April 18, 2021

No dignity in half-measures

5 min read

You might need to do some unpopular things to right some wrongs. But if you look at the long-term benefits, the answer will be clear.

SPIKED. A word that describes an uptick in numbers such as an increase in followers after you’ve said something really dreadful or a sudden demand for a vitamin drink after someone admirably healthy for his age has been seen drinking it. An abrupt jump in interest in a particular subject is also a spike.

But spike also means something sharp, something that can prick you, hurt you or even be the place your head is impaled on if you were so unlucky. When your article gets spiked by your editor, it means it won’t see the light of day, at least in the pre-social media world. Thus, a spike can be a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view.

I suppose for some people the recent spike in the word dignity can be seen as a good thing. To them, making a spectacle of themselves frothing at the mouth while at the same time projecting themselves as victims is the way one displays one’s dignity to others. I feel so sorry for all the truly victimised peoples of the world, those who have been hounded from their homes and land, those bombed into oblivion, those cut off from the world by the mere shutting down of cellphone services, who do not have a chance to dress up, mount a stage with a great sound system and flattering lighting to moan their fate.

Imagine waking up in the morning, ready to dress in special outfits in order to gather with your fellow moaners, the multitudes who feel deprived of esteem, mostly of the self. To be sure, many of them truly believe that their lives are miserable, and someone needs to be blamed for it. But their lives were already dismal long before someone decided their dignity was being affronted. Only now they’ve fixated on a bogeyman and that is The Other. The one, that according to one poetic person, has the skin of the langsat fruit. (Said poet also called some other people mangosteen-skinned. Which leaves me to wonder what fruit my people’s skin is. Ciku?)

I don’t doubt that the lives of many of the ciku-skinned could do with improvement. A dignified life is one where you have a roof over your head, enough food on the table, decent schools for your children and opportunities to better your life. It’s not a dream that’s exclusive to only one group of people. Generally speaking, those are what every human being wants and deserves.

But it cannot be gotten by merely holding one’s cupped hand out and expecting riches to be poured into it. Nor can it be gotten by insisting that preferential treatment be given, university places even, to children with poor grades. There is no dignity when you are held to the lowest standards just so that you get a piece of paper that says you supposedly qualified in a profession. Dignity is mired in mud when you erase all competition so that you climb up a ladder you have no business being on. There is no dignity in knowing that every position you get is under false pretenses, that when you are put to the test against those who actually worked to attain those posts, you will invariably fail. Where is that dignity when you are made to look like a fool?

I don’t think that those who don’t do well in life are necessarily indolent. There are certainly all sorts of structural barriers that some people simply cannot overcome without some help. I see people working several jobs to make ends meet. By no definition can they be called lazy.

But the problem is the sense of entitlement and the totally unrealistic expectation that, if it weren’t for you-know-who, everyone would be living in mansions, riding in limos and carrying designer handbags. And all our children would have university degrees, regardless of their intellectual capacity or the quality of their education.

To secure any dignity, respect or standing in anyone’s eyes, we need to understand that everybody is entitled to all these aspirations, regardless of what fruit their skin resembles. The most basic needs of everyone have to be catered for first.

I was having a conversation with someone about another country which, after many years of seeming prosperity, has suddenly exploded in violent unrest. His opinion is that the events that led to the unrest were simply catalysts, the matches that lit fires that had long been simmering. If anyone had been more clear-eyed, they would have seen that the very basic need for decent affordable housing was becoming increasingly unattainable. And not having permanent shelter can make people very very angry. In Chile for example, the current demonstrations were sparked by a seemingly small thing, the increase in subway fares. Poor people found that going to work took even more of their hard-earned income.

Which seems to me that the conversation that needs to be held is not about dignity or entitlements but about inequality. How a few people can have so much while so many have so little. It’s the same story all over the world. Unfortunately, many leaders respond by finding someone to blame rather than actually doing the hard work of looking for solutions.

It strikes me that the ones who are truly lazy are those tasked with finding solutions to the problems we have. Yes, it takes a lot of time and energy to find out what the dilemmas are. Indeed, you have to talk to many people, with different expertise to come up with workable ideas that solve these issues. Thick books and studies might need to be read. You might need to do some unpopular things to right some wrongs. But if you look at the long-term benefits of such thorough thinking, they will all be clear.

However, if you only have your eyes set on the next elections, which is not far in the distance, then you’re not going to do the hard work of finding the answers that everybody needs. This has been a rampant disease among our policymakers from times past and still infecting them now.

There is no dignity in not wanting to think, or to not roll up your sleeves to find the type of results you want. Nor is there dignity in settling for half-measures because that is all you can be bothered to do.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “All labour that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Excellence. Now that’s a dignified word.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of The Star.

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