CAN CHANGE BE UP­SET­TING?

If there is no will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice for the greater good and fu­ture, any attempts at change are hope­less ex­er­cises

New Straits Times - - Opinion - steve@isis.org.my The writer is deputy chief ex­ec­u­tive of the In­sti­tute of Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Malaysia

ONE of the eas­i­est words to roll off our tongues in any lan­guage is the word “change”. Peo­ple talk about it all the time, es­pe­cially when a coun­try is in a bad way.

In fact, the word “change” is so com­monly used that it just does not sound grand enough for the glossy doc­u­ments that highly paid con­sul­tants pro­duce for us.

As a re­sult, we sub­sti­tute it with the word “trans­for­ma­tion”.

Thus, we now have the trans­for­ma­tion of this and that, which, in its ac­tual mean­ing, de­notes the whole­sale change of some­thing into some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent but which, in ac­tual ef­fect, of­ten turns out to be much less than that.

There are other well-worn words in our lex­i­con such as “de­vel­op­ment”, “re­form”, “sus­tain­abil­ity” and “in­no­va­tion”.

“Rev­o­lu­tion”, though, seems to be mostly avoided, as well as less catchy and harder to pro­nounce ones.

One can be for­given for think­ing that these words have mag­i­cal prop­er­ties and that all we need to do is con­sult a the­saurus and in­voke them rather than proper pub­lic pol­icy anal­y­sis and im­ple­men­ta­tion.

The re­al­ity, of course, is very dif­fer­ent. Whether it is change, trans­for­ma­tion, in­no­va­tion or what­ever, for it to be real, it has to bite and up­set at least some ap­ple carts.

Change takes us out of our com­fort zone and sig­nif­i­cantly changes the way we do things.

It af­fects in­ter­ests, caus­ing some to gain and oth­ers to lose.

It is po­ten­tially very up­set­ting and can cause fric­tion and con­flicts.

Yet, in the calm and col­lected way that we talk about it, it al­most ap­pears as if change and trans­for­ma­tion are prover­bial walks-in-the-park.

They are busi­ness-as-usual events which were gained with­out the pain. They most cer­tainly are not.

Let me give a mi­cro­cosm of an ex­am­ple. In the high-rise con­do­minium next to me, which for some rea­son only De­wan Ban­daraya un­der­stands, is su­per dense, a war is tak­ing place.

Res­i­dent own­ers are fight­ing non-res­i­dent own­ers. The lat­ter want to be able to rent out their units on a short-term ba­sis via so­cial-shar­ing ap­pli­ca­tions while those who stay there do not.

It is a fa­mil­iar story, one that is played out in just about ev­ery ma­jor city, in­clud­ing Pe­nang and San Fran­cisco.

This does not make the fight any less heated and let­ters of ac­cu­sa­tion have been fly­ing back and forth, le­gal ac­tion is be­ing threat­ened and there is gen­eral dishar­mony.

If not al­ready ob­vi­ous, this su­per-dense high-rise con­do­minium is a com­mu­nity, one in which its “cit­i­zens” do not get along with each other.

As a re­sult, clean­li­ness of com­mon ar­eas and shared fa­cil­i­ties is re­ported to have suf­fered.

The log­i­cal an­swer is for the gov­ern­ment to step in and reg­u­late.

In a neigh­bour­ing coun­try, the gov­ern­ment has done just that and out­lawed short-stay rentals. (En­force­ment, though, is an­other mat­ter.)

Ob­vi­ously, this ap­peases the res­i­dents, who do not have to put up with the con­stant com­ings and go­ings of strangers, and also ho­tel own­ers, who get to keep their clien­tele — or at least not lose so many.

There is not much pub­lic sym­pa­thy for non-res­i­dent own­ers, who may have bor­rowed or in­vested heav­ily in res­i­den­tial units with the ex­pec­ta­tion of re­turns.

Their ac­tions, by the way, help keep prop­erty de­vel­op­ers’ sales tick­ing over, banks healthy, prop­erty prices firm and con­trib­ute to com­pet­i­tively priced ac­com­mo­da­tion.

But, all of this is mostly given short shrift.

Short-term res­i­dents are tran­sient and do not have a pow­er­ful voice or vote. In­vestors are re­garded as busi­ness op­por­tunists, whose in­ter­ests do not out­weigh those of res­i­dent own­ers, who are en­ti­tled to their com­fort and safety.

This is just one small ex­am­ple of change ver­sus re­sis­tance against dis­rup­tive change.

But, it is re­peated again and again in count­less ar­eas, from agri­cul­ture, the civil ser­vice, ed­u­ca­tion to the econ­omy and so­ci­ety at large.

The re­al­i­ties of change and trans­for­ma­tion are even more dif­fi­cult the higher one goes be­cause more peo­ple are af­fected, more ad­verse im­pacts are felt and many more bil­lions of ring­git is in­volved.

Change and trans­for­ma­tion are never easy things, and es­pe­cially not so in a per­ceived zero-sum so­ci­ety.

If there is no will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice for the greater good and fu­ture, any attempts at them are hope­less ex­er­cises.

The re­al­i­ties of change and trans­for­ma­tion are even more dif­fi­cult the higher one goes be­cause more peo­ple are af­fected, more ad­verse im­pacts are felt and many more bil­lions of ring­git is in­volved.

Change takes us out of our com­fort zone and sig­nif­i­cantly changes the way we do things.

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