Agents of change

Everyone has it within himself to choose the path he wants to take, if not chart it.

The ones that complain are those who, even if given the opportunity to run a company or lead a country, are most likely to run it into the ground. They believe that other people are responsible for their problems, instead of looking for solutions within themselves.

By DZOF AZMI, The Star

AS part of my day job, I have to talk to people from industry about the problems they face in getting skilled staff. Everybody is finding it hard to find talents, but not all companies approach the problem the same way.

One group, in essence, says: “Good people are hard to hire because …”

A second says: “Good people are hard to find, but …”

Spot the difference? Which group do you think I find more engaging to talk to?

Remember the proverb about teaching a man to fish instead of just giving him a fish? I understand that good fish is scarce, but those who are already trying to find better ways to fish are going to be better off.

Yes, the world in general is big, and chaotic, and out of any individual person’s control. But the world within your reach is very much in your control and you have the potential to mould it however you wish.

The ones that complain are those who, even if given the opportunity to run a company or lead a country, are most likely to run it into the ground. They believe that other people are responsible for their problems, instead of looking for solutions within themselves.

Malaysians are no exception. Take petrol subsidies for example.

Many complain when prices go up, even at the token price of five sen a litre. They argue that because Malaysia produces oil, the government should give some of it free to the citizens. It does not matter that oil has significant value and is scarce, and that subsidies encourage wastage.

Or look at the relationship between the races. I hear politicians politicising and the rakyat can only watch from the sidelines, even as those on the soapboxes widen the divides. Who can blame them for saying that 1Malaysia is just lip service?

It is true that there are many things outside our individual spheres of influence, but the challenge we must take up is to find the path that skims as closely as possible to the edge. Only then can we hope to push the boundaries a bit further.

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own,” said Albert Ellis, the psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). “You realise that you control your own destiny.”

(REBT is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy which emphasises, among other things, that how you view your problems can change how you are affected by them.)

This is a point of view I came across relatively late in my life, and I think my teenage years would have been far smoother if I had realised it earlier. Think of the time you waste and the stress you get from worrying about problems that are out of your control. Because you think you can’t do anything about them, you don’t.

Now imagine instead if you realise that there are things you can do to make things better within your local scope.

Think of it as owning a problem. People who change the world are those who take responsibility for the things that others imagine are out of reach.

If the price of petrol goes up, why don’t more people talk about reducing their use of it? Car-pooling would effectively reduce the use of petrol significantly. But even little things like sending your vehicle for regular maintenance or making sure your tyres are pumped to the correct pressure can make a difference.

Or, instead of sitting within fragmented communities which suspiciously complain that others don’t understand, why not help them see you in a better light?

In Britain, many mosques frequently hold open days during which people of all faiths are encouraged to visit and learn about what it means to be a Muslim. This very simple act is enough to make people want to change themselves.

And even while there are those who cynically condemn 1Malaysia as an unsubstantial slogan, can we at least agree that squabbling among ourselves gives our competitors the opportunity to outstrip us, and that the right thing to do instead is to see ourselves as a one country, moving in a one direction, charting our own way in the world?

I do know it is unrealistic to expect everybody in Malaysia to view our problems in this way. But I am sorely tempted to jump on the bandwagon that aims to move us forward and sever ties with those who want to be left behind.

Let us help those who want to help themselves, and I say do not worry about the naysayers and pessimists, because meaningful change only needs the contribution of a committed few.Are you one of them?

Malaysia is a country whose public policies are those that reward inclusion. We promise free education and universal health coverage and we subsidise a number of important goods. I think it is right that we do this, because I believe it’s important for the government to create opportunity where none had existed before and to help those who otherwise cannot help themselves.

So I do support the initiatives in the 2012 budget to help companies attract more talent by giving tax incentives to those that look to hire Malaysians from abroad, and to give young Malaysians internship opportunities.

And I hope these incentives are well enough promoted so that all companies will understand the opportunities before them. As for those who still want to be given fish, I suggest that they go on a diet.

> Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make of life’s vagaries and contradictions.