COMMENT | A few years ago at a dinner party, an elderly man pulled me aside upon hearing that I worked for Malaysiakini and took pains to advise me to quit.
“Child, what do you think you’re doing? The Bible, Roman Chapter 13, says that you should obey your rulers. Everyone who rules is given the power to rule by God. This Malaysiakini, it has an agenda to topple the government. What do you think you’re doing if it’s not going against the word of God?”
I listened to him respectfully. I perfectly understood where he was coming from. I could sense his fear and concern. But little did I know, he would be the first Malaysiakini subscriber I would enlist.
“Uncle, give me five minutes to share with you my thoughts. Then you decide if what we’re doing is wrong.
“If you have a government which robs from the people, shackles them with endless taxes and tolls and unaffordable homes; and we have to work three jobs so that we can send our kids abroad as we don’t trust our education system here; the natural resources which God bestowed upon us are frivolously wasted; our environment raped beyond recognition; young ones go to prison and come back dead, and a large number of our graduates are unemployable…”
This just being the tip of the iceberg, I told him. “Do you think we should sit on our hands and allow this to continue because the leaders of this country are bestowed the power to rule by God?
“You have seven grandchildren, what does their future look like to you? Do you feel this country is safe for them? Uncle, I don’t even have the confidence to bring a child into this world the way things are. We are sinning when we allow our rulers, who misuse their power, to rob our children of their future.
“Our mission in Malaysiakini is not to topple the government. We provide factual information that will help you make decisions for your children’s and grandchildren’s future. We bring them into the world. We owe it to them.”
The following Monday, his daughter sent me a text, “My dad just subscribed to Malaysiakini.”
I did not think much about it then, but I did wonder how come he made a complete about-turn and subscribed to Malaysiakini? What prompted him to take that one small, but difficult, step? Perhaps it was the mention of his grandchildren. Many people do not realise how politics can affect our own lives until it hits home.
Early this month, I heard urgent footsteps headed to my table and saw a very worried-looking Malaysiakini CEO.
“We need your help. We have to further grow our subscription base. People must know what is going on in this country. The elections are around the corner,” said Premesh Chandran.
My heart stopped. How can I help? I am not a salesperson - I could not even sell a banana to a monkey. But I said yes for two reasons; I trust my colleagues and I believe in Malaysiakini and its mission.
A few days later, I was lying in bed with my head hanging down to the floor. It is said that when encountering the most perplexing of life’s questions, try to look at things differently - I just took it literally. So, while upside down, I asked myself the question, “How do we grow our subscription base?”
And back came an answer, from the heart - “Tell the truth.”
The Malaysiakini mission
Two years ago, there was a TED Talk video by British-American author and marketing consulting Simon Sineck being shared on the staff email, ‘Start with the why - how great leaders inspire action’. Sineck drives the idea that people do not actually buy your product, they buy into your mission. He advises his audience to start with the “why”, instead of “what”.
He draws three concentric circles on a flipboard – the innermost, he writes ‘Why’, followed by ‘How’ and the outermost, ‘What’.
Sineck uses Apple as an example. “If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message will sound like this – (he points at ‘What’) We make great computers. (How) They are beautifully designed, simple to use, and they’re user-friendly. (Why) Want to buy one?
“That’s how most of us communicate, that’s how marketing is done, that’s how sales are done, and that’s how most of us communicate interpersonally. We say ‘what’ we do, we say ‘how’ we’re different or ‘how’ we’re better, (and) we expect some sort of behaviour – a purchase or a vote, or something like that…
“Here’s how Apple actually communicates – (Sineck points at ‘Why’) Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. (How) The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. (What) We just happen to make great computers.”
The video sparked quite an interesting discussion about the Malaysiakini mission. There was only one all-resounding truth that stood in the core of our collective hearts which inspired our every action, and it was perfectly summed up by editor-in-chief Steven Gan. He wrote this at the height of the email exchanges:
“Why - We believe in making this world a better place for those who come after us. Malaysiakini is for the future generation.
“How - We do this by building a platform where communities can share and talk to one another, and collectively take action to bring change.
“What - We just happen to be a news organisation.”
I asked myself, is this the truth for me as well? I thought about my two young nephews, one four years old and the other, one plus. I think about them long and hard, and realise that the truth is the same for me.
We can’t by any means leave behind a completely bankrupted, corrupted and spiritually-drained world and have their innocence stripped from them, just because we think politics is too big a problem for us to solve. Or that it has nothing to do with us. Or that we are powerless to change anything.
Steven always says, “One person working alone can achieve the extraordinary, but a team of people working together can achieve the impossible.”
What does it take really? What does it take to convince people that they do have the power to effect change? It lies in our choice – to either remain delusional or stare at the painful truth, then decide, through a small action, together, like going out and voting, refusing to financially aid movements which are out of line with humanity, not to support any form of discrimination - to speak our truth, our deepest truth, so that we may improve other lives.
What will it take to give hope back to the many exhausted Malaysians? All we need to do is to take a good hard look at the face of innocence - the tumble tots who are going to embrace either a bright or bleak future, because of our actions today.
These are our children. The children of Malaysia. They are deeply loved, fully deserving of a liberated life. They move us into inspired action. They keep us going. They are the reason behind our mission. Now, we ask you to join us - embrace our mission and walk with us. Malaysiakini cannot bring change to this country alone. Help us help our children. Take action today.
LYNN D’CRUZ is Malaysiakini’s senior manager in organisational development.