Monday, July 24, 2006

Please Rock my Boat

Do you remember this song? it's by bob marley, and the chorus goes:

"oh please don't you rock my boat, cause i don't want my boat to be rocked..."

when i was on holiday in kinabalu recently, i was asked an interesting question by one of my friends - he asked me why i couldn't stop being a lawyer while i was on holiday... this came up because my husband was hustling shan and telling him not to do something (really can't remember what it was he was told he couldn't do) and shan was taking it quietly. this bugged me and i was tellling shan he had to stand up for himself and defend his position... hence, the lawyer remark...

the thing is this - i don't think telling someone to defend their position or their stand, or even telling someone to make a stand is "lawyer" thing... i should think its a basic premise that everyone operates on... over the last couple of weeks, i've come to realise that most people just don't like rocking the boat... most malaysians have an opinion about the govt. and about politics and about "that fellow", but most don't do anything about their own basic human rights...

i've always been a firm supporter of the proposition:
"i disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

(a quote which is commonly misattributed to Voltaire, but is actually a summary of his attitudes, based on statements he made in Essay on Tolerance, by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G. Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906))

and i think that surely that is the philosophy everyone should have, that if you disagree with something, or if something is wrong, or if something goes against the grain - you should stand up and voice out your opinion, that you don't take everything life serves up on you with a smile (and a what can i do, i'm just one person attitude)... but i look around me, and realise, that alas, most malaysians don't think like this at all... most of don't question what goes on under our noses, and God forbid! if your boss or your superior says something, then it must be followed (even if it goes against the grain to do so)...

my associates come back from court all the time and inform us for example "oh, by the way, there's a new court policy - we have to name the individual lawyer on the warrant to act which is signed by the lawyer"... now this is a general document that we get all our clients to sign.

i looked at kavi (who happened to be the one who came back from court with this new policy) and asked her, well what happens if that lawyer cannot attend court on that day or if that lawyer leaves our firm, by the time this hearing comes up?

and kavi's response was "i know, but that's what the judge wants." (we fought that policy by the way, and now there is a direction from the court that we don't have to do this...)

but this is the thing, why do we just take it? what about if you're in a queue at the supermarket, you pay your RM49.90, and instead of giving you the 10cents balance, the cashier rings up the next customer? and what if you were that customer behind the guy who got shortchanged? would you support his decision to fight for his right for his 10cents, or would you just think he was being stingy and was wasting precious moments of your time while you wait in line behind him?

most of us would walk away from that 10 cents. and most of us would think rude thoughts of anyone holding up a queue for a meagre 10 cents...

most of us would obey whatever directions the judge gives, because really, you don't want an irritated judge to hear your case... most of us would just step away from the fight... and i don't.

i would have attributed it to my legal education, but for the fact that i see people like kavi and shan daily... surely i learnt of my legal rights from the law? but kavi read law and so did shan... so how? why is it that if you are right about something, you don't stand up for yourself? we teach our children this (or do we?) i know that i was thought something like it from my books,

but then come to think of it, i never questioned the concept that cinderalla only needed the prince to find her to live happily ever after... why couldn't she go and look for him? why did she want him anyway? why did she stay in that smelly kitchen and get all dirty? why didn't she just whack the ugly sisters with a stone when they were sleeping? why couldn't she have lived smellily ever after with the farmer's son? if all she needed was a wash to look pretty, i'm sure that farmer's son would have married her - what do you mean what farmer's son? surely there was some other man in the vicinity apart from that idiot prince who spent a whole evening with the girl, but couldn't recognise her in daylight without her shoes... why? why? why? why did we accept this idiotic story as the story of our childhoods?

as an employer, i see more and more young people who are prepared to accept whatever life throws at them without a quibble... without a question or a complaint, without a word of opposition - and its scary... its even scarier when you realise intelligent educated people do this, that we censor ourselves before any authority even thinks of censoring us...that we don't ask questions, and that the questions we ask are often better unasked, such as "what is siti nurhaliza wearing to her wedding reception? (obviously since most of the major newspapers chose to answer this question with interviews with the designers, this is a big question everyone is asking these days...)

David Mamet said:

"we live in oppressive times. We have, as a nation, become our own thought police; but instead of calling the process by which we limit our expression of dissent and wonder "censorship," we call it "concern for commercial viability."

wouldn't we agree that as malaysians we as a nation have the above malaise more than poor ole david mamet... we can't even live with an ex-prime minister ranting about his successor. instead we have to come out with loud statements of support and meet the current pm at the airport whenever he comes back from holiday... but we don't even consider how a man who was making sense some 4 years ago (that ex) has suddenly apparently stopped making sense - don't get me wrong. i don't support either one of them... all i'm saying is how come we accept everything our administration (both current and past) does without question... and if we doe question them, then how come it doesn't come out in the press that such questions are being asked? and why do we not ask how come such things are not being reported.. take today's newspapers... the new straits times has as its headlines, azalina's statement that they are still going on with the sports complex in uk. but hang on.. she seems to be replying to somebody ... and the report actually says, despite opposition, they are going to go on with the project... but what's the opposition? who is opposing it? why are they opposing it? why can't i read it in the paper as well? why are you not asking this question also? why why why????

don't get me wrong... i'm not ranting for the sake of ranting. i'm making noise because this is something i feel passionate about, and sometimes it feels like i'm the only one in this rocking boat...

1 comment:

Asim said...

I am not Malaysian and actually landed on this page via google search for "rock the boat".

Your observation about most people being okay with being led is not a Malaysian malady - this behavior is common throughout the world. I reckon, this is a human trait. I myself am in a situation where I took the side of expediency. But, depending on the person, this is less fulfilling than standing up for what you think should've been done in the first place.