Conversation # 12: On Stewardship

\ˈstü-ərd-ˌship, ˈstyü-; ˈst(y)u̇rd-\
1) The conducting, supervising, or managing of something;especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care
<stewardship of natural resources>
2) The management of estates or affairs not his own


My sister and I have these conversations in the car during our long rides down into the city. There was this one time we were talking about dirty toilets and why it seemed so impossible for Malaysians to keep it clean.

” Malaysians don’t have this word “stewardship” in their dictionaries.” She said.

“…But its just like any other good character we teach.”

“Like remember those Help Me Be Good books we used to read?”

I remembered those books. I think we had the whole set, an entire collection of twenty four  tales, all about cultivating good character. There were ones about lying, cheating, being destructive, being careless,  being forgetful etc.

I remembered pouring over them, reciting the beginning of every page by heart because it always started with the same overture: “This book is about Sam. Reading about Sam will help me be good…” (Of course it wasn’t always Sam, there were a group of different characters)

It was such a significant part of our growing up. Us, in our pajamas, nestled in bed, with our mother reading each word with perfect intonation and inflections.

But getting back to my point, even in all twenty four books, I’ve never read one that taught the good character of “stewardship”. Why do we not emphasize this enough in our morals?

How does one teach something like that?

We’re always talking about “rights” and demanding for our “rights” that really, we forget that we don’t have a right to anything if we’re not willing to take ownership of that thing. In other words, Its called, living up to your end of the bargain. And its exactly the case, that we don’t take a good enough care of this place and this space.

Its like if you were given your own work-desk, wouldn’t you clean up after yourself? Decorate it however you like, make sure its ordered, and livable for you to move about and work in?

And taking care of something, really shows ownership. So it really makes me question, is it because we don’t feel like Malaysia is ours, or that this society belongs to us, that we don’t have this strong sense of ownership enough to take care of this space?

We’re always so in need of people’s service to us. For example, if I were a customer at a restaurant, it is my right to a certain standard of service, and it is my right to treat your staff this way, because well, I AM THE CUSTOMER, and the customer is ALWAYS RIGHT. In our society, I can use those toilets however I want to, and leave it in a mess because, its not my job to clean it. Its someone else’s “job”.

Well the thing is, we’re not patrons of this society. We are not customers. This society is our house. So this space is our responsibility.

Writing about this, I’m reminded of a Japanese work ethic someone once told me, that in a certain Japanese company they practice the philosophy of, “if you see trash and don’t pick it up, its your fault.”

I think we need to cultivate that kind of philosophy in our society instead of the:   “I didn’t put it there, so I’m not going to pick it up.” mentality.

There are certain things that just have to be done and not ‘talked about’.

If you want a clean city, PICK UP YOUR TRASH, and clean up after yourselves, and stop blaming other people.

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