Sunday, November 7, 2010

Words: wordy and worthy ones!

During the last one or two years, the BN had launched many new policies, public campaigns,programmes, such as New Economic Model, 1Malaysia, Malaysian Plan 10, GTP, KPI and many more. I notice from its various discourses, much publicised through the mass media, the discourse is a mixed bag of modern day management jargon and catchphrases, as well as familiar socio-philosophical-political concepts from history of social movements, even revolution, including Marxism or Communism. Of course all parties and organisations are perfectly entitled to avail themselves of such use, if the words or concepts express or represent best their ideas or visions.

There are occasions, however, in the discourse of BN, I feel it is just a matter of words, more for sound effects or political-dramatic impact (I hesitate to say 'rhetoric', for that is not even what it is), I suppose we can say that some words are preferred for its 'ummph..' factor, to borrow from a popular lingo. For clarity, I think it is best that I furnish some simple illustrations.

Some words are expressed emphatically by leaders obviously with a relish and a reverence commonly reserved for high ideals, worthy cause, noble striving. Such words are normally expressed more  deliberately,  with some emotion or sentiment.One such word is 'transformation'. This has become a keyword in the arsenal of BN leaders of late, and of course it has percolated into the discourse of party supporters and bureaucrats as well. Yes, our national leaders and their supporters are indeed in  love with this word Transformation..

I wonder what has happened to the world 'change' which used to be in vogue in the past decades. We would remember former usages like ' social economic political change', 'agent of change', 'attitudinal change', 'leadership change', and so forth. If we think about it, 'transformation'  merely means 'change', albeit 'transformation' being a more total, complete and radical difference or form as the end product.In other words 'change' brings with it the connotation of a partial difference and not wholesome, not total. It also connotes a much slower and gradual process than 'transformation', which has the connotation of being more speedy, instantaneous,  total. radical and hence desirable.

This prompts us to raise the question. which is being envisioned by the BN leaders, as concepts or philosophy, 'change' or 'transformation'? If they mean 'transformation' by way of concept and philosophy, that is heartening indeed. If they simply mean 'change' but  like to use the world 'transformation' for it, then it is just a case of the promise and the word getting bigger, whereas the  vision and operative targets remain the humbler or modest 'change'. I assure readers this is by no means a mere question of semantics. It is of practical import. Let me illustrate.

Once the PM went on a walkabout, a  'turun padang', inspecting our public transport system in Kuala Lumpur. There followed a media blitz how our public transport system is going to be 'transformed', as announced by the PM. Shortly after that it was announced that six new coaches had been purchased towards that end. The acquisition was again much publicised with the PM himself testing the new coaches. Now the question is: is the purchase of six new train coaches a 'change' or 'transformation' of the public transport system? I would say it is not a development accurately represented by 'tranformation' which demands much much more. I would hesitate to grant even a 'change' of the transport system, admitting probably a good administrative bureaucratic decision to add more coaches. Even this was later marred by news that there was a scandal in the purchasing of the six new coaches, which greatly appreciated the cost of such 'change'. Again I ponder, where and what is there to constitute a 'transformation'?

A few days ago, we sadly read of the bus accident in Genting Highland, with much casualties, both fatal and severe. Now we had learned that the bus driver concerned did not have a valid driving licence. In addition the bus was in a poor condition,including poor brakes, in part causing the accident. The reality that struck me upon reading the news is that: we are having great difficulties ensuring the competency of bus drivers, licensing, vehicle inspection and regulation, minimising road accidents and fatalism. Aren't we therefore still very much straggling with 'change', meaningful ones, with 'tranformation ' being too far fetched in terms of actual accomplishment and performance. If this is accurate, then we are merely using big words, conveying big promises, which do not in anyway commensurate with commitment and will.

There is another word that has of late been politically favoured, that is 'innovation'. In the past , we hear leaders and bureaucrats speaking of 'technological change',  'technological acquisiton', ' technological transfer', but now these had been replaced by 'innovation'. Now the term 'innovation' carries with it the components or elements like creativity, imaginativeness, effectiveness, to a limited level a certain inventiveness or inspiredness in doing things Again this raises the question: do the leaders concerned mean innovation, which the nation is certainly in dire need, or simply some bureaucratic decisions or simple acquisition of the latest technology and its routine application?

Again this is by no means simply a matter of inconsequential semantics. Here's one illustration. The DPM was the guest at  a sort of the first Islamic innovation award ceremony. The DPM gave an inspiring speech on the need to cultivate the spirit of innovation, which had been pioneered by the Islamci civilisation in history, and of course enjoined by the religion of Islam. Then the recipients of the innovation awards were announced. Among the recipients were, according to the citation: a mosques committee for introducing modern management in the running of the mosque, including the use of computers; an organisation for offering online  financial instruments conforming to Islamic guidelines or teaching;  an academic who designed a device for identifying non-halal elements in foodstuff.  Now I wonder which aspect of these citations did the judges deem as  'innovation', worthy of its true import and essence? I would submit that the mere use of technology in a routine manner and application certainly does not merit the accolade of 'innovation'.

There is yet another word, fast becoming the favourite of leaders and public figures , that is 'integrity'. An institute of integrity had been set up, which had been charged with educating the public on what is 'integrity'. The leadership of the institute had made public pronouncement to the effect that it's immediate challenge is to overcome public 'ignorance' of what integrity is! I suspect again here we have a problem engendered by the love of new and 'impressive' word, jettisoning old more familiar ones. I think the common man in the street knows the concept, which had been around since the beginning of time. He knows 'honesty', 'principle', 'morals', 'honour', 'self-respect', 'sin', 'virtue' and many many more, all of which connote 'integrity'. The problem is created by this love of new usage of words for political campaigns and maneuvering. But jettisoning all older words for the same thing, and using new ones in their place, such leaders derive a false sense self-righteousness in having 'introduced' a new moral phase in national life.In my opinion, the common man knows what a moral, honest, principled, incorruptible leader is, and he has no real need to be 'educated' on the meaning of  'integrity' as a political fad!

What is my point? Simply this: words convey meanings and concepts. Man has always struggle to express his concepts and meaning through words. But there are times when use big words, far too big words  to convey much less than the usual import of words. They may do this for reasons. Sometimes to convey big promises and not real meanings ( which may really be much much less), and sometimes simply for the love of the dramatic effects the sounds of words may have!