Photo from Pxhere under CC0 Public Domain
Just what I have seen:
You are waiting at a crosswalk for the green light, so that you can walk past to the other side of the road. But even with the green light on, there are still some motorbikes or tuk-tuk rushing to the crosswalk, carelessly blocking your way.
Other times, you are riding your motorbike, and there is a red traffic light in front of you. The traffic is not that bad, only a few vehicles here and there. You stop as you are supposed to, but you hear the horns of the motorbike and tuk-tuk behind you, urging you to keep going so that they could cross the intersection even with the red light on.
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash
You happen to sit on the river bank in front of the Royal Palace, watching the river flowing below you and people walking by. At some point, you see a person approach where you are sitting. They have nothing to do with you; they are simply there to throw away their trash into the river.
You like to take a walk, and happen to be walking idly in the park, admiring the nature, but suddenly a person spits on the beautiful grass where a lot of people are sitting, chit-chatting and eating.
I guess all of you who are reading this might also be familiar with these situations. They are all from my own experience. These observations keep lingering in my thoughts. I remember some of my foreign friends telling me that they are amazed with Cambodians, how we are always friendly and smiling. They love the environment here—warm and welcoming. But, whenever I see these kinds of bad behavior, I always question myself: Why has this society become so messy with some people thinking only of their benefit?
Those scenarios above are not the end of the list yet. In my opinion, when you live in a country or a society, it is your obligation to behave for the benefit of the whole. As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Civic Education is a subject in social science with lessons about the “right and duties of citizens.” So, in this context, you need to know basic human rights and how they are abused, social and political situations, religions, traditions and the morality in everyday life. However, seeing how some people ignore these responsibilities and act selfishly, I started to reflect on why this happens. I have come up with some possible reasons.
What shapes people to be ill-behaved in society?
My first observation is that people know the rules, but they just do not care to take them into consideration or act according to them. I remember that day when I was stopping at the red light with my friend, he was gearing almost all the way up to the middle of the intersection. When we were off the road, I started scolding him how wrong it was to stop that far ahead with the red light on. He simply said he knew about the rule, but he did that because there was no traffic, and besides there were also a lot of people who went over the crosswalk as well. It made me reflect that everybody is probably well-aware of the traffic laws, but the reason they fail to obey them is simply because they see other people do the wrong thing, and they follow suit. It is so sad that sometimes people choose to follow the wrong thing the majority does, instead of staying put with their own principle.
I also think that history has shaped us into how we are today. During the Khmer Rouge, morality was cut off from the society, and all everyone thought about in their daily life was how to survive. It started when the relationship between families and the society was broken. And the cruel fact was that people had to be selfish in order to survive. However, even when the Khmer Rouge ended, the civil war, poverty and famine in the country still continued, making millions of Cambodians suffer both physically and mentally. After waking up from a long nightmare, the way of thinking of Cambodians is to survive and not to care about individual morality.
© Will St Leger/ 2006/ licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
After the need to survive, Cambodians came to the phase of rebuilding the education development. Yes, we learned civic morality in high school. From what I remember, the purpose of this subject is to equip young generations with enough knowledge to be good citizens in the future. However, speaking purely from my experience, I have to say that I learned little about how to be a good citizen back then. Don’t get me wrong; I did go to class. It is just that the class was so boring and the sessions happened like a routine. In class, the things we got to do were reading the textbook and copying word for word what the teacher told us. I did not understand much. However, I never blamed the teacher for that. My thinking was that most teachers who taught social science subjects in high school just did not have enough motivation to engage students because they could not earn much from the teaching itself.
As a small part of society…
I really think civic morality education is important for the future of the people and the country, as it helps us know a lot about how to be a good person and citizen. Civic morality is not just a series of lessons that teaches you about traffic laws or how to keep the city clean. The goal is to prepare you to be a better citizen who has an acceptable attitude and responsibility toward the society you live in. So, even if I did not learn much back in school, I would really like to encourage all youngsters to self-study and self-reflect on their attitude and knowledge, and try to do better. The lessons of civic morality include the study of human rights, law and government. It is also important to be aware of current social issues in Cambodian society nowadays. You really need a clear understanding about these issues to participate actively in society
“The reason people fail to obey the law is simply because they see other people do the wrong thing, and they follow suit.”
As a citizen myself, I want a better society where people think about the benefit of the whole, not just theirs. And I do hope you are thinking like me as well, right? We can always start from small things and go into something bigger. Small things like being thoughtful and not ignoring the traffic light or rules when on the road. We should also be thoughtful when throwing our trash and use durable bags or containers, instead of using plastic that could destroy the environment. And we should be kind and generous to people. I live by the philosophy that if I am not able to go teach all the people, I will try to be a good model for others, or act right myself. So, I always try to be the person who acts in the right ways because I believe that when I set good examples, others will reflect on them and be more thoughtful with their actions next time.
In order for a society to run smoothly, each and every one of us has to be responsible. The small things you do can impact the whole system, so I hope you will consider my ideas and act on what you conclude. The society is like a family, and it needs a bond between everyone in order to stay strong.
Last but not least, I am wondering whether you also think that civic morality in Cambodia is low? If so, what do you think are the reasons behind the problematic behaviors we see everyday? What do you think are possible solutions to improve the situation? Please share your thoughts with me and other Cambodian people in the comment section below!
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.