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There is no ‘new normal’: We were not normal to begin with

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The coronavirus now, unintentionally, offers us an opportunity to change and to transform ourselves for the better, Amar-Singh HSS and Lim Swee Im write.  

We first wrote this article three months ago but decided not to send it until now. This is a significant period – we celebrated our Merdeka on 31 August [Sarawak – 22 July], followed by the day we became Malaysia on 16 September.

In some ways, on this Merdeka and Malaysia Day, we as a nation have reached a watershed, a turning point. We have arrived at a defining moment in our nation’s consciousness. Hence, this article is timely to share at this point.

In discussing the way forward with the Covid-19 pandemic, many have used the term ‘new normal’ to describe the societal behaviour required for the future. In this article we would like to not discuss Covid-19 as much as what it has revealed about us, our society.

We would like to say there is no ‘new normal’ because we were not normal to begin with. We have been abnormal as a society for a very long time. The coronavirus has helped to unmask our sick society and systems that we have developed and evolved over many decades.

Greed, corruption, power hunger, control, oppression, lies and self-interest have become the hallmarks of our present society, and in most nations. While there are altruistic individuals and some who are trying to improve the situation, many are caught in the chase for wealth and power. Most have become cynical, hope-less and weary.

We are not normal because of:

  • the way we treat the environment and ‘rape’ it for our use without thinking or caring for it; we have long abused this planet to a point that it is no longer sustainable
  • the way we treat migrant workers and devalue them into economic slavery
  • the homeless on our streets and the poverty disparity in our nation and most other countries
  • the poor funding and development of essential services like healthcare, education and welfare (social services), to the detriment of the poor
  • our corruption and double standards for laws and rules that apply only to some
  • our broken communities that are increasingly divided by the growing wealth disparity
  • our racial and religious divisions and bigotry that do more harm than help

As Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest authors of all times and nominated numerous times for the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Nobel Peace Prize, said so poignantly: “I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible … except by getting off his back.”

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This aptly describes our economic systems and governments of the day.

As one bard and meaningful song writer, Rich Mullins, says about religion: “Faith without works, is like a song you can’t sing, it’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”

This speaks powerfully about the ineffectiveness of many religious persons of our time, where faith is not transformed into practical action or humility and compassion.

HG Wells was a visionary and, in his futuristic science fiction novel The Time Machine, he painted a situation where the world had developed into two societies (species), the Eloi and the Morlocks, the haves and the have nots. Elois live a life of ease while the Morlocks do all the menial tasks to serve them – so true of humanity today (if we can even use that word ‘humanity’ to describe us).

We do not live as a normal society but an abnormal one. The virus has just helped to unmask and reveal this abnormal society we live in. We have often thought we are a psychotic society, one out of touch with reality. The definition of psychosis is “a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality”. So we have a collective psychosis, a collective denial of reality.

Our spirituality is shallow and limited. We think of pushing our religion to other individuals without first having allowed God to transform us in a deep meaningful way.

True spirituality means we have changed as a person; our value systems now reflect God’s eternal principles. It is time to stop chasing the meaningless value systems of this world of power, wealth, social status and acquisition. They are failed markers of success, propagated by failed leaders who have not found truth and reality for themselves.

Many words in our time have lost their true good original meaning and have become damaged; words like love, trust, government and politician.

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But some words have remained good. This includes hope, joy, and happiness.

This virus now, unintentionally, offers us hope, an opportunity to change, to transform, to not repeat the mistakes of history, to become happier people of joy, even if it means less material possessions and freedoms.

So we need to aspire to become ‘normal’ – a ‘new normal’, if you wish – a new way of living where we respect our fellow human beings, the earth and all its other creatures and inhabitants.

We need to break off the shackles of this false society we have built to return to one where each person is respected, where the earth is valued and cared for, where we strive for truth and reality and not advertised illusions.

Change will never be easy, as those who are rich and in power will obstruct it.

Change will unsettle us as it offers an uncertain future.

Change will be difficult because it goes against the grain of all that we have been brainwashed to believe in.

But change is possible and begins with every individual.

If we do not embrace the gift that this virus inadvertently gives us and allow it to transform us into a better people, then we will lapse into the stupor of our previous psychosis once the Covid-19 crisis is resolved.

Downsize your life and possessions. Work for the common good of all. Share your resources freely. Treasure the environment and all creatures.

Disassemble the false structures of power, corruption, war, hate, and religious and racial bigotry. Move to living in peace without the need to continually acquire and store up.

To those who have already been downsizing their lives and giving away more to society, you have our heartfelt thanks. Indeed, there are many ordinary, unsung, unnamed generous people in Malaysia. These are the light and hope of our nation.

To those who have more than enough for their own needs but are still undecided what to do with their excess wealth, we encourage you to try giving away to anyone in need. You will not regret it.

To those who have much but choose to be misers and refuse to part with even a little, we feel sorry for you. It is your own loss because none of us can take our possessions with us when we die. The only possessions we can take with us are the love and care and friendship from people who remember us with fondness.

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Every single person has something to give.

We can give our time, our presence or support.

Persons with disability have much to give – their courage and perseverance in a world designed for the more able-bodied and mind.

If you are an employer, you can choose to pay your workers more, even above the minimum wage. There is no law to stop you from paying workers more. You can provide a more conducive working environment where workers are valued and appreciated.

We have been giving away much for many years to the poor. This Covid-19 era, lockdown and removal of many freedoms has been terribly difficult, but it has also been a great opportunity for us to downsize our lives even further and to give away more treasured possessions.

We receive so much more in return. The poor are generally very grateful for whatever help they receive. The looks of great surprise and tears of unbelief and gratitude when they receive help from complete strangers who ask for nothing in return are unforgettable. The most priceless possessions are those we carry in our hearts, soul and spirit. To know that even complete strangers will count us as their friends.

We all have a choice to work towards a more equitable society where everyone can earn a decent wage and be given dignity and respect as a human being, and be happy.

Or we can continue to allow the great disparity between the rich and the poor to widen and to create a society where most people are not happy – even the rich who want even more – and never satisfied.

We leave with the words of that wise sage, Thomas Merton: “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

Let us as a people, as society, as humanity, realign the ladder of our nations to one of sharing resources, equality, altruism, self-restraint, compassion and support of all.

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS and Datin Dr Lim Swee Im are medical professionals

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