Small Talk: Happy New Year! May 2014 bring many good things your way.
I was chatting with a friend about the general direction in which Malaysia is heading to as a country. Some of the revelations that came to light were very disturbing to me. The first, and perhaps most glaring thing I learnt was about the income tax collected by government.
Approximately 10% of working Malaysians are eligible to pay income tax. That’s about 1 million taxpayers. Among those who pay, more numbers reveal a more depressing fact: 60% of the tax collected come from 2% of the taxpaying population. The remaining 40% come from 98% of the total taxpayers. Please don’t ask me to verify this info – I got from a guy who does market research for his work. But let’s just take a moment to digest that info, consider the tax brackets, and surely you can see where the pieces fit together.
There are about 10 million Malaysian workers.
980,000 of them are contributing 40% of the total income tax collection.
9 million of them do not earn enough to even qualify to pay for income tax.
Meanwhile, 20,000 Malaysians pay an average of RM 4 million in tax, PER PERSON.
There’s that MASSIVE economic disparity between the two classes. Why is that disparity so goddamn huge?
Said friend and I further discussed about how each individual earns a living and he illustrates an interesting picture. One of his young relatives recently graduated and landed her first job which pays her RM 3,500 every month. Family throws a huge feast to celebrate.
Here’s the thing. If you live by yourself in KL, between rent, utilities, fuel and daily expenses, RM3,500 a month is barely sufficient. Only barely. Yet, this is cause for celebration. Why? It is because to get paid that amount on your first job is a rare feat, and more importantly, not many jobs are willing to pay fresh graduates that much.
Why, then, is this the case? How did we Malaysians allow our standards to drop so low, that getting a pay that simply allows us to LIVE is cause for celebration?
Are we really that content with the idea of “As long I make enough money to get by, that’s good enough.”? How did we allow ourselves to buy into the mentality of ‘earning xxx amount is sufficient’? Why are Malaysians content with ‘just getting by’?
Oh, but it’s hard to get a high-paying job, they say.
Aiyah, you get a job, work hard, raise a family, enough lah, they say.
If I can get small income is okay, as long as it’s stable, they say.
Running a busines is risky, they say.
What if I make mistakes and end up with a huge debt?, they ask.
I know I’m not the only who has heard these arguments. While I do not question the wisdom behind them, there is something severely lacking in them. It’s as though living in Malaysia means a future where you can only accept your fate and spend the rest of your life making do with what little you receive.
Kita kena bersyukur they say.
You know what’s missing in the Malaysian story?
Malaysians at large are severely lacking in ambition. There is no desire to dream big. There is little motivation to pursue greatness. See, I believe that greatness isn’t always about wealth. Being wealthy doesn’t mean you are great, and vice versa. That said, wealth follows people who are in pursuit of greatness.
Almost every Malaysian success story I’ve heard is centered around individuals who dream big dreams. They either dream of making tonnes of money, or they dream to solve a household problem, or they dream to change the world. The point here is that they dream. There’s a burning desire for more.
That burning desire is what Malaysians are lacking. We lack aspiration. We do not aspire to greatness.
How then, did we breed an entire generation of Malaysians who are content with being cogs in a system? How did we forget to have our own dreams to work on, but instead slaving away at mind-numbing 9-5 jobs to build someone else’s dream?
A majority of our university graduates walk out of the campus gates with a scroll which they hope would land them a job that merely lets them survive. They just want a job that pays them enough and over time, move up the ladder for a bigger pay, with the idea that ‘if I work long and hard enough, I can earn enough money to be comfortable.’
How did Malaysians lose the desire to be great?
Why are our youth lacking in aspiration? Why are so many of us so shoe-horned into this ‘safe’ idea of a steady paycheck? Why is it that we do not have a mainstream culture of youths who leave university and try to create something for themselves?
I’ve asked my cousins, and other peers my age about this. Most of the time, the conversations go something like this:
Me: So after you graduate what are you gonna do?
Cousin: Hopefully I can get a good job.
Me: Just a good job?
Cousin: Yeah. A steady pay, enough to support myself. Eventually when I get better pay, I can start a family.
Me: You wanna start a family with just ‘sufficient pay’?
Cousin: If the income is steady, at least I can guarantee putting food on the table.
Me: And that’s good enough for you?
Cousin: What more do you want?
I have nothing against that. Maybe I’m being idealistic about this issue. Maybe I’m just naive. Of course, I understand the need for a steady pay so you can settle down, raise a family and be happy with yourself. Of course you can. Nothing wrong with that at all. What I don’t agree is that that mentality is too… sad.
It frustrates me that I belong to a generation of youths who are more concerned about ‘settling down’, compared to our parents’ generation who dreamt huge dreams and worked on them.
How did we become so uninspired? Are we really content with this? Are we going to pass down this idea of being content with being mediocre to our children?
My parents brought me up a simple idea: study hard so you can get a good job, then you can do whatever you want. After you get a good job, you’re all set. And so it has been.
I was told to study hard for UPSR so I can get into boarding school.
I was told to study hard for SPM so I can get a scholarship.
I was told to study hard for my degree so I can a steady job at a big corporation.
“As long as you can get a job, you can settle down.”
This lasted for 20 years.
20 years of reading and writing for purposes I wasn’t quite sure I understood.
20 years of sitting for exams, being nervous and anxious about them.
20 years of getting earfuls for doing poorly in those exams.
Throughout those years, I felt something was amiss. I kept straying away from what I was ‘supposed’ to do. I dabbled in all sorts of side projects. I worked on little dreams and little hobbies. I found joy and fulfilment in those things.
Through doing ‘things I wasn’t supposed to be doing’, I have been met with many failures and some successes. I have connected with so many interesting individuals and learnt things I never knew. And the more I learned, the more I realize how little I knew.
Last year, my dad suddenly said, “If you ever get tired of employment, why not start your own bakery?”. It was at that point I realized that it’s time for me to stop being content. It’s time to look at the dreams I toyed with.
At that point I decided that it’s time to aspire to greatness. I am currently working on my dream. There’s simply no reason not to.
What are you going to do about yours?