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A sparrow is a powerful spirit animal and a symbol of hardwork and diligence. Reuters pic
A sparrow is a powerful spirit animal and a symbol of hardwork and diligence. Reuters pic

IN practically all traditions and civilisations, grandparents play vital roles as inspirations to the younger generations. Be it the first nations of the so-called American continent to the aborigines of Down Under, their words of wisdom ring through over the centuries.

Similarly too in our culture, at least when the generation gaps are not too wide and without lending so much distractions that keep them apart. Respect is very much mutual; in fact, the younger ones feel indebted to the elders by acknowledging their lofty experiences and vastness of influence. There is always something to learn from them. This is, however, slowly waning.

For me, the one unforgettable reminder was when I was told to differentiate between someone who wanted to sincerely “offer” help because they really wanted to do so, without being asked; as compared with another who did so for some sinister reason, more often pointing to themselves. I never thought that I would encounter the latter any time over my lifetime.

Surprisingly, it is now almost everywhere. What’s in it for me — WIIFM — as it is called nowadays appears to be an everyday occurrence. If there is nothing to be gained, then “I’m out”. The “I” factor has become so obsessive that it has taken a life of its own.

At times it becomes so elitist that it creates unwarranted divisions when it should be played down or at least, on some occasions, be “blurred”, especially on auspicious events like Hari Raya.

After all, these barriers are, in the main, artificial ones that are created to enhance “differences”, focused on material possessions to be paraded despite being rather meaningless; except for the egocentric values that some people are permanently glued to.

It is not for nothing that during the entire month of Ramadan we were battling to tame our egos, day and night. The reflections, the actions, the sharing — are all meant to “quieten” the ego. Yet on the very day Ramadan ended, the egos (re)appeared ... alive and kicking!

Divisiveness once again took centre stage when, metaphorically speaking, the “eagles” supposedly spoke down to the “sparrows” — reminding them not to dream beyond the heights of the grass, where only the “eagles” can soar!

What seems to have been ignored is that the sky is limitless, and that when it comes to dreams, a “sparrow” can easily be the next “eagle”. And vice-versa. History is littered with such examples. Colonial ones informed us that some of the “eagles” are even made this way.

That said, never underestimate a sparrow, even though it is small and relatively weak. Several legends from other cultures speak about it as a “powerful spirit animal”. ‎A symbol of hard work, working all the time, diligently, in ensuring their collective survival.

Indeed, in some traditions, sparrows are known to courageously fight against wolves, bears and even bigger sized birds. Hence, they also symbolise “self-worth” as being productive and “chirpy” because as is often remarked “small is beautiful”. It is thus said, if the image of a sparrow enters one's dream, it represents freedom, dignity and pride.

This is where the lessons are, if only the “sparrows” are given the right space, and placed in the right scheme of things where the “ego” is always kept in check, they will be able to soar, sometimes even higher than the eagles. It is, therefore, not limited to the questions of size, height and altitude, rather more importantly of attitude and self-dignity as captured by the many self-explanatory pantun recorded below:

Helang terbang tinggi, pipit terbang rendah. Jika hilang budi pekerti, akan hidup tidak maruah.

(Eagles fly high, sparrows fly low; without humility, dignity and respect are no more.)

Helang terbang tinggi, pipit terbang rendah. Jika asyik meninggi diri, alamatkan hidup membawa padah.

(Pride always comes before a fall.)

Helang terbang tinggi, pipit terbang rendah. Jika‎ nasihat tidak dituruti, lambat laun membawa rebah.

(If advice is repeatedly ignored, the consequences will be dire.)

Helang terbang tinggi, pipit terbang rendah. Mulut celupar kurang bestari, bagai berguru tiada barakah.

(Be mindful of what you say, for the words may be the cause of your downfall.)

Helang terbang tinggi, pipit terbang rendah. Jika hanya pandai mencaci, kelak nasib dilaknati sumpah.

(If one only knows how to vilify another, his life will eventually be cursed.)

Helang terbang tinggi, pipit terbang rendah. Bila suka menagih benci, jiwa tersiksa tak sudah-sudah.

(Hatred breeds hatred.)

Helang terbang tinggi, pipit terbang rendah. Celana hitam tiada bererti, jika pemakai tidak berhemah.

(Black trousers are meaningless if the person who wears it is without character and humility.)

Helang terbang tinggi, pipit terbang rendah. Bila adab disanjung tinggi, baru bangsa dijulang megah.

(Humility will open more doors than arrogance.)

Helang terbang tinggi, pipit terbang rendah. Biar pandai menyuci hati, itu tanda mendapat hidayah.

(Humility cleanses the soul.)

In the final analysis, what prevails is not a matter of position, but of substance. And unlike the “eagles” that are endangered worldwide, sparrows never fly alone.

The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector

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