‘Developed nation’? It’s not just about economic progress

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Occupying tran seats meant for the vulnerable - Photo: Benedict Lopez

Society’s moral fibre and its adherence to expected behavioural norms are just as important in the path towards holistic development. Benedict Lopez writes.

Economic development alone is not enough for any country to attain “developed nation” status.

A society’s moral fibre too is equally important. Efforts to transform the socioeconomic landscape and change people’s mindsets should also be at the forefront.

The primary goals of a country should therefore be set against a backdrop of an strong ethical code of attitudes. If we lack this, we will stumble in our pursuit of our goals. Especially conspicuous among many Malaysians is a lackadaisical attitude towards the law and behavioural norms. This demeans us as a society in the eyes of the world.  

Just stand at the traffic lights along Jalan Maarof in Bangsar and wait for the pedestrian crossing lights to flash and chances are, you will encounter an unpleasant experience. Motorists will brazenly ignore the right of pedestrians to cross the road by speeding away, not in the least bit bothered they could knock you.

This is a far cry from the streets of Stockholm, where you can literally walk with your eyes closed once the pedestrian lights flash, without worrying about being hit by a motorist. 

Motorcyclists, especially those involved in food delivery, are also guilty with culprits speeding away from a fast food joint diagonally across the road. They, too, are not the least bit concerned they could knock into pedestrians. Sometimes they even have the audacity to shout at you, blaming you when it is your right to cross the road.

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In buses and trains, I have seen mothers struggling with their young children with no one offering them a seat.

No sympathy is shown even to the blind. I have seen them stumbling on a bumpy pathway, trying hard to find their way around while bystanders look on, with no one offering a helping hand. 

A deeply disturbing and disgraceful reflection of our society is when I have to stand in front of teenagers, youths and middle-aged people in seats reserved for senior citizens, pregnant women and people with disabilities. Some pretend to be busy sending text messages on their mobile phones. Others don’t look up from their books or newspapers, and some turn their faces in the opposite direction.

With social distancing, fewer seats are available on public transport. While on the train from Bangsar some time ago, I noticed a young man sitting on a reserved seat. He did not seem the least bothered; instead of offering me the seat, he put his head down, focussing attentively on his mobile phone.

Due to social distancing, there may be long queues outside banks these days. Regrettably, even senior citizens and the blind have to queue in the high humidity. I have faced this unpleasant experience myself.

All these incidents show us Malaysians lack the basic human values of kindness, compassion and humanity. 

These noble values have to be inculcated in people from a young age. Targeted print and electronic media campaigns, signboards and posters nationwide could raise awareness among the public as part of a national media blitz to encourage people to provide a few privileges to the vulnerable in society. This will nudge the nation towards a more civic-conscious society.

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We should also teach our children about climate change, the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. These are critical issue facing all of us. Remember how the environment around the world became cleaner when many nations were under lockdown recently due to the coronavirus pandemic. With companies and businesses shut and streets deserted, the global environment was the cleanest in a long time.  

Education is critical in moulding the minds of the younger generation and creating a more civil society. Schools should emphasise teaching values such as compassion, kindness, humanity, charity and ecological concerns. 

And not just for children. We adults too need to be constantly reminded through nationwide campaigns to be caring – not just with other human beings but also with animals. 

Despite our unhappiness over certain social concerns, we sometimes witness heart-warming stories. Recently, kind-hearted residents of Bangsar Park rallied around and pledged a substantial sum to help a fellow resident in need. They made pledges to help this resident for the next four months – a magnanimous gesture by all our residents. 

It is gratifying to see Malaysians out there – a growing minority, at least – upholding the values of a civil society. May such ripples of care and compassion spread out and encourage others to create a more caring and civic-minded society.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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