February 6, 2016
Towards a New National Ethos NOW
by R B Bhattacharjee
The current generation of Malaysians have an extraordinary opportunity to chart new pathways for the country in light of the ground shift that is taking place in its political, social and economic spheres.
Currently, the multiple crises that are playing out on the national stage present a rather disturbing picture of the state of the nation – reflecting a breakdown in accountability, misallocation of resources, radicalisation of cultural norms and a growing ethical deficit. In total, the trend is distinctly downhill.
Nevertheless, while the near term will tend to be chaotic, it is important that we do not succumb to negativity but focus our energies on nurturing a vision for Malaysia that will put the country on a path towards excellence.
To achieve this, we will need to find inspiration to transcend the petty squabbles, narrow viewpoints and selfish instincts of self-serving pressure groups in our midst that have kept our nation in a constant state of anxiety.
It is clear that these divisive voices occupy a public space that is disproportionately large because opinion leaders with a more wholesome vision have not given life to a holistic worldview that all Malaysians can espouse as their own.
This then is our challenge today: can we supplant the narrative of the extremists with an ideal of a plural, tolerant and progressive society? Failure will mean condemning future generations to a dismal fate under the tyrannical control of self-appointed guardians of society.
So, it is not only vital to invest in the socialisation of a common, yet diverse value system, this generation has a solemn responsibility to succeed in that endeavour.
As societal transformation often occurs on an inter-generational time frame, a key challenge will be to plant the seeds of this new thinking in institutions that involve the young – particularly the educational system, sports organisations and youth movements.
A vital measure in this context is to reform the school environment to promote the concept of egalitarianism as a basis for a just society. This will require a mindset change at a fundamental level to create a new sense of national consciousness.
There must also be a readiness to reinterpret the intent of constitutional provisions on issues like the special rights of the Malays, among other things, to align prevalent views on the nation’s charter with universal concepts of human aspirations.
The terrain is fraught with perils including racial and religious sensitivities that can derail attempts to explore alternative pathways that are more conducive to Malaysia’s progress as a contemporary society in the era of borderless exchange and globalisation.
Yet, we must find the courage to venture into forbidding areas of our composite nationhood in order to lay to rest musty ideas about inter-ethnic relations and mutual suspicions about acculturation, hidden agendas and an assortment of other hobgoblins.
Difficult as it may seem to discard old ways of thinking about ethnicity and cultural differences, it is worth noting that many Malaysians already incorporate colour-blind practices in significant aspects of their lives.
Children who are enrolled into international schools, for example, experience diversity and multiculturalism as integral elements of their learning environment.
Similarly, employees in multinational firms imbue policies promoting equal opportunity and cultural sensitivity as part and parcel of the organisational ethos.
People working in fields like the health services, engineering, research and management benchmark their performance to international standards and protocols that are insulated from ethnic markers of any kind.
These examples show that a significant segment of Malaysians are already operating in a universal framework of values, and that the time is really overdue for a bigger swathe of the population to be co-opted into this broader paradigm.
What remains is to overcome the inertia of our current trajectory and steer the country away from its disastrous current pathway towards a national vision that is open to the best virtues of an interdependent new world.
Nothing would be more tragic for the nation than to remain shackled by its self-inflicted deficiencies instead of leveraging on its natural advantages to build a dynamic, open and forward-looking society.
To realise that potential, we must be ready to undo past mistakes and adopt a fresh ethos that all Malaysians would want to buy into.
To find our bearings again, we only need to reaffirm the best aspects of our diversity that promote our common well-being and discard those habits that divide and separate us. It really ought to be a simple choice.