Growing up from kindergarten to secondary school in Kulim, Kedah, some of my friends were George, Vignan, Chittarajan, Chandran, Hock Seang, Lai Hock, Bokhari, Azrul, Shamsul and many more.
We conversed in the Kedah dialect of Bahasa Malaysia, with the occasional English or Manglish word, and in our respective mother tongues when at home.
It did not, in any way, diminish our identities, as some social experts fear or have cautioned in recent years. We knew each other’s families and mingled cordially, with genuine mutual respect, despite, perhaps at the time, not being consciously aware of it.
These values have stayed with us, despite it having been a few decades since we were all brought up in such an environment.
Conditions, however, have changed. We can observe the difference in our society’s psyche now, in terms of how such values which promote mutual respect are nurtured, as compared with those years when we were the younger generation.
By right, current technological advancements in communication and social interactions should have given the new generation an advantage to be better than we had been, but that is not the case.
Open young minds to more discovery and better appreciation
Where did we go wrong as a society?
FIRSTLY, our parents talked less than we do when it came to topics, such as being patriotic, about religion or even ethnicity.
But their actions undoubtedly demonstrate they understood the meaning of those words much better than us. In contrast, we talk more now and constantly about all those things, compared with our parents’ time.
We can also do it in varied forms made possible by today’s technology. But our actions show that we still do not understand the true value of acceptance in achieving and maintaining harmony.
Our thoughts and sensitivities towards each other are wanting, and not based on genuine universal good values. We tend to talk about each’s respective race and religion in terms of which is more superior. Instead of just talking, we should now practise it more.
Thirty years ago, we didn’t need slogans on T-shirts or billboards to remind us who we are as citizens of this nation.
It was in our everyday interactions and actions that we could sow the seeds of harmony and not just through repetition of slogans or jingles.
SECONDLY, in today’s world, information can be accessed from anywhere, just by a touch on a display screen.
Thus, logically, the new generation is exposed to different cultures and religions, much more than can be expected from the same demographic 30 years ago.
Ironically, instead of opening their minds to more discovery and better appreciation, they tend to look for faults and weaknesses in others.
We must train society to not just become seekers of information, but to make the effort to understand the differences and diversity of our society and be proud of them, rather than making them an excuse to pitch hatred against each other.
More information on its own means nothing if we do not put it to good use. Rightfully, the abundance of information should make us more appreciative of the differences between our cultures and religions, which should promote harmony instead of discord or conflict.
Finally, it is the value of sincerity which carries our intentions and actions a long way. We have erred by ignoring the fact that such values need to be inculcated as well.
Doing something because one sincerely feels it is the right thing to do beats doing it for any other reason. Perhaps, in the quest to promote mutual respect and, as a result, to get closer to achieving harmony as a society, we unconsciously became too focused only on the melancholic part of it.
Values and habits are not matters which can be achieved only through paperwork, seminars or bombardments of slogans. All efforts towards achieving such ideals must also have roots in the sincere desire to seek understanding, and then practising it in our daily lives.