opinion : Erna Mahyuni

Nothing ‘inspiring’ about senior citizens forced to work

Erna Mahyuni

JANUARY 10 — A photo has been circulating online of a senior citizen who’d gone around looking for work as a cleaner.

The person who shared the photo called the old woman’s story “inspiring” comparing it to orang muda (young people) who she said lacked the initiative the woman had.

It is troubling that people think it is inspiring that a senior citizen is forced to do hard, menial labour just to survive.

How can we call ourselves a successful society when we cannot properly ensure that those who have the least can still live with dignity? As I’ve written before, money shouldn’t decide whether a person lives or dies.

“Why shouldn’t they work and take care of themselves? Why should they be our burden?” I can hear the cries from the people with the most hubris — those who assume it could never happen to them.

Our bodies are weak, frail things. Only those with the time and money have the luxury to keep it fed and strong for the longest time. People who aren’t as lucky, the poor, spend their lives dealing with the after-effects of poor nutrition and overlong hours.

The argument that young people are lazy for refusing to do menial work or hard labour is ridiculous. 

Have you seen our construction sites? The laxity in security measures, the slave wages, the lack of career progression — our youngsters aren’t lazy, they’re being sensible. 

Malaysians are also rather classist — we pretend as though employers wouldn’t think it a black mark on a resume if someone chose to go too far out of their field, but that’s not true.

How would someone with a degree in biology explain their first job out of university was as a garbage disposal worker? Though the simple reason might be needing the money, the perception that the graduate wasn’t good enough for a job in his or her field would be hard to dispel.

It doesn’t help that we have people saying things such as, oh, you can’t find a job? Start a food truck. Not everyone has a head for business, entrepreneurship is fine and all but thinking everyone should and could get into it ridiculous. 

As can be evidenced by all the Ramadan bazaars overstuffed with stalls peddling awful food, manned by people who think that making a buck is easy.

The 21st century has brought progress and innovation, but it’s meaningless if it benefits only those with money and privilege. In the meantime, let’s hope someone finds better solutions for impoverished senior citizens than hard labour.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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