Who’s dying to be a Datuk?

It is not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles.

— Niccolo Machiavelli, Italian diplomat

On my last trip back to Kuching in August, a conversation about datukship cropped up among two friends over breakfast in a kopitiam.

Call it gossip if you will (aha, men also gossip too). It was about a mutual friend, already in his 70s, known to be longing for a datukship but somehow it eluded him.

The explanation was that there were those in authority who felt that our friend would not be able to carry the title, not because he was underserving, but due to his brash personality and odd behaviour in public.

That’s enough of the kopitiam gossip, lest I turn into a gossiper myself. I am penning this subject here because of the many interesting reactions to a similar article I wrote a few days ago in a national news portal.

It was about the Christmas cards I’ve received from politician friends in which I commended those who signed off humbly with their first names without adding their honorifics and exalted positions.

I also mentioned the example of the late chief minister, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who in his last Christmas greeting in 2016 humbly wrote from “Adenan, Jamilah & family”. There was no “Tan Sri Datuk Patinggi … Chief Minister, Sarawak”. No honorific, none of the usual VIP air and no public display that he was a class above others.

As one who places simplicity and humility high on my score card, I have to say that Adenan’s personal touch and humility should be emulated by all politicians. A leader who does not lack self-esteem is not bothered about status and self-importance.

Some might think that I’m harping on a trivial issue. I can agree that everyone has an ego and there is nothing wrong about being status-conscious or feeling good about posturing yourself as a VIP publicly. The question is: Do you need to?

If you are a politician, that does not work for me. Remember you have pledged to be a servant of the people when you sought elective office. So stay humble and your constituents will keep on voting for you, I’m sure. Failing which, I would advise such politicians to start learning how to fly a kite.

In case there are people reading this who are dying to be a datuk, here are some thoughts which I would like to share with them.

It is a fact that our society has become very status conscious, so much so that some would resort to unscrupulous means, including dishing out several hundred thousand, if not millions, in bribes just for an ego-boosting title.

There will have to come a time when we have to acknowledge that this “datukships for sale” is for real, even if it embarrasses the government or those empowered in awarding the titles.

Ask former minister and now Senate President Datuk Seri Rais Yatim. Several years ago, he was the first minister to publicly allege that people were buying state titles from the rulers. This was never denied to this day.

How low would some stoop just to put the honorific “datuk” in front of their names? Many will also probably insist that they are addressed as “datuk” in public. After being awarded the datukship, they would ensure that their friends insert congratulatory messages in newspapers in order to let the whole world know their ‘achievements’. In all likelihood, these datuks are the ones paying huge sums to advertise and congratulate themselves.

Later, they must surely and proudly place the official crest on their luxurious vehicles and drive around with their noses stuck up, so as to get the same ego boost in public.

I must also pose. Why must we take shortcuts to be acknowledged as somebody important?

Those who have attained notable achievements, have made immense social contributions, or are leaders in their professions or respective fields of expertise do not have to buy recognition.

These are the genuine and deserving recipients of awards and honours from the government and rulers.

Finally, in case you are unaware, many datuks have been charged with corruption, money laundering, organised crime, gangland murders, online scams and drug-related offences. These are the characters who have rendered the datukship cheap and meaningless.

So, are you still dying to be a datuk? If so, good luck. I hope you will find real contentment and true happiness with an ego boosted into the size of an ostrich egg, Datuk.

For me, just call me Francis.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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