As we celebrate Merdeka Day (31 August and, for Sarawak, 22 July) and Malaysia Day (16 September), if there is one thing we can all agree on, it has to be the philosophy of moderation.
Moderation is a value that we have brutally and careless sacrificed along the journey since independence and the formation of Malaysia. History offers copious volumes of evidence of a country that was born with moderate values and principles but then lost them along the route.
From the sultans of bygone eras to independence-era politicians and down the decades, we had moderation as our beacon and compass to build and sustain a nation of successful, caring, thriving people.
In 1963, we became a bigger nation as Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah merged into the Federation of Malaysia, bringing along with them their own centuries-old unique gems of proven, tested moderation, picked up along life’s journey.
But today we are no more a moderate nation by any standard. When we measure people by ethnicity, religion and wealth, we are no more the same people who once championed moderation in thought, word and deed.
Instead, the unrelenting mantras of ‘progress’, ‘development’ and ‘success’ are driven by baser insatiable desires for greed, power and control.
Take a step back into time and compare ourselves today with our predecessors, who dreamt of and committed themselves to the ideals of the federation of Malaysia.
Are we any better than the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s? Towering buildings, gleaming superstructures and mega-cities can be a misleading yardstick of assessment. Covid has proven to us we are unable to sustain 32 million people for even six months with desperately needed economic aid, despite the ‘modern Malaysia’ accolade we have crowned ourselves with.
Senior citizens will recall a time when we lived in harmony with one another. Ethnicity was not a barrier; it was a treasured heritage. Religion was not a wall; it enabled us to live a full life. Status was not a privilege; it bestowed on us a duty to serve. Wealth was not the ultimate prize; for many, it was a blessing to be shared.
Today, after over half a century of independence, we have become trapped in the politics of divisive rule, and ethnicity, religion and royalty are exploited to the hilt. Some political parties think they have a licence to aggressively ‘defend’ a particular ethnic community’s rights. Politicians may even win landslide victories because of their screaming promises to protect the dignity of a particular ethnic group or religion and ensure the wealth of the nation stays with them.
Many are in overdrive with a runaway value system. We overeat. We indulge in extreme sports or fitness regimens. We want more and more of everything – shares, houses, apparels, accessories, conveniences. We want to rise in our careers – never mind if we are not worthy of higher stations in life.
We want wealth, power and control by any means. Some leaders even believe that achieving an end by any means is still all right.
We waste food. Just open the refrigerator in some homes or check out the kitchen waste chute at some restaurants or hotels.
We choose to dump fresh farm produce because there is no money to be made.
We cut corners in our construction, manufacturing and agricultural projects to make more profits and fuel expansion and meteoric growth.
We degrade our landscape through logging, mining and dumping industrial waste with impunity – al in the name of reaping a tidy profit or proclaiming we have brought jobs and livelihoods to the people.
Modern-day slavery to excesses can be seen in the high incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer among the people. Cancer could be a huge problem in the years to come.
It is time to reset. Covid has taught us an invaluable lesson while climate change is also here.
What we need is an urgent discourse on moderation. Bring all the great minds together to hold seminars, conferences and dialogues on the virtues and values of the spirit of moderation. Get everyone involved: religious groups, civil society groups, universities and colleges, and professional bodies must make time and focus on moderation. Maybe we should even have a ministry to head this drive towards moderation.
Moderation in thought, word and need is what will set us apart from the struggling world around us and bring abundant happiness to the people. The truth is, a happy nation is a successful nation. This is not idealism but reality.
Look around us. Countries that have banned alcohol are struggling with choking corruption. Countries that have banned the import and use of tobacco are suffocating with addiction-related vices.
In Malaysia, despite the many dos and don’ts of religion and plenty of outward piety, drug addiction has become one of the biggest problems. Baby dumping is hushed up.
We even have the world’s biggest financial fraud. Have we reduced our national corruption index to a degree we can be proud of?
So let this year’s Merdeka and National Day celebrations be a start, a wake-up call for a nationwide culture of moderation. Let us go back in time to appreciate the positive values we had – values that served us well and made us a happy people who worked side by side, lived side by side, and socialised without prejudice.
There were the times when our men and women took great pleasure in wearing each other’s traditional costumes to work and at social functions. In decades past, local traditions, cultures and ways of life blended well, with no guilt or fuss. We thrived as a nation of good people.
Fortunately, the recent wave of #KitaJagaKita (We’ve got each other’s back) suggests we still have goodwill and a big heart to make a difference.
Let us start the journey towards moderation in thought, word and deed. From politics to socioeconomic and environmental perspectives, let the people dictate the terms of reference anchored on moderation.
Whether it is at the individual or personal level, in political circles or at national level, let us tell the powers that be at home, at school, in the workplace, within government and among politicians that anything that flies against moderation has no place in Malaysian life.