The New Year is a time when many of us make resolutions. These are basically promises to ourselves to place more focus and energy on things that would make us fitter, smarter, more positive, caring and all-round better people.
Forget the cynics and naysayers who say that resolutions are futile and known more for being broken rather than adhered to. These people would have us share their narrow-minded lives of mediocrity rather than attempt to improve ourselves, even if only just by a bit at a time.
Can nations really make resolutions?
As a collection of diverse, and at many times, conflicting groups, resolutions might be seen by some to be even more useless — mere token rhetoric that is devoid of any substance. But nations do make resolutions even if they do not always call them exactly that.
Society is constantly evolving (or at least it should be) and changes over time. These, in turn, change policies, laws, institutions, social norms and practices.
The problem with Malaysia is that we set very ambitious goals for ourselves, but then we do not behave in a consistent manner.
Politicians frequently state that unity must be given the highest priority, and then proceed to act in the most blatantly incongruous manner. Our children are taught how to be moral and/or religious citizens in school, and then they witness the most jaw-dropping acts of corrupt depravity taking place in the public domain.
When even those who stand up for the rule of law and for moderation can be threatened with acts of sexual violence, all without sanction, it really makes you wonder.
When blatant acts of theft of property can be deliberately construed as mere protests against alleged ethnic victimisation, it is hard not to be cynical.
When citizens, by a mere matter of choosing their faith, lose their legal rights to their children and family support, one has to sit up and do more than grit one’s teeth.
As individuals, we could make no better a New Year’s resolution than to determine to ourselves that we will not remain silent or stay unengaged when we are confronted with such incongruities.
We have to continue rejecting the double standards that is the result of unethical exploitation of unequal power relations.
We should commit ourselves to getting involved and staying engaged in building the kind of society that we want to see.
We may not all be convinced about the power of one, but there can be no denying about the power of the many.
We should steadfastly refuse to be dissuaded, intimidated and give up.
Faced with grave injustices, many Malaysians take to social media to gripe, insult, uncivilly vent and, in general, behave exactly like the people that they oppose and presumably do not wish to see populating the country.
Second, we must commit ourselves to being agents of community. Each of us should strive in 2016 to be a bridge for the many differences that we have. For some, it can be as simple as taking the time to talk to and really get to know a neighbour from a different ethnic, religious or social group from us.
If each of us — Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan, Iban, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and so forth — could do so, it would not be very long before the walls and barriers disappear.
If we can break down language barriers by learning or improving on another language to that of our mother tongue, that would be immensely helpful. We should do this on our own volition and not depend on anyone, least of all the government, to put it in place for us.
For all the catchphrase promises, Malaysian society is not egalitarian and does not seem to even wish to be. It is one where style dominates substance, and where the trappings of wealth and ostentation are critical status symbols for the elites in positions of political influence.
Much is talked about these days about the dire situation of the “B-40” or the bottom 40 per cent of households, but the policies aimed at them seem to lack real substance.
Malaysians need to shed a great deal of their class-consciousness if society is to change and the country is to progress. In this day and age, wealth alone does not exclusively redefine class: it is equally, if not more, about societal contribution.
Malaysians need to start focusing on this, and there is no better time to do it than in 2016.
This article first appeared in The New Straits Times on 5 January 2016.