Mr Oxford, do mind your language

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently caught a lot of flak when he said “we” (the government) will “make life ‘difficult’ for those who do not vaccinate” against covid-19.

I’m not an anti-vaxxer but I recognise an individual’s right to refuse a vaccine he or she believes — based on the facts they have obtained — serves no purpose. Whether that position is right or wrong is not the issue here. In terms of public health policy, I 100 per cent support the worldwide vaccination programme as it is the only available means to arrest the fatality count of the covid-19 pandemic and offer protection against mutating variants. Vaccination, of course, must be implemented with ongoing testing and contact tracing.

But, everyone does not hold the same opinion. In any issue, there would always be people with differing points of view. As a public servant, should force, coercion and threats be used to make people conform to a public policy? Wouldn’t that be considered an abuse of power or authority?

In doing their jobs, public servants need to find a way to be effective without misusing the power and authority that come with their positions.

If Oxford University-educated Khairy (hence, my nickname for him, Mr Oxford!), who by the way speaks excellent English, had tempered his frustration with anti-vaxxers by saying that anti-vaxxers will be making life difficult for themselves, instead of the government making it difficult for them, he would have come across as more people-sensitive rather than dictatorial. And, perhaps, got more anti-vaxxers to convert.

Instead, he has incensed and cornered them, pushing them to dig in their heels and defend their position. The language one uses always reflects the attitude behind it. Khairy has revealed a tendency to use coercion when it isn’t warranted.

With regard to a public issue, a public servant needs to take extra care not to offend the recipients of public health services. If the Yang Berhormat (YB) had just changed his attitude slightly by explaining that with the protocols set or being set in place to enable us to live with covid-19, anti-vaxxers would naturally face difficulties, that would be less harsh than insisting on “making it difficult” for them which suggests that the government would victimize.

The consequences of anti-vaccination are self-evident. Anti-vaxxers won’t get scholarships and awards to further their careers because the government and other governments would require recipients to be vaccinated. Promotions may be harder to get if it involves interacting with people as that would require vaccinations. Anti-vaxxers won’t be able to dine out or travel.

Simple explanations of how anti-vaxxers will be making life difficult for themselves would let them see for themselves how restrictive work and life will be for them while showing that the government remains firm in implementing the SOPs without being abusive or dictatorial in coming down hard on them.

Learning to speak in a way that says the same thing but nicely, is a skill in public speaking, Mr Oxford! It presents a kinder, more endearing face of government and is more effective in winning more supporters to comply with your plans!

Good luck, YB!

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