The new year, the new me

The concept of Malaysian rubber time is legendary. Being ‘on the way’ or ‘stuck in traffic’ when we should have arrived at an appointed time and place is not one of our most endearing qualities. FILE PIC

THE new year is almost a week old today. So, it is safe to say that most resolutions so fervently made under the fireworks last Sunday have gone out the proverbial window by now.

I heard some pretty outrageous resolutions being made. “I won’t talk for a year”, or “I won’t go shopping”, with my favourite being “I won’t use social media until the end of 2018” — posted online of course. Albeit, to imagine and, in some cases, a welcome effort, it is hardly surprising that these rash promises haven’t survived the first week of the new year.

More traditional resolves, like healthy eating, gym visits and quitting cigarettes, will hopefully outlive the first month. But, we all know that they, too, will eventually go the way most resolutions go.

It would seem that all these attempts at betterment have one thing in common. Well, two actually, if you count their obvious transiency. They are all centred on ourselves. We want to become more healthy, more happy, more prosperous, more zen. Maybe, herein lays the cause of our failure to uphold our lofty goals. What if, instead of attempting to better our own lives, we pledged to better everyone else’s life? Which, come to think of it, would result in improving our own lives by proxy.

No need for big announcements and ridiculous declarations. We only need to promise ourselves to try and be more considerate towards others. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Let’s look at Japan, one of the world’s most courteous societies, for inspiration. The Japanese believe, and teach their children that, only a polite society can prosper. But, what does politeness really mean? Bowing your head and acting all humble and demure? Not exactly.

The Oxford Dictionary defines politeness as “having or showing behaviour that is respectful or considerate of other people”. A considerate society will readily embrace an inconvenience to the majority to help a few.

Like Malaysian pavements, Japanese sidewalks feature tactile paving as a navigation aid to visually impaired pedestrians. While these grooves can be a nuisance to many; prams, trolleys, bicycles to name but some, and expensive for town councils to install and maintain, they serve a few, more vulnerable members of society.

Unlike in Japan, however, parked bikes, plastic road dividers or generic refuse often obstruct tactile paving in Malaysia.

Enter a restaurant in Malaysia. Where do women place their handbags, and men leave their man-bags? Either on the floor, so very unhygienic, or on a free seat, so very inconsiderate. In a Japanese eatery, you find baskets provided for your shopping bag or personal effects.

The art of being caring consists not only in providing help for the ones in need of assistance. It also means anticipating possible rude behaviour and affording one the opportunity not to act on it. Did you know that the word polite originates in the Latin politus, to smoothen, to polish? Making life smoother for another, a stranger, makes life easier for everyone. As in queuing for a service or waiting for the elevator, the light-rail transit, a taxicab.

Speaking of cabs, why do Japanese cabs feature white seat covers? And, why do the drivers wear white gloves? To demonstrate their effort to provide a clean environment for their passengers. In Malaysia, we take our shoes off before we enter someone’s home in the same attempt to demonstrate our respect for our host’s clean home, but there are some who don’t show much consideration for public clean spaces when they dispose of their trash right out of their car windows.

I don’t know if Japanese people are very punctual, but the concept of Malaysian rubber time is legendary. Being “on the way” or “stuck in traffic” when we should have arrived at an appointed time and place is not one of our most endearing qualities. It is neither considerate nor polite; it is certainly not caring for the convenience of others.

Instead of pledging not to shop this year, which in turn offers us a great excuse not to go to the gym, for lack of proper attire, we could try and be more aware of the need of others. We could try and smooth other people’s lives, help others avoid unpleasant surprises.


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