On 3 December 2008, the Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was reported to have announced that UMNO (United Malays National Organization) would “draw up a mechanism that would allow sensitive feelings to be discussed without offending the feelings of other parties.” What an amazing invention that would be if it could actually exist outside the empty head of the Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Firstly, let me congratulate UMNO for taking on such an initiative. It is a quantum leap from where they used to be. After all barely 2 years ago at the UMNO Annual General Meeting, Encik Hasnoor Sidang Hussein, a delegate from Melaka, was reported to have said, “Umno is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood in defence of race and religion. Don’t play with fire. If they mess with our rights, we will mess with theirs.” Mohamed Rahmat at the same function said, “Please don’t test the Malays; they know ‘amok’. We don’t want to reach that level. In the present situation, the Malays can still take it but efforts to enhance the Malays’ economy need to be intensified,” he said. And not to forget the infamous defiant keris wielding and waving incident by Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein who then insincerely apologised for it almost 2 years later. But then Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is also famed for saying things that turn out to be untrue or just plain wrong, aside from his elegant sleeping during official functions.
Secondly, if Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had a reasonable appreciation about the human condition, the processes of their engagement and negotiation and the significance of pain, he would know that such a mechanism is impossible.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi reportedly said that that discussing sensitive issues in the open brought no benefit and that people had to be careful when making such statements. I disagree. Sensitive issues must be discussed and engaged simply because talking to each other is much better than not talking to each other. When the latter occurs, both parties develop in isolation from each other. They become strangers. How does one discuss sensitive issues with a stranger whom one tends to be more wary of, more guarded and reserved? The first step therefore towards reconciliation is in creating conditions of familiarity for and between the respective parties’. This can be done by exploring and developing areas of common interest and interacting positively in those areas.
Secondly, sensitive issues can only be meaningfully approached with humility, respect and trust for each other, and a sincere desire to work things out. If these are not present, then no mechanism, rule or law can facilitate the parties’ working the issues out between them. All these things can only come into play after the respective parties’ have interacted positively prior to the attempt to engage on the sensitive issues because it suggests hope and a positive development. When this can be seen only will the respective parties feel comfortable enough to let their guard down and consider the above approach.
The question therefore is what has UMNO done to create such conditions of familiarity which in turn would allow for the possibility of reconciliation. The truth is that it has done nothing. In fact, it has done just the opposite by stoking racist and religious sentiment. That is why the Prime Minister is talking utter rubbish when he says UMNO would come up with such a mechanism. UMNO are the root cause (and by implication Barisan Nasional) of all the religious and racial disharmony in this country.
He is reported to have said that, “When an issue is sensitive, then many people will react in ways that are undesirable and this is what we are worried about” and ““We must be responsible when wanting to raise an issue because it may cause a reaction that is discomforting”. But you can only account for how people will react to a certain extent. When you get down to it, you cannot control how people react to something. If that is what he is worried about then he is unsurprisingly worrying about the wrong thing. His worry should be how to foster a nation in which people are able to deal with difficult, sensitive issues in a mature fashion.
And surely some discomfort is worth the price to pay to overcome those difficult sensitive issues. To seek to avoid that discomfort in reaching reconciliation is to fail to understand the human failings. It is a classic case of not being able to practise a delay in gratification. The path to reconciliation is a difficult, tenuous and uncertain though ultimately if it is achieved, a fruitful one. And because it is such, there will be pain. The problem is that the Prime Minister thinks that pain/discomfort is something that must always be avoided which shows how little his learnt of life for someone his age. I can do no better than quote from M. Scott Peck’s excellent The Road Less Travelled in his discussion on Problems and Pain:
What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a difficult one. Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair. These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain, sometimes equaling the very worst kind of physical pain. Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us all that we call them problems. And since life poses an endless series of problems. And since life poses and endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy.
Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the human capacity to solve problems, just as in school we deliberately set problems for our children to solve. It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.” It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.
From the paragraph above, it is manifestly clear that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is not wise in the least and a complete failure in counselling us. But it’s clear that we need to start. As Malaysians we must begin to learn how to embrace the pain. There is no shame in pain. Only when we begin our embrace can we learn from it and figure out how to overcome it. Until we do so, all we will be able to do is drown in it.