The problem with the Malay proverb 'sudah banyak makan garam'

9:49 PM

For those of you who are not familiar with the expression, in English, it literary means 'have consumed a lot of salt'. It basically means that 'one has gained a lot of experiences'. 

Have you ever just casually sat down with a bunch of elders in the same room and the topic of conversation caught your interest and you have attempted to contribute what you think about the topic and extrapolate it to them? But in the end they just dismiss what you have extrapolated and have not given it a second thought and/or bring it to further discussion by saying 'Oh, kau tu muda lagi. Kami ni sudah banyak makan garam' (Translation: Oh, you're still young. We have more experiences than you do). Personally, the expression annoys me and I can see how it poses a problem to the mind and for mutual understanding.

Firstly, most people who live by the expression can often times commit a post hoc or false cause fallacy. Post hoc fallacy means one event is said to be the cause of a later event simply because it occurred earlier. How does this fallacy apply to the content of one's experience? In this case, it is the content of the experience of a whole generation and another succeeding generation. From what I have observed, this is a common theme for elders to dismiss the opinions of the youngsters just because of different line of thought. Their argument is usually based off of experience that is unique to them but what they did not consider is that it won't necessarily occur to other group of people (in this case, the younger generation). When in reality, two different generations could produce different experience because there will be different factors (time, age, personal motivations, personal values, etc) that could have formed the outcome as one's experience. 

Secondly, using such expressions to dismiss fellow youngsters' extrapolation implies the lack of intellectual humility. Intellectual humility means to be conscious of the limits of one's knowledge. Hence, one shouldn't claim more than one actually knows. The younger generation these days are exposed with new information, knowledge, and ideas (doesn't matter through which platform or medium) that the elders have not been exposed with. With the ideas and information gained, many will form new insights. Some youngsters will also be more creative than the elders but the latter group tends to dismiss and even belittle the ideas or insights of the former just because the latter, most of them prefer a pragmatic approach. I can also see that the rigid philosophy of pragmatism is what making this 'sudah banyak makan garam' expression dominating the minds of most elders. This also implies arrogance.

Thirdly, it implies lack of intellectual empathy. It limits the mind to consider different perspectives, in which this case, the perspectives of the youngsters. Intellectual empathy means to put oneself in place of others in order to genuinely understand them and where they are coming from. With new insights being formed stemming from their exposure to new ideas, knowledge, and information, an immediate dismissal of those insights implies an unwillingness to consider the youngster's perspective on certain issues in which the elders might have not considered while being exposed to previous ideas or information and have their minds stuck on several outdated notions or insights of a similar issue. A lack of intellectual empathy also inhibits mutual understanding between the two generations. 

These are the few problems that I have analyzed and thought of when one lives by this proverb. I'm not implying that those who have lesser experiences are always right in their opinions (this also points to those who have more experiences), but what I'm suggesting is to offer a consideration to engage in a healthy discussion. You won't know what might come out of the discussion. Of course, there are also positive outcomes when one considers the validity of this expression. It doesn't matter how old we are, it's true that all experiences are valid as it serves as one of the guides to live a life of higher morals and be more pragmatic of certain aspects of our life but one needs to take heed that it doesn't permit one to subject one who is of a different generation an immediate dismissal of opinions or ways of how one goes about solving problems. 

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