Sedikit-sedikit lama-lama jadi bukit

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If we are against corruption, then we should be against dishonesty in all its forms, big or small, says Frank.

Image: unodc.org

I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but thinking about an incident that happened on the bus, I realised that we should be aware of what we do, and teach our children.

We want them to grow up to be responsible citizens and good persons respected for their sound values of honesty, gentleness, patience, perseverance, good humour, consideration, and courtesy amongst other virtues. Caring parents always fear the worst, that their children will be influenced by anti-social and criminal elements, take to drugs, associate with “bad hats” and end up living in degradation.

Whilst trying our level best to instil honesty into the young ones, adults frequently forget how observant these little ones are. This capacity to observe and imitate the behaviour of grown-ups starts from the cradle right into our teenage years and to some extent early adulthood. A child in the 1960s was more or less inculcated with the idea that parents knew best, giving the impression that parents were ‘paragons of virtue’. However, as life went on and months turned to years, they inevitably realised that this wasn’t completely true. Parents are human, and they have their short-comings too.

One of these faults concerned the principle and concept of honesty. It was drummed into our heads that “honesty is the best policy”, it still is, but do we really believe this?

When I boarded a Rapid Penang bus at Komtar to go to Pulau Tikus recently, the driver demanded RM1.40. Having RM1.00 and a 50-sen coin, I asked him for 10 sen change. He refused even to collect 10 sen from another passenger to give me change. He said there was no change. As I hesitantly put the money into the slot, some rough person pushed past me and made me nearly lose my balance. Still holding the money, I stepped backwards to break my fall and was arbitrarily accused of wanting to withhold my fare. I told the rude driver that someone had pushed me and by not giving me the 10 sen change he was cheating me!

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People tend to think that wanting that 10 sen change is too small to fuss about. I don’t think so. If you look at this practice of making people feel bad about insisting on what is their due, even if it seems little, the habit of collecting a few sen more every time eventually adds up to a significant sum.

There are so many instances where we get caught out like this by unscrupulous cheats and conmen who like to make us think that we are making mountains out of molehills. We have to be wary of persons who are habitual daylight robbers, fond of using phrases like “It is 5 sen only” or “we round off only”. Very soon, it could be “RM100 only what…”
What progressively happens is that the 5 sen becomes 10 sen and the sum continues to increase over time. Some con persons also round off to the next ringgit and not the next sen, using this device to increase their profits from at least a few hundred persons a day.

So while telling our children they should be honest, being less than honest ourselves may confuse them at first, but it may ultimately inculcate the same hypocritical habit in them. They wise up to the fact that so-called ‘white lies’ are OK, and that ripping someone else off is a clever thing to do. Yet, the boundaries between honesty and dishonesty seem blur as dishonesty doesn’t seem to attract any kind of penalty. Adversely, dishonesty is sometimes rewarded instead of punished.

When dishonesty becomes habitual and remains unquestioned, it becomes a way of life in society. This habitual dishonesty goes on to become customary, which leads to big time dishonesty, which we all know as cheating, stealing and robbing. These are crimes that take place every day in the market, in the shopping centres, in the mobile and telecommunications providers offices, and a plethora of other businesses, small, medium or large. It could happen anywhere, even in the post-office, if the person dealing with the money decides that it is all right to pilfer a small amount every now and then from unsuspecting customers.

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How seriously does the general public take this kind of flagrant dishonesty? Many might just dismiss it out of hand as if it wasn’t dishonesty. But remember that your children are watching you. They could get the wrong idea that “honesty” is only to be talked about but not practised. Are we inadvertently nurturing future corporate criminal behaviour by giving our little ones this idea? If we are against corruption, then we should be against dishonesty in all its forms, big or small. Do we want corruption to permanently become a way of life in Malaysia?

Ironically, recent events have brought into question the honesty of those in authority with large sums of money allocated for a specific purpose beneficial to the rakyat, channelled to a different purpose obviously for personal profit. Despite apparent ongoing investigations by police, public statements have been made by these same so-called guardians of the law that no corruption has been uncovered so far in their ongoing investigations. The fact that public money allocated for the benefit of the rakyat is being used to make profits for an individual already stinks of corruption.

Does the BN government think the rakyat are a herd of cattle to be led by the nose while the fat cats sleep in their air-conditioned condominiums? They obviously live under the delusion that the rakyat are a gullible and brain-dead lot who do not value honesty, transparency and accountability. That seems to be the impression we have given them by silently consenting to all these shenanigans and withholding support from those who speak out against corruption for over 50 years since Merdeka.

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We, the rakyat, ourselves have allowed corruption to seep in and take over by our cowed silence and lip-service to basic honesty. It is up to us to turn over a new leaf before we can expect to be treated with justice.

Frank is the pseudonym of a regular contributor to Aliran’s Thinking Allowed Online section.

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