Lately, my wife and I have been watching two popular Netflix series, Virgin River and Sweet Magnolias.
As an activist with an NGO that believes in the importance of dialogue and reconciliation for harmony, I am always on the lookout for movies that inspire humanity and depict real-life situations that transcend human limitations and promote inclusivity.
This is crucial in Malaysia, where extreme ethnic identity politics is dividing and weakening the nation.
So, it was amazing to watch both drama series, which have various characteristics of human encounter. The two series depict work interaction among colleagues and residents who care for each other. They also feature relationships that were once fruitful and have now gone bad, as well as human weakness that seeks reconciliation and forgiveness.
These dramas show places for common interaction, such as restaurants. At these places, new friendships are found and old friendships deepened.
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There were honest communications when conflict arose, besides learning from relationships that turned sour.
What made these two series compelling was the spirit of neighbourhood solidarity on display. Depicting various ethnic communities, they showed how neighbours befriended and supported each other during times of crisis, with little thought for ethnicity or religion.
Watching these two series brought back memories of the village I grew up in, in Buntong in Ipoh. There, trusted neighbours treated my siblings and me as their own children, even though my parents were from a different faith.
When an incident cropped up, everyone ran out to ensure the safety of each individual and the community as a whole.
This is something we seldom see today in Malaysia’s urban neighbourhoods. Houses are designed for security and privacy, but this makes it hard for residents to interact with one another.
Malaysia is becoming more divided by religion and ethnicity due to ethno-religious propaganda and slogans.
So, grassroots community leaders must take the lead to stem the tide. They should launch initiatives to build neighbourhoods of inclusivity and solidarity.
The authorities should ensure that future designs for property development encourage multi-ethnic solidarity. Such projects should provide meeting points like restaurants and sport facilities to facilitate authentic multi-ethnic living and solidarity. These facilities should also be built around low-income homes to encourage greater interaction among communities.
While such facilities may already exist, the authorities must ensure they do not become white elephants.
The government should encourage multi-ethnic and religious unity and solidarity among neighbours. The media should highlight progress on this front instead of being preoccupied with news about conflicts and confrontation to draw in more readers.
We need a bottom-up understanding of the importance of unity and solidarity in Malaysia. We could get some pointers from Virgin River and Sweet Magnolias on how to transcend narrow ethno-religiosity in our neighbourhoods.