An Open Letter to Malaysian-Tamil Society: Trapped in a Culture of Dependency, Entitlement and the De-Valuation of Social Service
I am the daughter of Mr. Thannambikai Balasubramaniam, the man who introduced the phrase ´Thanmunaippu Payirtchi´ (Motivational Seminar) to the Malaysian-Tamil people. He pioneered most of the techniques, formats and even developed the conceptual language that acts as the basis of most of what we see in the motivational scene today. Over the past few decades, since my father´s time, that industry has sadly become far more commercialized whilst our society – for the most part – is still struggling to find its feet. Consequently, whilst there is a recognition of the need for this type of service, people don´t know who to go to, and when they do find someone decent – they demand their services for free.
I began speaking in Malaysia when I was 16, mostly on matters of education, learning paradigms and the consciousness of the brain. I was recognized as a Mensan Genius (172 IQ) and accelerated my own education by teaching myself most of secondary school syllabi in under a year at the age of 13. Three years down the line, I had developed my own modules and spoke to thousands of Malaysian-Tamil children through mass programs and on the radio alongside other speakers and my father, of course. I had to stop when my work began to raise too many uncomfortable questions, and it was then that I began my tertiary education overseas. Financed primarily by merit-based scholarships and a lot of hard work, I obtained my PhD at the University of Warwick, UK in Political Science just after I turned 25.
I still get invitations (and sometimes demands) from members of the concerned public to return to the work I once did – and to do so for free. I believe that social work and service should not be done for a commercial or profit motive (if so, get into business instead), but that the facilitator or trainer should receive something in exchange that is of use to them. Let them get paid – and as long as they do something useful for you – let it be a fair exchange.
A good service provider will give what they can without expectation, but try not to assume that they must always do so. Most people with integrity in this field struggle to even break even – and remember – they´re people, just like you. They have kids, or need to pay bills or debts – just like you.
In my experience I have seen that what is taken for free is never appreciated – and what is a heartfelt gift cannot be something that you shame, bully or guilt-trap someone else into giving. In all honesty that is one of the reasons why so many motivators have come and gone in this society, and even fewer of worth stay behind. Valuing the worth of the individual and the service that individual provides is one of the biggest lessons that our society has yet to learn.
There is a refusal to honor the time of people who genuinely want to do good work. And yet, we would cash out the same money for entertainment, luxuries and spiritual charlatans who claim to fix our lives but ultimately don´t – without a moment´s doubt or hesitation. There´s some good spiritualists out there, but a lot of quacks as well. The same applies to motivational speakers in this country, and in other parts of the world.
So really, it´s not a question of lacking resources. It´s a question of what we truly value and whether we´re willing to put the time into evaluating who or what we choose to seek help out from.
And if we do not value the help we seek, what use is there in providing it, except to feed the bottomless pit that says ´give me, give me, give me – or you´re a bad person´.
We, as a society, constantly expect someone else to come in and solve our problems for us, or show us a way to do so without developing the individual ability to do so. And that has created a culture of extreme dependency. We expect to be saved.
I still go back to public speaking and pro bono work here once in a while. What I´ve seen is that the mentality of entitlement, of individual inability, and of devaluing work and service has all but intensified.
The gap between the haves and the have-nots in our society has all but widened. And that scream that says ´give me, give me, give me´just keeps getting louder and louder. And no matter how much you do give, it´s just never enough.
And that cycle needs to be broken.
But here´s the simple fact of the matter:
Until we learn to value our teachers and facilitators – whoever they may be, we will not learn to grow. We will not even be ready to begin to learn.
I am thinking about ways to contribute, but it´s really got to be something new. Otherwise it´s just going to be feeding into the same old thing, over and over and over again.
Just as it is pointless to throw salt into the sea, it is pointless to try and drain away the people who can (and are willing to help) in the name of ´social service´. Believe me, if this society spent just a fraction of the amount it spends on other things (beauty treatments, entertainment, luxury goods), we wouldn´t need to be having this conversation.
If I do decide that I want to work with the people here, it will be in a way that honors my time and commitment as a professional – and that allows an individual to actually empower themselves, rather than to simply make them dependent on yet another motivator, course or training program.
Dr Bairavee Balasubramaniam