In my family there’s a little car, an Atos, more than a decade old, that’s a bit dented here and there. My husband and I acquired it some time ago, as backup for when our kids needed to practice driving before getting their driver’s license.
Over time, my daughter inherited the Atos so she could drive safely to and from the hospital, where she had her clinical training. After my daughter graduated, my husband and I thought it would be good to sell the Atos. For some inexplicable reason though, the little car broke down, time and again. It was either the battery, the engine, water flow, or some other kind of problem that kept us calling the mechanic over and over again.
It dawned upon my husband and I that it would not be a good idea to sell the car after all. On the outside, the Atos didn’t look too bad. But any buyer would be disappointed and worse, feel cheated with its frequent breakdowns. In the end, we sent it to the workshop and asked for a complete engine overhaul.
Initially, my husband and I would only drive the car to the neighbourhood surau (smaller version of a masjid). The Atos is economical, easy to park in a densely populated neighbourhood. One day, as I dropped my sixteen-year-old son to school in my MPV (Multi Purpose Vehicle), I caught sight of three burly men in dark jackets at the school’s main entrance. I enquired if the men were drivers. “No, ummi,” said my son. “Those are bodyguards of a super rich kid.” As I waited for the car in front to move, I looked around and noticed the many flashy, branded 4WD’s and sedans stationed nearby. I wondered: Would my son be ashamed or embarrassed if he were to be seen in an old battered car?
I don’t know about you, but in the city where I live, life is firmly tied to status and pride. I remember driving home one morning in crawling traffic. A car trying to enter the lane on my left accidentally knocked the bumper of another car in front of it. I gathered it would have been a slight scratch at most, but the driver of the knocked car stopped, got out, and with an annoyed face and gait, walked to the driver who hit her, and gestured at her car, as if saying, “You gotta pay for the damage, man.” She seemed oblivious to the fact that, by doing that, she had made the morning traffic even worse.
A case of damaged pride? Loss of self-esteem? I must be quite naïve. Until today, I fail to see how a little scratch on a car could mean either or both. In a city where thousands fight for the best-paying jobs, hunt for housing in neighbourhoods they find hard to pay for, pride is might. A classic example is the practice of “upgrading” to a flashier car when you’re promoted at work. And talk about the amount of money parents spend for their children’s weddings! It has become an accepted norm for parents to use a good portion of their savings to splash on their kids’ grand weddings. It doesn’t seem to matter that divorce rates are going up. Wouldn’t it be logical, smarter in fact, to invest in a marriage course so the newly-weds could empower themselves with better tools and techniques to deal with inevitable conflict as husband and wife?
Perhaps it’s good to ask yourself every now and then: What makes you proud and what makes you ashamed? Are you proud if the house you live in looks better than your neighbour’s? Or are you proud when you are able to do something to help promote kindness and interfaith understanding in your community? Are you proud if you could afford lavish holidays so you could show it off on your Facebook profile? Or would you rather have a modest breakaway and spend the extra for the hungry and homeless?
I’m glad to report my son didn’t flinch every time he climbed into the little Atos. Each time I see him step into the car, I would make a little prayer that he would stay that way. I can’t imagine him spending a lifetime trying to fit into the current trend of “pride is might”, trying to satisfy an insatiable and never-ending appetite for more, just for the sake of it. I would rather he associate pride with feeding the poor, or reading to the blind, or giving free tuition to an underpriviledged person, or simply working hard so he could become an outstanding person and make a difference to the world. And I would want him to associate shame with ignoring someone who needs help, not taking responsibility for himself and his family, or not respecting his teachers or neighbours. That would make me and my husband grateful and happy parents indeed.[ends]
This article was published in page 41 of the June 2015 edition of Alwasat, a bilingual Australian newspaper based in Melbourne. Read it online at http://issuu.com/alwasat2011/docs/june_2015_d0399965235b86