Do not feed the rage – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 11 January, 2015

Do not feed the rage
by Peter Tan. Posted on January 11, 2015, Sunday

Keep a cool head while on the road.
Keep a cool head while on the road.

THE world has become a more brutal place. Civility is being thrown out the window and replaced with violence. Some of us get angry over the pettiest of issues. Conflicts are settled not through dialogues and diplomacy but with fists and weapons.

A calm person can turn into a demon when behind the wheel. It is not uncommon to read about incidents of road rage where drivers turn into bullies in the news and social media nowadays.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines road rage as “a motorist’s uncontrolled anger that is usually provoked by another motorist’s irritating act and is expressed in aggressive or violent behaviour”.

That definition is not entirely correct. Road rage can arise from an act as innocuous as honking a reckless driver or an unintentional fender bender. At its mildest the victim is at the receiving end of vulgarities and at its worst physical violence.

Perhaps, the most famous road bullying incident in Malaysia in recent times happened in July last year. A woman was caught on video berating an elderly man and hit his car several times with a steering lock.
He had knocked into her car while attempting to drive out of a crowded car park. The woman was heard demanding a compensation of RM2,000 for the minor accident in the video, which went viral after it was posted online.

She was later fined RM5,000 in default three months’ jail and ordered to undertake 240 hours of community work after pleading guilty at the Kuantan Sessions Court.
However, incidents like this do not always end with the victim unscathed. This week, the local entertainment circle was shocked by the death of showbiz promoter Stephen Joseph due to road rage.

It was reported that Joseph and his family were planning to have their dinner at a food court in Petaling Jaya on Monday. His wife got down to reserve a parking space for their vehicle. Another driver who was also looking for a parking space is said to have shouted at them for doing that. During their argument Joseph was assaulted.

Joseph experienced breathing difficulties a while later and was rushed to the hospital but lost consciousness on the way there. The police were informed of his death in the emergency ward at around 4am on Tuesday.

It is hard to comprehend that death could result from a dispute over a parking space. Indeed, some people are living on short fuses. Their tempers can be activated by the slightest trigger, which causes them to explode in a fit of blinding rage. Such outbursts may be blamed on the stress of modern living, work pressures and traffic jams but resorting to violence can never be justified. Whatever the circumstances, verbal and physical abuse cannot solve a problem.

In the seven years since I started driving, I have had the misfortune of encountering road bullies on city roads and expressways. They can be men or women and have no consideration for driving etiquette, refuse to give way, jump queue aggressively and generally think they own the road.

There was an incident that I remember well. I had just come off a slip road with my right signal blinking, looking to merge into the crawling traffic. As I slowly eased into a wide gap, the car behind suddenly accelerated to cut me off.

I did not know better then. My initial reaction was to challenge him. I drove slightly forward and tried again. He closed the gap again. I looked at him. There was smug look on his face as he gesticulated rudely at me with his hand. In the end, I found a gap a few cars ahead and merged in without problem.

While we cannot control how the other party reacts, we on our part can de-escalate a tense situation by keeping a cool head and not responding to provocations. It takes two hands to clap and we should avoid being the other hand.
When confronted by a road bully, it is useful to note down the number plate, colour and make of vehicle, and where possible, a description of the driver to make a police report if necessary. If we feel threatened or that the situation could turn ugly, drive to the nearest police station or call for police assistance.

If we are forced to stop, never wind down the window or get out of the car to argue. Road bullies have no sense of right or wrong. They are raring for a fight and want to win at all costs. It is best not to feed that ego and rage. The most sensible approach is to apologise no matter who is in the wrong. Letting them win can defuse a tense situation.

For those who are prone to aggressive behaviour while on the road, the next time you feel like you were wronged by another driver, stop for a moment and run this through your mind before reacting. Bullying to the extent of damaging other vehicles, endangering lives or causing bodily harm is an offence punishable by law.

Nothing is so serious on the road that it cannot be resolved amicably and without violence. No one can make you angry but yourself. If keeping your outburst in check is a problem, there are counsellors who can help with anger management.

Violence never solved anything. Being right and winning in an argument is not everything. Think about yourself. Think about your family and the shame they have to bear should you be sent to prison. Is that one moment of indiscretion worth the heavy price you have to pay?

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Are we ready for an ageing population? – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 4 January, 2015

Are we ready for an ageing population?
by Peter Tan. Posted on January 4, 2015, Sunday

A senior citizen struggles to get down from a bus.
A senior citizen struggles to get down from a bus.

WE will all grow old someday. That is a given. When we are young and working hard to build a career and family, we seldom think about preparing comprehensively for that stage of life other than trying to grow a sizeable nest egg through the EPF, investments and savings.

With better living standards and modern healthcare, we are living longer than before. But comfort in old age requires more than being financially sound although having the means makes it easier. There are age-related issues that cannot be avoided even though we may have led a healthy lifestyle.

With age, vision and hearing declines. Mobility and agility decreases. Bones become more brittle and are prone to fracture easily. Cognitive abilities deteriorate. These are all issues that affect us one way or another as we grow older.

In Malaysia, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development defines those above 60 years of age as senior citizens as agreed on subsequent to the United Nations World Assembly on Ageing 1982 in Vienna. A country is said to have become an ageing nation when 15 per cent of the population falls into this group. Recent projections estimate Malaysia will achieve that status in 2035.

With only 20 years to go, how prepared are we in handling issues related to growing old? Two decades may seem like a long time still but going by past records, our complacency in the preceding years will come back to haunt us when we pass that threshold without having put the necessary measures in place.

This article looks at the state of public amenities that allows the independence and mobility of senior citizens to access other critical services such as healthcare, social life and other aspects of living.

An ageing population needs better public facilities, services and social support than are currently available. Facilities and services must be easy to use, safe and convenient. These values which are all encapsulated in the Principles of Universal Design cover the designing of products and facilities so that they can be used by the broadest spectrum of people. Social support like emotional and financial assistance must be easily accessible and not buried under layers of bureaucracy.

In many ways, the requirements of senior citizens are similar to what disabled people need. It was pointed out by disability experts that accessible public facilities in developed countries in Asia like Japan and Singapore were put in place because of the ageing population rather than for disabled people specifically. With that in mind and seeing that disabled people are facing great difficulty in society, we are currently not ready to cater to the needs of senior citizens by any measure.

We have two laws that regulate facilities for disabled people. Senior citizens and the general public can benefit from them as well. What is good for disabled people is good for everyone else. They are By-law 34A of the Uniform Building By-laws covering all states in the peninsula and By-law 110A of Buildings By-laws in Sarawak.

Both mandate all public buildings must provide access to disabled people. The by-laws have been around for more than 20 years and 14 years respectively. It is a crying shame many new buildings and the majority of old buildings within the jurisdiction of the by-laws are still not in compliance with the requirements due to the lack of implementation and enforcement.

Therefore, it is not insolent to cast doubts on the determination of the government in preparing the country for an aged population. Like disabled people, senior citizens needing the convenience of accessible facilities are facing difficulties now. If the situation remains unchanged, many more will experience exclusion 20 years down the road.

The image of the elderly lady getting down from a bus with great difficulty illustrates the many problems senior citizens face. Their desire to lead an active and productive life are restricted by barriers in the public transport system and built environment.

As always, public infrastructure is constructed in a way that does not take into account the diverse make-up of society and the declining faculties of senior citizens. They are also usually poorly maintained, making them unusable and dangerous.

One example is broken pavements with debris that may cause a senior citizen with poor eyesight and unsteady gait to trip and fall, and risk sustaining fractures and other serious injuries. Another example is the lack of connectivity of buses from their homes to places they want to go, rendering them homebound.

According to the Department of Statistics, there is an estimated 2.7 million senior citizens as of 2014. That is a sizeable 8.9 per cent out of the total population of 30.3 million. The World Health Organisation also noted that the world will have more people who will live into their 80s and 90s. As they age, they lose their ability to live independently due to increasingly limited mobility, frailty or other physical or mental health problems. Many need long-term care either at their own home, in institutions or hospitals.

With families becoming smaller, the responsibility of caring for aged and ailing parents may be challenging, especially when children are working and living in another city. This situation is made more difficult and financially demanding when both sides of the family have elderly parents requiring constant care and medical treatments or having to be put up in nursing homes.

And what about married couples with no children and people who opt for singlehood? When they reach the stage of needing care, the options are limited to employing a personal carer or stay in a nursing home. Personal carers are usually domestic helpers from neighbouring countries trained to assist in the activities of daily living.

Rates for private nursing homes start from RM1,200 per month excluding medical treatments and other recurring expenses. The total monthly expenditure can amount to more than RM3,000. This is beyond the means of many senior citizens. There is an urgent need for a better support system that is affordable and one they can fall back on in times of need.

Support extended to senior citizens must ensure that their dignity is preserved and a reasonable quality of life assured. After all, they contributed to nation in their prime. It is not too much to ask that the nation properly provides for them in their golden years should they require it.

A lot can be done in 20 years as we head towards that point in time. But if we wait until then to do something, a large proportion of the population will face difficulties in being independent in the meantime. Now is as good as any other time to start building for a future we may all need to depend on one day. We can still make it.

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Make New Year resolutions and keep them – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 28 December, 2014

Make New Year resolutions and keep them
by Peter Tan. Posted on December 28, 2014, Sunday

Making goals into a reality can be easy if we know how
Many of us simply set lofty goals and attempt to tackle them without defining the strategies and structures to accomplish them.

YEAR 2015 is just around the corner. I have a feeling that other than the justification for merry-making, the New Year is an excuse to sweep unfulfilled resolutions under the carpet and begin again on a clean slate, just like pressing the reset button in a video game.

Brooding over what could have been will not change anything. Those who have not achieved what they have set out to do certainly welcome this opportunity. It allows them to let go of plans that did not pan out for the year and start afresh.

I no longer make resolutions specifically only during the New Year. Rather, I make action plans for my work and advocacy activities as and when needed. Both are goal-settings. The principles are the same – they both lead to positive outcomes, be it for ourselves or for the people around us.

Now that I am in the business of teaching participants of the Disability Equality Training workshops that I conduct to make action plans, I am in a position to see why many of us do not carry through our resolve.

We set lofty goals and attempt to tackle them without defining the strategies and structures to accomplish them.

Here I would like to share some tips from the workshops that have helped the participants make more effective and achievable actions plans.

They are adapted for making New Year resolutions.

Plan ahead. The old adage ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ still rings true. Do not wait until the very last minute to come up with a resolution. Take some time to mull it over and think it through because if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Begin with the end in mind. Being able to visualise the goal makes us understand better the direction that we have to take. This allows us to focus our energy on what needs to be done. Sometimes, there may be obstacles along the way. If we know where we are heading, we will not lose our way.

Start small. There is a tendency to cramp several resolutions into one year with over-idealistic goals. It’s better to decide on one which is achievable within the timeframe of 365 days and work on it; than having too many on the plate and not knowing which to work on first. We know our own potentials and limitations best. The goal must be realistic and viable. It’s better to be able to realise a smaller goal than to be overwhelmed by a bigger one. For bigger goals, break them into smaller components and timeframes. Looking at it in its entirety can be intimidating, while seeing them in fractions makes them appear doable. It’s like preparing for an exam. Studying one chapter a day is more effective than going through the entire book of twenty chapters at one go.

Motivation and commitment. The two are the most difficult parts in this entire process. We will somehow falter halfway when the excitement dies off. Therefore, it’s important to keep reminding ourselves the reason why we are doing what we are doing.

I found it effective to draw up a chronological plan, detailing each step to be taken leading to the goal. The plan is then pasted somewhere visible to me most of the time, like at the workstation or at places where I spend a lot of my time.

Like-minded friends. Where possible, find them. They can be strong motivating factors. Better still if they have similar resolutions to realise. It will be mutually beneficial to join forces with them to constantly push each other to reach that common goal together.

Having said all that, even the most well-laid plan can miss the mark. I am no stranger to failure in achieving the goals I set not for the lack of trying.

Sometimes, circumstances are just not in our favour. That is not the end of the world. These are valuable lessons that teach us what do not work and allow us to find other ways that do.

Goal setting and accomplishing it are skills that improve with practice and experience. Over time, when we have internalised the methods, we can move on to bigger goals with ease. I see it like baking a cake. As a novice, we follow the instructions in the recipe to the dot.
Over time, we can do it without breaking a sweat and the cake will still turn out to be as good – if not better.

Before we ring out the old year with a hearty chorus of Auld Lang Syne with family and friends, let us take stock of where we are now, the one aspect of our life that we want to change for the better and make plans to achieve it. I can assure you that by following those tips, you are already halfway there.

Here is wishing you a Happy New Year and success with your resolutions!

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