Friday, July 5, 2013

Man In The Mirror

I can still remember it so clearly.

We were in the car, the entire family, on the way to Melaka or some other outstation location. We had been discussing politics, about how our nation was in dire straits, about how corruption had a stranglehold on the country like vines creeping over a wall, about the injustices and apathy of the people.

Then as we emerged under a flyover, we came upon a police roadblock. The police were checking for ICs, pulling over those who had committed traffic offenses, or who had been speeding in the long, straight stretch of highway before this.

An officer waved us over. My father pulled the car over to the side and dutifully wound down his window. Some words were exchanged. I can't exactly remember what but it was clear that the car had been over the speed limit and a fine would be issued. Unless the issue was solved ... amicably of course.

I was sitting at the back of the car, cheek resting against the seatbelt, eyes half closed in a half-hearted attempt to feign sleep. A deal was made, no fine was issued and we continued driving along.

Eyes now fully closed, I felt my chest tighten as I realised what had just happened. I pretended my eyes were tearing from sleepiness and fatigue,rather than from the hurt I was feeling. You have to understand, I know bribery was commonplace, and was for most people, the most convenient thing to do. But to see it done before my eyes, to witness someone who had shaped me, who could be said to have formed my values and had always emphasized me to be morally upright above all...

Something inside me died that day. The expectation that ordinary people could rise above their station, sacrifice their own conveniences and take the harder but morally just route faded away. The idealism that drove me to believe that humanity was naturally good, and that given the choice and facts people would do the right thing was shaken to the core. Not everyone can be a Gandhi, Mother Teresa or Mandela.

I had always believed that corruption was an issue of ethics, morality and goodness. Educate people enough, tell them how their actions adversely affected society, and they would perhaps change their behaviour. The incident forced me to reevaluate such an idealistic view, and consider such issues in the context of economic benefit, incentives and disincentives, gains and benefits to the private consumer. Simply put, people will almost always take the most convenient route.

I still think about that incident and wonder if I had just dreamed it all up. Sometimes I wish it was indeed just a dream.

Nowadays when I blame anyone for something I try to look in the mirror. While we complain about corruption, how many of us feed it? How is it we condemn corruption while actively sustaining it with our bribes to get off speeding fines, pass driving exams, simplify bureaucratic processes?  How is it we can face ourselves in the mirror knowing full well we are part of the system that oppresses people and squanders our nation's resources?

I don't know. All I know is whenever I look in the mirror I am constantly reminded of our tendency for hypocrisy and making exceptions for ourselves. I see a reflection of myself, staring back at me with eyes wide open, asking: "Are you part of the system?"

Are you a part of the system?

1 comment:

  1. Agree with you. It takes two hands to clap. To curtail bribery, it should start with the people - by choosing to pay the fine rather than bribe for the sake of convenience and other reasons. But sadly not many will agree with me.