back to their home country, leaving Kuala Sungai Bernam in Selangor to Tanjung Balai in Indonesia.

Who cares about them, right? They’re secondary-class citizens. It doesn’t matter if we lose a couple here and there. At the end of that day, the official death toll was 63. Only 20 people survived.

These are just two examples of the apathy that inflicts Malaysians. I believe that small apathetic actions can manifest and develop into bigger societal problems. There are many more examples, more than just about lives lost and accidents. Malaysians are quite apathetic when it comes to all kinds of social issues, current affairs and even politics.

There a still a big number of Malaysians who think that standing up for a cause is just clicking the ‘like’ icon on Facebook or the ‘retweet’ button on Twitter. I guess people do what they feel is in their own capabilities. But can’t there be a little bit more effort?

There are also many Malaysians who say that they don’t want to get involved in politics because politics is for dirty people and they feel that it won’t affect them anyway. How and why they can think that it has no direct relations to them eludes me.

Umno grassroots

Last week, I paid a visit to the 2016 Umno general assembly (as I do every year) and I mingled and spoke to the delegates and observers who were gathered there from all over the country. I just wanted to find out if these Umno members, considered the ‘grassroots’, actually had faith in the party and its leaders.

Overall, most of them believed that it is impossible for corruption not to exist in the party and among its leaders. But they believe the system will somehow weed the problem out. Or, as I read it, they weren’t really going to do anything about it themselves. It’s either they don’t know what to do and hoped that other people would know and take action.

“It is impossible that there is no corruption in Umno. But we can’t change it with a snap of a finger. It takes a very long time,” says Zaitun Yahya, who hails from Larut, Perak.

“I can’t say much about it. It’s all up to the leaders to explain the corruption allegations to us at the grassroots. It’s confusing for us but we do understand that is just how politics is,” says Wan Jaafar Wan Ngah from Bagan Serai, Perak.

The reaction of the Umno grassroots is also a big indicator of the apathy that is so prevalent in Malaysia. If they understand and acknowledge that corruption happens, then why don’t they take some sort of action or a stand against it? Why do they just accept it as a part of the culture? And why do they also leave that responsibility to the ‘leaders’, who are most likely the source of the problem?

This is a problem that has been ingrained into the psyche of Malaysians over the years. We need to break the mould of apathy and be aware that the world is much larger than just ourselves.

We need to understand that apathy is a problem that causes a chain reaction. Slowly, we will just become a society disinterested in anything outside of our own individual bubbles. It would mean that Malaysians would lose their humanity. That would be disastrous.

[This article was written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

Get Zan Azlee’s latest book ‘JOURNO-DAD: The chronicles of a journalist who just happens to be a dad!‘ today!

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