The Change Must Start Now!

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The chasm dividing thoughts, beliefs and ideas among Malaysians is alarming. It is not alarming because the chasm exists but rather, our collective failure to find a bridge to cross the chasm and appreciate each other’s views across the divide. It is alarming because we cannot be flexible enough to bend our ideas to accommodate a more appropriate perspective, given a set of circumstance.

With this failure, we also find a misunderstanding that cannot be further than the truth and cannot in any way benefit a nation which seeks to evolve and move forward as a modern, civil and progressive society. The idea that only one side of the divide is ‘the right side’ has permeated a large section of our society. The fertiliser of partisan politics so generously supplied by politicians today seems to allow this tree of misconception to grow even bigger and deeper into its roots.

Speak to any Malaysian and he/she will tell you that they want a better Malaysia and of course, a better life than what they already have. Better is therefore a constant. It’s a journey and not a destination. We undertake this journey individually every day and the nation, in our collective effort to better ourselves, undertakes the same journey. Being better therefore is something that happens at a macro national level and the micro individual level. No one wants their country or themselves for that matter, to be worse off tomorrow than it is today.

Despite this, we remain a nation divided. Worse, we are unappreciative of each other’s perspective, intent and effort to make Malaysia the best possible country for all of us to live in.  While divergences in views may be natural in a modernising society like Malaysia, the inflexibility that is introduced by the failure to bridge these differences is tearing at the fabric of our society. We claim to be a civil society. As such, the commonality we find in ‘us’ as a nation must be the realisation that no one is superior to the exclusive of the others by virtue of what  ‘vehicle’ and which ‘road’ one uses to undertake this journey towards a better, modern and progressive Malaysia.

Sadly, such reality does not exist and remains elusive. Today, we are not only divided by our opinions but we are also labelled based on them. It would appear that unless you hold certain ideals and precepts, you cannot be ‘enlightened’, ‘progressive’, ‘dynamic’, ‘aware’, ‘right thinking’ or any other glowing superlatives one could think of. If you don’t hold those certain ideals, your label is surely to be either ‘brain-washed’, ‘unaware’, ‘rigid’ or ‘irrational’. Worse, you could be called all of them in a single mercilessly drafted sentence.

These self-serving ‘good vs. bad’ references and labelling are common in the sphere of political beliefs and ideology. By way of illustration, in urban areas, you are more likely to be called a ‘right-thinking Malaysian’ if you opposed the way Perak reverted to BN after the last General Election. These same people will still call you a ‘right-thinking Malaysian’ if you supported Leader of Opposition’s plans to take over Putrajaya on Malaysia Day in 2008. Across the divide, vitriol is hurled in place of reverence on the very same suggestions. It would appear that people are more interested on where your stand and who you support rather than why you believe in an ideology. It’s understandable though as politics is like that.

More recently however, these labelling became palpable in respect of the stand we take relating to issues which are outside the political sphere. Society’s civility is only reserved for those who are in agreement. Those who disagree are labelled, you guessed it, ‘unaware’, ‘brain-washed’ and anything else bad you can think of as you read this. It would appear that within the society in general, we no longer care to hear the argument the moment it appears that the stand taken is diametrically in opposition to the one we hold. It is unfathomable how a society with a common goal for betterment could be so opposed to each other’s views and yet hope to reach that goal intact as a nation. We can never be better as a nation if the fabric of our society is in tatters as a result of our failure to cross the divide, reach out and embrace opposing views without questioning the intent.

The things written here is not a figment of imagination. We can see these labelling of ideas and beliefs around us every day. If we take the first step and acknowledge that these labellings exist, it would be easy to spot where they exist and how unfair it could be to the development of ideas within our society. Mainstream media and even alternative ones are replete with these labellings which stifle and stunts our thought process as it creates a pre-conceived notion of the value of ideas and views so presented. We too label and present ideas the way we perceive them. This is a dis-service to society. Ideas and beliefs must be seen and heard for what they are and not what they are perceived to be or based on the labels attached to them. Failure to properly appreciate opposing ideas creates mistrust and deepens the chasm that divides and separates the society. There can never be an acceptance that the idea/belief that held sway was as a result of it being the most appropriate given a set of facts.

In this journey towards the betterment that we unwittingly undertake together, we also need to connect and communicate more. We need to do this as a person, as a society and as a nation.  We need to create a culture of debate through this communication and connection. We need to create this culture of debate not as a means or forum to parade a better packaged/labelled idea which triumphs against all else but to understand each other and to find that bridge that is thus far missing and stopping us from reaching across the divide. Superiority is a word that must not exist in the dictionary of our society. It cannot be a yardstick to measure ideas. It is certainly not a label that we can affix to reason.

In the final analysis, what we urgently need is belief. We need to believe that like us, our neighbours too seek a better Malaysia for him and his family to live in. If we can believe in our fellow citizens, we can never be suspicious of the intent behind an opposing idea. Divergences in views would be celebrated rather than a cause for discontent, division and everlasting mistrust. We need to listen closely and not just hear opposing ideas before dismissing them in haste and in contempt.

We are all on the same journey; it is time we made a change as a nation. It is also time we made a change as a society which is evolving in its norms and standards. This change must start with the individual units in society. This change must start with us. This change must start now.


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Faisal Moideen tweets @macfaisal.

Posted on 29 November 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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