Living in a courteous society – A dream?

Having stayed in Malaysia since I was born, yet travelling overseas once in a while and watching tragic international events unfold on television, I can certainly attest to the idea of living in a courteous society.


It is precisely because Malaysia is famous for its courteous people. Unfortunately, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we can only see the plight of millions of hapless people splashing in the news almost every day.


What seemed to be a feast for our eyes and ears are fabricated news, rumours and false accusations. I start asking myself this question – Will it be a dream for us to live in a courteous society ten years later? Perhaps it is prime time for us to revisit the challenges of instilling courtesy in our society today.  


There is often a dilemma between putting our own interests before others and thinking of others before ourselves. Depending on the situations we are in coupled with our personalities, both become plausible ways of behaving.


In our materialistic and individualistic society today, it is easy for us to fall into the temptation of egocentrism. Instead of believing in that age-old slogan that if we do good, it will eventually come around to us, we are determinedly impatient to obtain what we want as quick as possible.


Overstepping others and ensuring that one reaps all the benefits from a particular action are unavoidable if one wants to succeed in life. Consider the behaviour of those at a flash sale. The boorish behaviour of people trying to get the best deals is a common sight.


The common saying, “A sale brings out the worst in people” applies precisely because these people are only thinking of themselves and do not want to lose out to those around them. This is a societal norm despite the fact that one might argue that these appearances seem crude and immoral.


The way I see it, this selfish attitude is befitting in situations we are all facing now. In the situations where resources are limited, if one person obtains what he wants, it will definitely be at the expense of someone else. It will be difficult to depend solely on kindness and courtesy to others to assist you.


Even in the working world today, we have to fight to obtain what we want. The slogan ‘to each his own’ forms the basis on which many go about their daily activities. In almost everything we do, we will find ourselves faced with some kind of competition or other. 


Whether it is to get the ideal job or receive the much-desired promotion, many workers will find it necessary to do their best. Plus, we tend to uphold the principle ‘living our lives to the fullest’ with the short lifespan we have.


A salient characteristic of those who lead fulfilling lives is their immense propensity to be optimistic. Having optimism is paramount in our working world as we are continuously facing problems and challenges that may upset us. 


Foremost in a fulfilling life is the ability to take the initiatives which drive us to challenge ourselves to do better than others.


This is especially relevant for those who choose to start families at a young age. To complete the social structure and enable economic progress, they will think of themselves first so that they will not be at the losing end. 


However, as mentioned earlier, different situations can be handled differently. In school, sharing notes and ideas with friends who require help with their work will not cause one to lose out. In fact, this is an ideal opportunity for courtesy to be inculcated.


Often, working as a team and not self-centred behaviour is what produces results. Children do not simply come to this world hard-wired for their ugly behaviours. I believe this is quite the opposite.


Children are born with the natural inclination toward compassion, courtesy and kindness, but the seeds of these values should be sown effectively and a school is a great place to start with. 


Good manners are essential in society; thus, efforts to exhibit graceful behaviours are much needed in schools. We need to know that courtesy is not easy to pick up if we constantly put more emphasis on academic performance.


In Japan, one key aspect of their education system is that they do not take any examinations until they reach the age of 10.


Since young, Japanese children were taught to respect their learning environment by cleaning their school themselves. It is hugely insightful how education aids the progress of society, thereby impacting everyone to enjoy its progress as well. 


Most importantly, it should be noted that children should to a certain extent be expected to behave well to the elderly and people around them. Respect and filial piety should dominate relationships between parent and child.


Children today are obligated to take care of their parents purely for the reason that they are repaying their ‘debt’ in the past and many more are living with them even though they are working adults.


Married ones treat their parents as the expected caregivers of their children. As a result, these aged parents have to continue sacrificing their time for their children. If courtesy had been instilled, why would such things happen in our society today?


In fact, courtesy should be a way of life with growing children as well as the grownups. It should not be seen as behaviours that are meant for special occasions where people turn on and off according to their whims and fancies. 


To conclude, I feel that living in a courteous society will not be a dream if we were able to educate our children to rise to new heights.


In fact, there is usually a greater level of cohesiveness among the population in a courteous society. This aids in deepening the level of friendship, understanding and tolerance among the people as well. 


Wong Siew Fang, a teacher at SMK Chung Hua, Sibu, Sarawak.

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