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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Happiness is in our hands, not politicians

 

Christmas has just passed under a new normal for the first time. No one is sure what’s in store for us next year, given the uncertainties. But it is everyone’s hope that we will be happier with Covid-19 under control, a stable government in place and unity at a better level.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in his message has asked us to make diversity our strength. He even reminded us that history states that mutual respect between races and religions led to the advancement of civilisations like the Andalusian Muslims and Christians in the past.

This is exactly how Malaysians lived and breathed in the 60s when we celebrated plurality in schools, our kampungs and homes. We commemorated all religious and cultural festivals as if it was ours. And a week after Christmas, we held each other’s hands and sang Auld Lang Syne to bid the year adieu and welcome the next.

Today, a single intermarriage or harmless cake bearing the word “Merry Christmas” in a halal outlet becomes a national debate. One can pass these off as isolated incidents but unfortunately, they seem to be happening a little too often lately.

I am not sure how many of us were energised by the prime minister’s call, which has been the thrust of every message delivered during festivals by our political leaders. If only our politicians put this into practice, we will be a happy nation today.

Many moderate and right-minded Malaysians have asked for the legislation of a race relation act or an interfaith council to stem the growing tide of racism and religious bigotry in the past. But for reasons that we can only guess, they were always shot down by whoever was in power.

I can only guess that the dominant Malay parties fear being accused of downgrading Islam and the Malay race to that of the rest. This does not make any sense at all as the constitution safeguards Islam as the religion of the nation with the special rights of Malays guaranteed.

I am impressed by Bhutan which actually has a Gross National Happiness Commission composing the prime minister as the chairman with representatives of people from all walks of life. It even has a five-year plan to make a happy Bhutan even happier. Little wonder then that it is among the happiest countries in the world.

A zoom session on most weekends with my classmates from 40 years ago, all from different parts of the world, and coming from all racial and religious backgrounds, is something we look forward to. Most of the time, the subject veers to the good old days when we used to sleep in each other’s homes, eating the same food despite our varied religious backgrounds.

It used to be sheer joy with non-Muslim parents making sure they bought chicken slaughtered in a halal stall, in anticipation of the friends of their children coming over for meals. Boy, do we really miss those days.

As race and religious intolerance seem to affect our daily lives of late, I can’t help writing this piece with an extremely pessimistic feeling. I know many, especially the motivational gurus, preach that pessimism is disastrous, and insist that it can be overcome with much positive mental energy.

These eternally optimistic people keep harping that this gloomy feeling will ruin hope and possibilities. For those in despair, though, the hurdles along the way seem unsurmountable. For the latter, the gross happiness index must be at a pretty low level.

Under such circumstances, we are often reminded of an extremely common and overused phrase of a glass half-full or half-empty.

We have to look at the positives around us but the way things are, it takes a lot to do so.

The situation has not been easy for many Malaysians, who can only watch helplessly as the politicians lead the nation in a direction that does not appear to boost their confidence.

Nearly all the people I have spoken to, irrespective of their political affiliation feel that a serious rerouting is needed.

Yes, I would love to be optimistic and I am sure many of us want the gross national happiness index to be super high. Like many other Malaysians, I want to live in a nation which respects the plurality of its people.

If everyone is treated with respect and a fair amount of equality, led by politicians who are honest, I bet you will see a happier Malaysia.

Unfortunately, we live in a society bombarded by pessimism, often because of inconsiderate lawmakers. The reputation and respect for politicians is at its lowest ebb currently, and they do not seem to be making any attempt to change their ways.

Overcoming pessimism is sometimes easier said than done. It takes commitment and unwavering faith to change your perception. No matter what your personal circumstances may be, it’s not unusual to feel as if some people are conspiring against you all the time.

As for the “glass half-empty or half-full” expression, I feel this test does not hold any water.

In the current scenario, the top echelon of Malaysian society especially politicians are people with full glasses. The majority of the Malaysians, especially those from the B40 and M40 groups, have almost empty glasses.

With the current onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, most of us are facing financial struggles, family issues, job uncertainty, societal turmoil and more. These can leave even the most optimistic person battling pessimism.

These are the times of the Covid-19 virus. Strange times, indeed – when being positive is bad and being negative is good.

What we need is not a change of politicians as espoused by some. Instead, we must embark on a movement to change the politics of our nation. From one which is obsessed with race, religion and corruption to one with basic human values – truth, equality, honesty and modesty.

I am positive that will make us a happier nation. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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