THE UNIFORM AND CHAMELEON TRANSFORMATION.
I am taking time to talk about a certain local issue. Although it may refer to incidents that took place in Kuantan, the lessons therein could be of some usage for other places. The issue I am writing this time is about the highhandedness of our uniformed officers. In the present case, I am referring to officers from MPK( Majlis Perbandaran Kuantan).
I remember reading a long time ago, about an observation made by president Soekarno. I want readers to note that I am recalling from a fading memory on this but the observation goes something like this.
Soekarno said something along these lines. It is an axiom that generally speaking, the depressed masses look up to people in uniforms believing in them as the embodiment of a certain power. The uniform then becomes a symbol of power and strength. From thenceforth, Soekarno would always be seen in uniforms. The spectacle of Soekarno in uniform bedecked with medals, baton and the peci( songkok) inspired awe and ironically, hope in the hearts of the downtrodden Indonesian masses.
That observation has a flipside. Those in uniform ACTUALLY believe that they are invested with special powers. Their behaviour is often shaped by the strange spell of the uniform. The wearer is transformed into thoughtless pit bulls. Maybe uniforms compensate the wearer’s under achievements. Never mind the fact that, in almost all circumstances, those donning uniforms are intellectually less gifted. Armed with a sense of grandeur and power, our uniformed officers march along in the most highhanded fashion. They become transformed into instruments of oppression.
Now, in certain parts of Kuantan, the humble folks often become petty traders selling their wares in morning and weekly markets. Goods such as vegetables, fish caught in nearby rivers or swamps, jungle produce collected somewhere are carted and transported to be sold at morning markets or pasar pagi. Sometimes, these are produce grown on patches of land within the compounds of their houses. Almost always, the harvested produce are more than sufficient for self consumption and accordingly are always brought to be sold in the morning markets.
In such a market, like the one operating in Kampung Jawa in Kuantan, which opens in the mornings, we can see a wide array of goods and produce. Such a market, known in economics as an informal market, is important enough to provide a means of earning extra income for casual marketers. These markets can just be a car parking area, an open space in between shop lots, land spaces adjoining a public playing field and so forth. They provide a service to people residing in nearby areas where they can buy fresh produce which are often sold at cheaper prices.
It is in such a market like this that we can see the oppressive ways of the uniformed enforcement officers of the MPK at work. Officers in their pale blue uniforms will seize the produce, slap some fines on the poor and hapless vegetables and trinkets sellers. The seized goods are transported in MPK vehicles and presumably brought to MPK stores for storage(?). Almost always, what actually happens is that the seized material are distributed among the officers or MPK office workers.
The same treatment are meted out to petty traders selling China-made goods. Usually these are sold by Chinese nationals selling wares such as the magnetic wrist health band( very popular among UMNO delegates and patrons of Kopi Tiams in Kuantan), cloth, imitation watches to impress your girlfriends with and so on. Again these are seized and brought somewhere by our MPK officers never to be seen again. Are seized products converted into MPK property?
Sometimes, these MPK officers would swoop down on hapless traders without even wearing their uniforms. They will carry out the only tasks they are trained in, i.e. seizing and converting the merchandise.
A uniform makes a statement that is both strong and eloquent. We instinctively and intuitively draw conclusions about the wearer of the uniform, about his or her training and discipline; our expectations of that person stem from such inferences. Under normal circumstances, I can assume that a person with a stethoscope is a health professional just as I presume that a person in a certain sort of uniform who is wearing a badge is a police officer. Rarely would there be any need to question the credentials of a person in the uniform of his or her profession. An imposter is rare and would face prosecution and universal denunciation or censure. I hope, my friend who is the MPK boss presently, will read this.
Similarly, a man with a collar is a priest and a woman wearing a habit is a nun, one assumes. This was the intention when Pope Gregory mandated a uniform for the clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. He was creating an “Army of Christ” in service to the church. He labelled this calling a higher one that that of the laity. No matter what the mission or occupation, a uniform proclaims the specialized training, discipline and dedication of a professional.
So give people roles (and titles) and uniforms (cloth or mental ones) and be ready for the unpredictable. Roles and uniforms allow us to exercise power in a legitimized way, under a given authority, be it the boss, the chain of command or the system. Roles and uniforms are powerful creators of new persona. Once we get them we are ready for a daily Greek tragedy and a chameleon-like transformation into a caring manager, a despot, a Samaritan, a sadist, a teacher, a learner, a benign King, a foot soldier, a general, a preacher, a follower, a mentor, a local goodfella or an arms dealer.
Perhaps, we can now look at leadership issues from the aspect of roles, titles, and uniforms( cloth or mental ones).