It’s very narrow-minded of EPF and SWRC for their report on dignified living based on ringgit incomes, as the definition of dignity goes far beyond this.
The EPF and the Social Wellbeing Research Center (SWRC) of Universiti Malaya have concluded after taking into consideration factors such as food, housing mortgages, rents, etc. that an unmarried individual will need at least RM2,570 a month to survive with “dignity” in KL, while a couple with no children will need RM4,590 a month, RM5,510 if they have a child.
This absurd “research report” has most definitely sparked a ferocious round of debates on social media. But first of all, let’s explain what we mean by “living with dignity”.
To live with dignity, one will have to be able to spend freely to meet the needs for a reasonably comfortable life and would not need to look too hard on price tags. From the spiritual aspect, the core value of a “life with dignity” is to be able to live with “dignity” and be respected, and not to let materialism or purchasing power to determine the quality of being dignified.
The purpose of the two institutions above must have been to try to win some applause from people that they can indeed live with dignity with RM2,570 in the capital city. Unfortunately they have only received an endless stream of “boos” so far.
If the two institutions were to conduct a random poll among the eight million people living in Klang Valley whether RM2,570 is sufficient to lead a life with dignity, our best guess is that at least 99.7% of respondents would beg to differ, leaving only fewer than three in a thousand who would agree with them. Perhaps the backlash would be tamer if they had put the bar at RM6k instead.
If you tell them RM2,570 will not guarantee anything near to a life with dignity, they will argue that you can always take a bus or walk to work instead of owning a car, or have a breakfast with only a slice of roti and a cup of black coffee, and shop where poor people shop, then you should feel instantly dignified. And if you think you don’t live well enough, look at how the poor in Hong Kong live in cage homes and subdivided flats. Perhaps this will make you feel better!
The backlash has erupted mostly out of an ambiguous definition of “living with dignity”. If they have opted a different terminology such as “a rather decent living”, perhaps the firepower will not be that intense.
Additionally, “dignity” should not be gauged with “ringgit” incomes as a yardstick and should instead elevate the focus of “dignity” to the level of being respected with positive social contribution, for the so-called report to gain a little more prestige.
When Harrison Ford, who used to be a carpenter before he became a movie star, was asked the difference between being rich and poor, he said when you have no money, you drink coffee from a paper cup, and when you have the money, you drink from an exquisite porcelain cup, but the coffee tastes just the same. And you don’t have to look at the price tags when you buy something although they all serve the same function. Even if he were spotted driving a crappy car today, he would still earn the respect of people.
So, it’s very narrow-minded of EPF and SWRC to come up with their report on dignified living based on ringgit incomes alone, as the definition of dignity goes far beyond this.
In Taiwan, an unmarried vegetable-selling woman Chen Shu-chu in rural Taitung is well respected in the society for donating all her hard-earned savings of more than half a century for the county’s relief fund to help those in need, even though she had a very rugged and impoverished childhood herself.
She was named one of Forbes‘ Asia’s Heroes Of Philanthropy for 2010, Time‘s 100 Most Influential People in the World, Reader’s Digest‘s Asian of the Year for 2010, as well as the Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2012.
And that’s what we call a “life with dignity” despite her very simple and humble life.
So, how not to incur public wrath by using ringgit incomes as a benchmark for dignity?