The Nation



A blank slate - now here's your pen

The year is dying fast. As 2014 hurtles towards us, I'm torn between optimism for a fresh start and sadness at perennial human selfishness that crushes hope at birth.

These "final days" also bring films like "Seeking a Friend For The End of The World" to our television screens. It tells the story of people faced with the impending end of the world and the choices they make.

Steve Carell ("Dodge") is excellent in the role of a life-insurance salesman whose job loses all meaning with the appearance of a massive meteor on radar screens. People around him react differently to news that the world will be destroyed in just three weeks, with everything from suicides to drugs to rioting in the streets.

Dodge himself rescues a stray dog, makes friends with a neighbour and reconciles with his dad. Over the weeks, he and the neighbour become soul mates, before the meteor starts raining down on their neighbourhood.

The part I liked most was when his maid, Elsa, showed up at the apartment as usual. She was upset when he told her to go home, but Dodge relented and said he would see her again next week. For Elsa, the necessity to work only ended when the world stopped spinning.

What about you? What would you do if told the world was ending tomorrow? Continue working like Elsa, commit a suicide like Dodge's colleague, or loot a shop for the biggest flat-screen TV?

No need to ponder too long - there's no asteroid on the radar and the world isn't about to end. But hang on. Don't you want to live in a better world once 2014 arrives?

One small difference I try to make is via a penny-wise New Year celebration. While shopping centres lure shoppers with year-end sales, I like to dig out "old" stuff - this time T-shirts I bought last year but haven't worn more than five times.

Meanwhile, New Year parties are always piled high with food and drink, making the festive period a rubbish tip of leftovers. Food companies encourage our gluttony by producing more and more to maximise profits, in the process wasting precious natural resources.

Restaurants in Bangkok become forests of three-litre beer towers. Drinkers might know they cannot finish them, but they are lured into fresh orders by discounts as small as Bt10 per litre.

According to a BBC report, banquet-friendly Hong Kong dumped 3,600 tonnes of food a day in 2011 - 11 per cent more than in 2010. I'd like to see a similar survey in Thailand.

One thing we can do to improve Thailand in 2014 is donate money to support education for the poor. Perhaps if more children in rural provinces went to school via funding from wealthy city dwellers, the sense of inequality that plagues this country could be eased.

It's also nice to receive letters from the kids you help, telling of how happy they are at school and how much difference your small donation has made to their lives.

Several Thai companies have rolled out annual scholarship schemes, and it always gladdens my heart to see photos of those who have graduated with their aid.

I would also like to encourage higher earners to reward their housemaids with New Year bonuses. Without their help, your lives in the past year would not have been nearly so smooth.

I have been impressed with the generosity Thais have shown to the Filipino victims of Typhoon Haiyan. We have seen this big-hearted response before, with donations to flood victims in Thailand. How about making this big-heartedness a regular affair with monthly donations to social schemes designed to really lift rural residents' quality of life?

Only when all of us have been lifted above poverty to where we can strand on our own two feet will the nation as a whole be strong and unified, ready to tackle the outside world.

As New Year approaches, let's send best wishes to all, regardless of race, religion or political view. We don't need to be faced with the end of the world to take actions that inspire hope.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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