These ten qualities of a great nation are by no means exhaustive nor are they quantifiable. But they are, I believe, the common yearnings of all human beings.  If the people of a nation are united in the pursuit of these qualities, then they are surely attainable.

With an upcoming General Election that is expected to be the most hotly contested one ever since independence and the formation of our relatively young nation, Malaysia is at a crossroads. Perhaps for the first time, the prospect of a change in government is realistic and both coalitions sense it.

Hearing the empty rhetoric of some leaders of the current coalition, one can only come to the conclusion that they are bankrupt – certainly not of material wealth, but of ideas.

What if there is indeed an impending change in government and we have a chance to rebuild and reshape this nation? What kind of a nation would we want to build? What are the qualities that would make Malaysia a great nation?

Let me state clearly that I, for one, do not believe that change for the better will come overnight for two reasons. You can’t undo a political, administrative and social mindset that has been skewed towards a regime overnight. It will be a slow uphill task that requires perseverance. Secondly, the new government will not necessarily be different in ability and even integrity from the old, nor have all the answers. The difference is that there is a chance for real reform and for the voices and aspirations of the people to be heard; that is, if we choose to actively and constructively engage the new administration.

I would like to suggest 10 qualities that would make Malaysia a great nation – a place we would be proud to call home (and where we would see a reversal of the brain drain?).

  1. FREEDOM – Freedom to choose and to be who you want to be. English thinker Bertrand Russell said, “Freedom in general may be defined as the absence of obstacles to the realization of desires”.  Freedom has to be the bedrock of a prosperous nation for without freedom, the shackles which hold us from reaching for the impossible and exploring the unexplored remain. People must be free to think, free to dream, free to explore, free to express, free to change, and even free to fail.  Freedom has its risks but it is my belief that these can be mitigated by other values like justice, graciousness, morality, truthfulness and many more.
  2. JUSTICE – The strong desire to ensure fairness and equality in our society, making sure that the rights of everyone are protected regardless.New laws enacted and old laws amended or repealed must show a commitment to justice and meritocracy. The enforcement and interpretation of these laws must do so impartially by unshackling the judiciary from any influence of the Executive. The presence of justice in a society brings about a sense of security in its citizenry, promoting what is right and deterring what is wrong.
  3. GRACIOUSNESS – A society where people consider the interest of and give way to others even though they don’t have to. The opposite of this is selfishness.When we stop to consider how our actions might impact those around us, something magical happens. This world can suddenly become a better place.  Driving becomes less stressful, streets become cleaner, courtesy and consideration become the order of the day. This value might be one of the most challenging to flesh out but certainly not impossible and definitely worth striving for.  This quality in a nation is often a reflection of the leaders.  Leaders can lead the way in forging this value by displaying grace whenever there is opportunity.  This is the quality that makes us a civil or civilised society.
  4. MORALITY – A clear sense of morality that resides in the hearts of people, guiding them like an inner compass as to what is right and wrong even when no one can see or know. It is a concern for the substance of our heart rather than an outward conformity that is important.  In a pluralistic society like Malaysia, where various religions are practised or not practised, it is not just about embracing a particular religion and living a devout life.  It is about embracing a higher level of morality.  Better is the man who has no religion but lives a highly moral life than one who has religion but denies the requirements of that religion. We need to have a firm moral base to support all that we do so that we can eradicate corruption, criminal activities, social ills and family breakdown.
  5. MERCIFUL – A society that looks after the poor and needy without judging their status or why they are in that situation. Being merciful is to be able to get under the skin of the person in need of mercy and rendering the necessary assistance. In every society, there will always be those who fall through the cracks and struggle to make ends meet. Such a society would have social safety nets to ensure that help is readily available and its citizens are on the lookout for those that may need help. Helping the poor and needy is not just the right thing to do but is a reflection of the kind of people we are.
  6. TRUTHFULNESS – Where truth is sought after in all areas, manifesting itself in transparency, integrity and honesty in all governmental and private dealings. Al Gore said, “A commitment  to openness, truthfulness, and accountability helps our country avoid many serious mistakes that we would otherwise make”.  The lack of truthfulness emboldens those who wish to hide their evil deeds in the shadow of legitimacy. Having open and transparent tenders for all government projects and passing Freedom of Information legislations would be a step in the right direction. In such a society, leaders would be honest about mistakes made and actions would be taken without fear or favour.
  7. VALUE OF LIFE – A high value is placed on all life and no effort is spared to ensure that lives are preserved and extended. Regardless of one’s ethnicity, religion, social status, and physiological condition, all lives would be equally valuable and not measured with money.  The rescue of the thirty-three miners in Chile after 69 days underground in 2010 illustrates this quality clearly.  No cost was spared to bring them out safely and their rescue celebrated the value of human life, a triumph over the prevailing trend of the world where decisions are mainly made based on monetary considerations only. Once we start valuing lives, we would start to look into issues of safety and health.
  8. CREATIVITY – Where creativity flourishes as people seek better ways to express and to serve each other. Robert E. Franken in his book Human Motivation, defined creativity as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.  Again, this value can be applied in all sectors, from the arts, to industry, to education, to government and to business. Entrepreneurship and innovations would flourish as people seek for new and better ways to overcome problems, meet the needs of society, and to add value and quality to life. This quality is closely tied to freedom.
  9. EXCELLENCE – People work with all their heart and take pride in what they do. People would find dignity in their work and produce the best products and services.  It is an excellence that is not motivated by fear of losing or the need to be numero uno, instead, it is motivated by a sense of self-achievement and recognition by consumers and recipients of our efforts.  Producers would not cut corners to maximize profit, products made will be of good quality and design, queues at government offices would be eliminated, waiters would serve with efficiency, and food would taste great!  People find dignity in what they do and we give them recognition.
  10. STEWARDSHIP – A nation where properties, resources and the environment would be looked after for the enjoyment of future generations. It would be a nation where conservation of our natural resources is not just a public relation exercise but birthed out of our deep conviction that saving the planet is saving our children’s lives. It would be a place where we hate wastages in the form of unnecessary and unsustainable projects; and where we want to maintain what we already have, like parks, buildings and roads. Such a society would willingly sacrifice any economic gain if it would threaten our environment.

These ten qualities of a great nation are by no means exhaustive nor are they quantifiable. But they are, I believe, the common yearnings of all human beings.  If the people of a nation are united in the pursuit of these qualities, then they are surely attainable.


A story was told about the late Walt Disney’s vision for Disney World, the mega theme park in Florida.  By the time the theme park opened in 1971, Walt Disney had already passed away five years earlier. At the opening ceremony, a guest remarked to one of Disney’s directors that it was a shame that Walt himself was not able to be there to witness the realization of his vision.  To that, the director replied that Walt indeed saw Disney World, for otherwise we would not see it.

We need to have a vision of what Malaysia would look like even before we start building it.  Let us begin to see it and start working towards it. Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither would Malaysia.  It would take years, decades and generations even – but if we have a clear vision of what we want, we can build on the foundations laid by others and pass on the baton to the next generation when our time has expired.  Surely we can do it, surely we must!

Thomas Fann blogs at

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Some 25 years ago I made a decision to be counted amongst the good men and in many small ways attempted...

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