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The Parable Of Paternalism

"The combination of excessive paternalism and a reluctance to venture abroad has left Malaysia sticking out as the new poor man of Asean. Its listed companies are generally inward-looking with limited ambition.”

This was apparently an opinion of a foreign fund manager, not exactly positive. The quote reminded me of a story which I heard a long time ago, which now I am going to paraphrase and turn it into my own parable of paternalism, enjoy! Its a bit long, but it’s worth it.

There is good paternalism and the not so good ones; the latter abuses the right in favour of some. This parable is about the dark side of paternalism.

I once visited my uncle in the Isle of Golden Chersonese, it was a nice place, hot and humid, occasional flash floods, natural resources aplenty... in fact very much like Malaysia. He took me around the island state and we had a wonderful time, but by the second day I was feeling ill, probably from my binge on a variety of delicacies.

My uncle said, no problem, ... and took me straight to Hospital Pee-Jay, apparently a heavily subsidised government hospital. At the check in counter, my uncle chatted intimately with the head matron for a few minutes.

He came back and said, we should be able to get in and out quick.

He told me there were three types of physicians I could see, all cost the same €“ traditional medicine department, western medicine department or mental retardation department.

There were three queues, one to each of the respective departments, the longest being for western medicine. There were about 50 people.

The traditional medicine line was shorter with just 20 people, about the same for those suspicious looking types lining up for mental treatment.

Naturally I ruled out the third option, and told my uncle that I preferred traditional medicine as the line was shorter. My uncle whispered to the head matron and she held my hand leading me past the queue to traditional medicine.

I was shocked and embarrassed at the same time. I mean, I was jumping the queue of 20 people in front of me; they must have been waiting for at least 2 hours.

I was concerned that someone in the queue might jump out and curse me for jumping the line. After all, I wasn’t terribly sick, no where near to retirement age and not physically handicapped. But the people in the queue were quiet, some even nodded to me as I passed them.

The doctor treated me patiently and thoroughly, and as I walked back out past the line of people, some even smiled and waved goodbye. My shock and embarrassment turned into a power trip. I remember thinking “Hey, this is cool, I jumped queue and no one even showed me ugly faces... man, my uncle must know some important people here”. It felt good.

It felt so good that I turned to my uncle and said, “Well, since I am here, you think I could also visit the western medicine doctor as well?” Half hoping not to offend my uncle, but he said it was not a problem at all.

We did the same thing again, only this time, the queue was much longer, but the same response I got. I was feeling quite full of myself. It felt like walking on air, exaggerated self-importance is a wonderful feeling I’d say. Heck, initially I felt sorry for those in the queue, but that kinda evaporated by now.

Coming out of the western physician’s office, an outrageous thought crossed my mind €“ why don’t I visit the mental physician too, just for the fun of it. I told my uncle that, and he whispered to the head matron, and off we went, passing each weird looking person in the queue to the mental department.

I looked at each of them as I walked past them, some stared blankly towards the ceiling, another just buried his face in his hands, then there was one with his mouth wide open making squawking noises every 3 seconds. I was almost at the door of the physician when a lady in the queue stepped out, stared me down, stopping me in my tracks.

She was quite pretty too, but there was something weird about her. She was pinching her left arm non stop and drawing circles with her right foot on the floor. There was an uncomfortable silence, I couldn’t stop staring and I didn’t know where to look .... then she blurted out “Hey, who do you think you are.... don’t you need to line up like everyone else ... or are you mentally retarded?” ... and then she gave out this bone chilling laughter that I will never forget. The end.

So, who are you - are you in the queue keeping quiet, why are we in the line in the first place, .... are you the gatekeeper like the matron, are you like my uncle?? Who actually runs the hospital ... and who is the mental one in the parable?

p/s: Fan Bing Bing / plus this will be the last article for Biz Weekly for a while... till further notice... this was written like months back but was kept rescheduled till later and later ... lol... for obvious reasons... ; )


random said…
why is this the last article for a while?
Salvatore_Dali said…
there will always come a time just like your job, for there to be a review, a renegotiation, relevance, etc...
KoSong Cafe said…
It seems there is only a thin line separating a genius from a mad person. The pretty lady seems to stand out as the one different from the herd. She is either a genius or a mad person, depending on whose point of view, certainly not retarded.

Anyway, reading your story reminds me of our Malaysian way of showing people what our position's authority can command. The boss or manager of a resort is likely to park his car right in front, next to a 'no parking' sign. The privilege of knowing someone in charge, like in your example, to jump queue and get special attention, is all too common. Both the person in authority, the person who knows him and the person who enjoys the privilege feel great about it.

I just heard from two retired teachers, their stories of how they were stopped by policemen for violating traffic offences, but were let off because the latter were their ex-students! Each of them was prepared to sort out with his colleague to 'let him off' just to show what authority he had now - able to help his former teacher. Of course, the teachers felt grateful and did not hesitate to accept such favours.

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