In a land of Have-Nots, leaders lack conscience

Every time we read about the lavish parties, the posh weddings and the designer handbags, we feel awful because we know who we are – the Have-Nots, observes Syerleena Abdul Rashid.

protestors burn an effigy of Catholic Protesters burn an effigy of Herald editor Fr Lawrence Andrew - Photograph: The Malaysian Insider

Protesters burn an effigy of Herald editor Fr Lawrence Andrew – Photograph: The Malaysian Insider

Conscience is best defined as that inner voice that allows us to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. It is that inner voice that stops us from killing another human being or prevents us from succumbing to gluttony at buffet dinners. It is based on intuition and is often a reflection of what our parents instilled in us during our formative years.

We are now close to the third month of 2014 and already, Malaysians have witnessed a barrage of illogical acts involving patented Arabic words, the slaughter of innocent animals (not for consumption but to prove a distorted point), monetary incentives to physically harm another human being, and other acts that defy the inner voices that keep us in line.

These acts show no consideration for the consequences of such actions and indicate to us that people who condone such acts suffer from conscience deficiency.

These acts are also a reflection, a result, of biased ideologies imposed by government authorities, used to manipulate and control the people.

Ethics administered by our inner voices forbids us to lie and do harm unto ourselves as well as to those around us. When we read about how leaders entrusted to govern our society instead plunder and continue to feed us disinformation, is it wrong when Malaysians questions the type of leaders we have?

Or when we see them in their luxurious cars and palatial residences, while ordinary citizens like you and me must count every single penny we spend, is it wrong of us to wonder why they aren’t helping us to ease the financial burden caused by the mismanagement of our economy? Is it so wrong of us to enquire amongst ourselves if they have a single shred of conscience left in them?

It is not uncommon for Malaysians to read about leaders who reveal moral bankruptcy and are out of synch with real issues that the average Malaysian must deal with every single day. The rising cost of living, the zombie-esque education system, the overzealous bigots hell-bent on trying to destroy the federation – all these are issues that make us yearn for leaders with a conscience. But when we attempt to voice our dissatisfaction, we are told to be grateful that the price of a certain vegetable is low!

We are then reminded of the ‘development’ that the ruling regime has bestowed upon our great nation. Except this ‘development’ has enriched only a select few and still leaves the average Malaysian, like you and me, yearning for leaders with a conscience. There are still remote villages in the federation that do not have running water and/or electricity. Surely, leaders have a responsibility to ensure that basic needs such as these are met.

Conscience is also believed to be an external force, commanded and sanctioned by the voice of God and other religious righteousness. It is, after all, a matter of virtue, of reason and of the morality of an individual person. Therefore, leaders with integrity must ensure that our basic needs are met; they are obliged to listen to our concerns and ought to show compassion towards our predicament.

Leaders with sound moral values display conscience, and that is reassuring to us especially in trying times like these. Sometimes, that is even enough to win our hearts and our votes.

Malaysians are too familiar with leaders who steal from the poor. The misuse of public funds, the tenders and contracts we missed out on because we lacked political connections – these missed opportunities and undelivered allowances hurt us more than they will ever know. Every time we read about the lavish parties, the posh weddings and the designer handbags, we feel awful deep down because we know who we are – the Have Nots.

Leaders who show compassion are consistent in other areas as well; they tend to have good moral values and show us they have a conscience while exercising positive inner judgment.

But when leaders continue to tell us to hate one another because of our different political ideologies and when they tell us that a kind of passive ‘apartheid’ is acceptable; we find ourselves questioning their understanding of conscience and moral judgment.

Some of our leaders and their immediate families are fond of rubbing salt into our wounds. The images of our loved ones dying in custody, getting maimed at traffic lights and falling to their deaths from multistorey buildings are enough to convince us that they lack empathy and conscience.

Our uneasiness, our calls for an inquiry, our calls for reform fall on deaf ears. They assure us that everything is okay and that it is our fault when bad things happen to good people. They assure us that the crime rate has fallen and Malaysia is a safe place to live. After all, only in Malaysia, can a man strangle himself to death!

These days we find ourselves aurally and visually violated by hateful propaganda aimed at devastating inter-ethnic relations on a regular basis. Therefore, questions regarding conscience tend to linger in most of our minds. It is quite apparent that an Us vs Them mentality is gaining notoriety. This mob mentality provides us a glimpse of how certain individuals lack reason and logic.

Most of all, this irrational mindset indicates that the political undertakings of the authorities are not guided by conscience.

We should understand that conscience is a particular type of respect for moral awareness which influences how we function in society – especially how we treat one another – and that remorsefulness is almost always a result of our misdeeds. This should serve as a reminder to keep our arrogance and contempt in check.

Knowing what we know now and using our own moral judgment, we should pay attention to that inner voice and not succumb to the odious doctrines of certain factions. It will be a long and arduous journey until we, as a society and as a nation, can truly unite and be able to speak to one another with unabashed honesty.

Syerleena Abdul Rashid

Syerleena Abdul Rashid, an Aliran member, is a consultant in sports, fitness and water sports. A certified helmsman, she is currently in the midst of post-graduate studies in tourism development.

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