Our parents tell us who we are; but is there more to it? Our teachers tell us what we should do in life; but is it really our dream? Our friends tell us that we are part of their clique; but do we truly feel like we belong?
Finding our identity is not just about knowing our names or remembering where we come from. It’s about how we identify ourselves as part of the bigger picture, regardless of gender, race and religion.
This is precisely why I have trouble fathoming the attitudes of so many people around, especially in a place where I was brought up to embrace unity despite differences: Malaysia.
Unlike many other countries, we are lucky to be living in a cultural melting pot. Apart from the Malays, Chinese and Indians, there are so many people from other races, including Eurasians and a variety of indigenous ethnicities.
We have had friends from all these races, and have learnt to accept everyone equally. Somehow, somewhere along the way we have forgotten this.
We keep finding fault with one another, and point fingers as to who said what to cause hurt. We keep spreading hatred amongst ourselves and cause friction between those of different races and religions.
The Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus (among many others in the country) have coexisted with each other in peace for many years now.
We have always respected each other and tried our best to not offend one another on purpose. Sadly, things have taken a turn for the worse.
Some enjoy stirring up trouble between those of different religious beliefs, and force upon others to accept their ways and practices.
Some use the name of religion to commit immoral and senseless acts. All this in the name of identifying ourselves as part of a certain category in society.
The whole notion of self-identification has, for the most part, driven us apart from one another. It has changed the way we think and the way we perceive the world. It has made us reconsider our priorities and toss away our sensibilities. It has muddled our thoughts and limited our freedom.
How can all this be something good? How can all this be a step towards a better tomorrow? When did this change happen? Have we stooped so low that we have stopped respecting one another? Have we so much ego and pride in us that we have forgotten ourselves? Have we become so materialistic that we no longer know how to act humanely?
We tend to forget about those on the receiving end of the discrimination — those who suffer from the abuse and bigotry. They do not always tell you how it makes them feel, nor do they show you how badly they are affected by the discrimination and torment.
They simply go to bed each night, crying themselves to sleep and praying for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow where they will be accepted by people around them.
A tomorrow where they are able to walk down a street without being harassed. A tomorrow where they know they will find happiness at the end of the day.
Why can’t we give everyone a better tomorrow, today? Why are we still judging and being so intolerant towards others who are not like us?
This sick need for us to think ourselves higher or of more value than others around us must be put to an end. Your blood is just as red as those around you. Your lungs take in oxygen just as those around you.
Skin colour and personal beliefs do not make you any different from the person standing next to you.
What makes you different is the level of respect and tolerance that you have of people who do not look like you. It is only when people begin to understand this that we as a society will be able to come together as one, and live in harmony.
I will not stop hoping for a better tomorrow. I know that we are capable of waking up to that one day. I will keep hoping, and I will not give up. Ashley Greig NST Columnist 11 August 2015