I enjoy running the so-called long slow distance, otherwise simply referred to as the "LSD", with my friend, Dr Peter Ong, during the weekends. These are very mild workouts at conversational pace. We talk about a wide range of topics, and on a recent run, I was saying to Peter that we don't have very many inventors in Malaysia when compared to the western world. We are merely the consumers of products which have been invented by others.
I said it is not in our nature to invent things because creativity is not usually developed in our culture and upbringing. Children have the natural curiosity about things they see around them—such as why is it that birds can fly, whereas humans can't—but instead of explaining the reasons, parents have the tendency to tell them to just accept it as a fact of life. I'm not sure if that's because the parents don't know the answers to the questions; or they're just lazy to explain?
At other times, when the children try to be creative by building something, they may even be ridiculed. That would absolutely kill their inclination to make something new. So in the end, it's always much easier to just use what's already available and forget about trying to invent something new.
I can still remember when JJ was still very young, and we were watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, she was amazed by the apes in the movie. And then asked me an interesting question; she said did the movie maker train all those apes to act in the movie? Instead of ridiculing her question or telling her to just keep quiet and continue watching the movie, I went into a long explanation of how computers were used to digitally change the appearance of humans into apes.
I'm by nature a curious animal, and I''m always wondering about things. If I see something that I don't understand, I would try to learn more about that something. Of course I don't get all the answers all the time, but I keep trying. I sure as hell would encourage my daughter to be like her daddy. I'm convinced that the mere habit of asking questions and searching for explanations, can develop the intellect; and if the child is born with a latent talent for inventions, that, too, can be developed.
But that is not the attitude of the majority in Malaysia. No, far from it; the first reaction is almost always that of ridicule. Many years ago, other famous inventors were ridiculed too. The Wright brothers, for example, were ridiculed when they first propounded the idea of a flying machine. But their people have since outgrown that attitude.
We in Malaysia are still stuck with the mentality of staying put in our comfort zone. Whenever one of us comes up with the idea of something different from the ordinary, the first reaction of the majority of Malaysians is to ridicule and poke fun at the inventor. We hardly ever encourage our people to be creative. Such is the case of the "point-to-point air transportation system", dubbed the "flying car" as reported here.
Well, this is not the first time I range myself on the side of the minority; I see the Malaysian "flying car" as a beginning. I'd imagine that if I were to have lived in the era of the Wright brothers, I would have viewed their first aeroplane models with the same enthusiasm too even if it had looked like total craps at the time. I mean, if not for that first aeroplane, how would we end up having jumbo jets in the skies today?
Some people are inventors, whereas some are just consumers. It might have something to do with natural talent, of course. Some people think out of the box, whereas some are just text book readers. In my mid fifties now, I don't have much more time, but I hope to see Malaysia inventing something important for humankind one of these days. I know the idea sounds ridiculous, especially since Malaysians have very negative attitude for inventors. But after all, I am a dreamer, and I don't mind being ridiculed too.