Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Kurang Ajar"

In the wake of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Indonesia had to be bailed out by IMF. The country's signatory was none other than President Suharto. There was nothing really humiliating about it; after all, Korea and Thailand also found themselves in the same shoe. However, the picture of the ceremony was most disconcerting: Witnessing the Strongman penning his signature from behind - with arms folded - was the Managing Director of IMF. He acted like an all mighty conqueror. 

This is "kurang ajar". In English, it can be loosely translated as "less instructed". But this translation does not quite do justice to its full meaning. Anyone who sees this picture will know what I mean. There are serious kurang ajar as well as minor kurang ajar consequences; they are kurang ajar behaviours nonetheless.

In a widely reported case in Pahang recently, a young woman was caught in camera abusing a senior citizen after the latter accidentally bumped into her new Peugeot. The damage suffered by her car was minor, but she went on to snatch the man's car keys and steering lock and used the latter to repeatedly hit the man's car. She also used racial slurs on the man. The man had to suffer the indignity but he remained composed. The video went viral. This is "kurang ajar".

I myself was a victim of this racial rage one morning many many years ago. I used Jalan Damansara to travel to office. Morning traffic was usually heavy along this road. I had to apply my brake when the car in front came to a halt. Moments later, I felt a jerk from the back; someone had knocked into me. I came down to investigate. What shocked me was this: The driver alighted from his car and charged at me aggressively and went on to accuse me of causing the accident. He next spit into my face and called me "kurang ajar". Could I afford to start a racial riot?

It is very common for children in western societies to call their fathers and even grand fathers "John, Jack, etc. This is kurang ajar to us. But to the westerners, there is really nothing kurang ajar about it. If you didn't insist that your children call you "papa" or "dad", would they know that it should be so? But in our society, we teach our children to respect elders. I naturally expect to be addressed as Mr Lim by people who are junior to me in age or rank. But increasingly I am seeing more and more "educated" young executives calling me "Yu Book" - as if I am a buddy to them. I would say these people are kurang ajar too. To those who has acquired this kurang ajar taste, I urge you to drop it. Don't assume!

Some people are fond of throwing potshots at friends and colleagues. These people think that people enjoy their "cleverness". To me, this is also a form of kurang ajar behaviour too. These people don't realise that many in the receiving end are too dignified to lower themselves to trade barbs with them. I have come across many such characters in work. They are very kiau-su and usually have low EQ. Many of them are very intelligent individuals. What is totally lacking in them is WISDOM. I myself was guilty of such behaviours during my sixth form days. I used to call a good nature classmate names; he never retaliated. I got to catch up with him years later, I could see that he was giving me cold shoulders. (Foo Pak, if you are reading this, I know how you have felt; thousand apologies!)

A very senior banker after his retirement was invited by a wealthy client to do some part-time work. In a meeting overseas, the "boss" suddenly went berserk and pronounced his 60-year-old new recruit kurang ajar - just because he was "caught" responding to the boss's "lecture" with a gentle smile. After the meeting, which I had the misfortune of witnessing, this gentleman excused himself and took the next flight back. He said he was prepared to be scolded, but by being called kurang ajar, the boss was insulting his parents, which was the straw that broke the camel's back - as far as his tolerance was concerned.

As parents and responsible adults, we need to help weed out this kurang ajar attitude.

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