LETTER | The year 2020 was supposed to be the year we became a “developed” nation. Instead, it was a year of great suffering for many workers and consumers. It was a year of a health crisis as well as an economic crisis.
As a health crisis, many lost their loved ones or were infected by the dreaded disease. Apart from a strictly physical health crisis, it affected others more deeply.
Mental health issues have increased. Suicides have increased. Beyond that, there were reports of increasing domestic violence.
As an economic crisis, many lost their jobs or had their incomes reduced. Many were stuck with debts or commitments they could not fulfil. Basic needs were affected. Children’s education was affected.
None of this is new. But how do we move forward from here into 2021? There was indeed much suffering, but there are also some lessons to be learnt.
One simple message going viral that “2020 was not a year to expect and plan for what we do not have but appreciate what we do have” can be a start. Let me add some other thoughts.
We need to invest in our health. We do not know when this pandemic will end or the next begin. The next pandemic is not an 'if' but a 'when'. We need to take care of our health and strengthen our immune systems. The suggestions are nothing new: healthier food, exercise, and adequate sleep.
Furthermore, we need to invest in supplements and regular check-ups. Will these protect us? If not completely, certainly they can contribute, to some extent, to reducing the risks and mitigating the negative impacts.
We do not know the shape or the form of the next diseases, but we certainly can invest in our health to protect ourselves the best we can.
Jobs are uncertain. Many jobs that we thought were secure and growing, suddenly just collapsed. The most obvious was the leisure and entertainment industry. Many small- and medium-sized businesses were mauled by the pandemic. Jobs were lost. Some will recover, others will not.
The lesson that we need to learn about jobs is that we must continuously upgrade ourselves. We need to understand the trends in the economy and be prepared for any severe disruption in the current way of doing things.
In a survey in late 2020, nine out of 10 Malaysian employees see the need to reskill or upskill. This must be an ongoing process.
Financial literacy is crucial. It cannot be denied that the consumers best able to face the economic crisis are those who managed their finances well, that is, they have sufficient savings, and are more conscious of how they spend their money.
Of course, there is no certainty that having better financial management is sufficient, but it certainly helps. Consumers should make serious efforts to empower themselves with financial knowledge and financial skills to enhance their financial management behaviour.
Practical technology is the future. While for the younger generation, the use of technology comes with ease, for many of the older generation it presents a greater challenge.
Yet, the increased purchases of goods and services online meant that many senior citizens were able to overcome their initial resistance to learn to master enough to manage their situations better.
Technology is the way forward; it is inevitable. Thus, all workers and consumers should make an effort to master technology to function effectively in the current age.
A note of caution: scams are increasing during the pandemic. Consumers must always be wary of scammers out there to take advantage of the difficult environment to profit for themselves. Caution is not only the best but sometimes the only protection against scams.
Finally, during this tough time, let's all - affected or unaffected by the pandemic - seek divine providence and guidance to face these challenges.
The writer is the CEO of Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.