Wednesday January 18, 2012
Tipping the balance
MIND OUR ENGLISH By LUCILLE DASS
Are we getting the point?
IT was Marina Mahathir’s Musings on life’s defining moments (The Star, Nov 23, 2011) that got me going on this piece.
Indeed, you and I have so often reached pivotal moments in the course of our life – private or public. These are significant points in time where, and when, we resolve to “actually do something to make a change” because in our final act of discernment we decide that enough is enough.
What is “tipping point”?
In her article, Marina gives us its definition according to author Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote The Tipping Point, a book about change.
Basically, the expression means the pivotal moment, often marked by an action that makes a critical difference or creates a shift by tipping the balance in any situation.
Among other meanings that you may come across, a tipping point can be described as the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new development in the course of things. It is a decisive moment in time.
Although the origins of “tipping point” are said to be medical in nature – from the field of epidemiology (when an infectious disease reaches a point beyond any local ability to control it from spreading more widely) – the term may be used in any field to indicate any change that is likely to lead to additional consequences.
As we continue to mind our language in this column, we note how such crucial moments can be variously expressed. At this juncture, for example, you can already see how the term plays tag to tow in several parallel expressions to describe that defining moment of tipping the scales.
For instance, we could say that the nation witnessed a tipping point when the Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Education Minister, having reached a deciding moment, finally announced, “We must focus on English per se” (The Star, Nov 23). Even though many educators will readily vouch that this “focus” should have seen light years ago, before the implementation of PPSMI (as I note in an article in StarEducate, Nov 13), the education minister finally got it right. That to me is the crux of the whole matter.
We are all witnesses to the long-drawn PPSMI battle (teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English), the crossing of swords that unleashed an avalanche of public angst and anguish over the PPSMI policy reversal. Concerned individuals and groups went to war with words that filled our newspaper pages and e-media screens; inked on banners and flyers; articulated in campaigns, forums seminars, even in coffee shops. It was a critical moment in the lives of all concerned Malaysians who showed that when it comes to the crunch, they are able to unite in making their presence felt and their voice heard.
The issue, which had reached culmination point by then, eventually led to a socio-politico peripeteia brought about purely by concerted public assertiveness.
Its advocates bravely crossed the Rubicon to cast a majority vote in favour of PPSMI’s (contentious) continuance for a stipulated period. After an exhausting and over-extended campaign they decided it was the zero hour to act!
Now that the people and the government have reached an agreement of sorts, this pact should become the axis of symmetry in policy implementation as we stand on the threshold of a new year to herald new beginnings in language education. There cannot be much wisdom in forging ahead with a policy opposed to and by the masses who have as much a stake in nation building as the government of the day.
It is also ineffectual to cite a “point of no return” in defence of a particular policy decision simply because an announcement to the effect had been made earlier. Such decisions are after all not carved in stone!
Surely not when emerging exigencies urge a return to the old, perhaps in new ways. It is to the nation’s advantage to have in place contingency plans in the event of a turn of the tide.
As Marina says, “In 2011, we’ve seen lots of tipping points” within and outside the country. We are aware of the many changes taking place around us, particularly in the country – some confusing, making little sense; some with a twist to them, causing the country to be at the crossroads (sometimes unnecessarily) over varying issues like corruption and collapse, crime and chaos, belligerence and arrogance, distortion and deception, gloom and doom, blame and accusation, scandal and slander!
Are we waiting for a new climax to happen, I wonder; a total loss of humanity? Shouldn’t we be seriously exploring alleviation schemes and paradigms for the well-being and uplifting of our society? Something that will tip the balance in favour of the majority.
I am merely repeating the words of countless concerned citizens when I say that we should not always have to wait for an emergency, or wait until things reach a crisis point, to take affirmative action. Sound policies and early intervention of the helpful kind can prevent predicaments that are simply waiting to happen.
That said, I had best mind the word-count limit for the page and before push comes to shove I’ll politely make my exit.
But if I tend to linger ..., do be gentle with me because I’m at that grand climacteric year of human life.
And that translates to ... a critical period of my life.