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COMMENT | Integrity, grief and 'kita jaga kita'

COMMENT | I am a lawyer, and I was shaken at my core when the news broke recently that the chief justice had lodged a police report on allegations suggesting manipulation of the justice system. 

That was us implicated; lawyers, judges, court users. It is not the first time we hear of such allegations. But it still shakes us, for at our core we want to believe that all is as it should be.

The Young Lawyers Movement rightly implored for proper action to be taken. The allegations are far too grave to be given short-shrift. It is critical to have confidence in the legal system and to the independence of the judiciary, as a fundamental pillar of government, that sound and proper investigations be carried out following the police report. 

Unresolved allegations this serious injures integrity. We haven’t heard much since, except the lodging of several other police reports surrounding the event. I hazard a guess that reaffirming integrity is not at the top of the agenda. In fact, we, as a nation, are grieving.

We are unpacking grief at so many levels. In a short span of 16 months, we have lost a democratically elected government. We have lost so many lives, suddenly and without proper farewells; multiple loss in single households too, leaving a huge void amongst us. Deep grief.

There is profound grief from the loss of employment and income by various editions of movement control. Savings, dreams, livelihood all seem to disappear. Fear and frustration, planted upon grief.

Loss of laughter with friends at school. Long-distance relationships strained. Grief from isolation. Pain of separation. Numbness of uncertainty. All this laid onto emotional pain from the past.

Can a grieving nation deal with integrity? Integrity is the bedrock of sustainable development and long-term prosperity. We have to deal with integrity, despite the heavy grief. But we cannot ignore grief. Or the range of emotions we are collectively experiencing. The need to heal the immense emotional load, that impedes our progress as a society, is urgent.

Why? Because it is now necessary to do more than implore to re-establish integrity. We need to address the heart of the problem. We can’t demand integrity, unless we live by integrity. 

If we want an honest, fair and progressive country, each one of us has to commit to putting the country above ourselves. It means thinking and acting for the collective good of our neighbours, and our co-workers. Kita jaga kita (we take care of us). Our country will then reciprocate.

It won’t be easy. It’s hard to put country above self when some are struggling for daily income and food, or from illness and fatigue. Yet, ordinary Malaysians reach out to serve free meals, donate funds, encourage and emotionally support one another. They share from what little they have. They share their innate kindness and care. It is not beyond us to put the country above ourselves.

It becomes easier to put country above self when we have healed some of our grief. There are so many ways of dealing with grief and loss. To be strong and to accept. To meltdown, and give up. To be angry at the unfairness of life and others. That’s dealing, not healing.

I too have had my fair share of loss. Successive loss of close friends and immediate family members - seven in total in a short span of time, but not to Covid-19. I was totally guttered. As if my heart were ripped out. Unbearable pain. I was unprepared to lead. I kept searching for elders to guide and guard.

And then there is a turning point. When we come into our own power, from that very grief and loss, if we allow it. Mine was a realisation that the loss cannot be in vain. Some good must come out of it. I must emerge stronger. 

There are always reserves in us, even when we think we can’t take any more loss and disappointment. For each of us has a special purpose here on Earth. Different from the next person. Not in competition with the next. The loss can help us find who we truly are, and the purpose we are meant to fulfil.

As a part of healing, it is extremely important to process emotions rather than to suppress them. Otherwise, these emotions will keep re-surfacing, holding us back and limiting our fullest potential. Even as a country. 

The processing of emotions does not need to take the shape of angry outbursts. Instead, deeply breathing through the emotions as we let the emotions flood over us is very effective. Physically walking whilst intentionally breathing through emotional bouts, is very therapeutic. The walking gives us a cross-crawl pattern that helps integrate the emotions and thoughts at a physical level. 

If we can find it in us to give gratitude for having had what we just lost, as we walk and breathe, that is truly a magnificent healer. Even if what we lost was prematurely snatched from us. Irresponsibly stolen from us. Infinite love and gratitude for having had the love and experience for a period of time. Nothing is ours permanently.

In saying this I am honouring all our grief and loss, not making light of it. But we have to heal as a nation, and no one else can help us but ourselves. Of course, individually if we are able and willing to seek professional help to deal with loss, that would be perfect. 

Each person who heals makes it easier for others to heal. It is the vibration that we share, that gets lifted. From hopelessness and helplessness, to courage to change and to help make changes. These changes include the courage to live by and to demand integrity.

There is no magic wand that will re-establish integrity. There are no shortcuts, or easy means. Inherent in the solution is not depending on others to lead. We are all responsible for the way our country turns out. Leaders must earn our respect by their honesty, and their actions in safeguarding our welfare. By their putting the country above themselves. Success is not defined by money. And definitely not by corrupt and dishonest means used to amass it.

Take back our power, by withdrawing our support of the unprincipled. We all have a moral compass inbuilt within us. Our body-mind-soul complex instinctively knows what is supportive of life and what isn’t. We need to muster peaceful courage to believe in ourselves. We create our own success by the persons we are; the values and integrity that we honour. Stand on the strength of what we value. Others will rally. Kita jaga kita.

The energy of integrity we each hold can shift circumstances. That is the power we possess, but forget we own. We must live by integrity now, before we forget what integrity looks like.


SITPAH SELVARATNAM is an advocate and solicitor, an international arbitrator, a certified lifeline practitioner and the author of the newly released book The Arrest of the Superyacht Equanimity - How Malaysia reclaimed what was hers. You can read more about her here.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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