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LETTER | We are living in times where technological advancement and innovation have leapt unimaginably all around the world. Today, 52 years after Apollo landing, NASA launched the James Webb telescope on a mission to show the first stars to light up the universe. Scientists will soon be able to see the early phases of star formation and the atmospheric compositions of far-off planets. Elon Musk’s dream to colonise Mars seems more probable than ever.

Regionally, Indonesia’s Kopi Kenangan became the first Southeast Asian F&B unicorn joining the ranks of Traveloka, Tokopedia, OVO, Xendit, Bukalapak, J&T Express, OnlinePajak and Ajaib, in addition to their company Gojek. Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing app, Grab, made its debut on Nasdaq on Dec 2. The company started in Malaysia but it is now headquartered in Singapore.

Domestically, we are grappling with disasters and failures of the kind never seen before. How did we progress so rapidly yet descend to such devastation?

The greater the progress, the grander the calamities. Theoretically, our decision-making is supposed to be more accurate and evidence-based given the wealth of knowledge, discoveries and tools available. Rather than sending our scientists to the moon and welcoming more unicorns, we are now back to talking about eliminating hardcore poverty by 2025.

After years and efforts to prosper our markets and earn handsome revenue, people still wade into poverty, stuck in the abyss of deprivation to befriend despair and destitution. We cannot keep progressing when there remain men, women and children cut off from modernisation and the opportunities it affords. We cannot leap when hunger and poverty prevail especially during disasters.

Equally, we can never be a healthy society if pandemic and illness prevail without fair access to vaccines and medications. The developed countries too cannot demand excessive adherence to carbon emissions without taking cognisance of historical responsibility and equitable growth for all.

History taught us that growth is a journey of progress and regress swinging back and forth like a pendulum. We progress and then we retreat. We speed up then slow down. The essence of progress must be meaningful delivery. The soul to transformation is results. The panacea for scepticism is accountability.

Meaningful delivery comes when we own the responsibilities bestowed on us. Like a chain, a team is as weak as its weakest link. Leaders must be capable of aligning team objectives so members understand how they are contributing. The days of command and control should make way for the days of connection and collaboration. This sets bosses apart from leaders.

By now, we have also learned that progress does not guarantee value system. At the core of a value system is character building. Together, they form the foundations of institutions and ecosystems we approve and adopt as our culture and norms.

No legislation can ensure good character and value-system. They must be nurtured beginning at home. If society tolerates the breaking of laws, then the characters will normalise lawbreaking as a way of life. If this is not the society we aspire to, we must resist the convention of “the way we were”, especially loss of integrity. We must do our best in doing Malaysia right.

Despite our changing circumstances and progress, humanity abides. The last two years saw Malaysians struggling with a pandemic that ravaged small businesses. People lose jobs and incomes. Then came the flood that battered and shattered many more to the grounds. People went missing and death was imminent. The stasis of some galvanised the best of us. Malaysians rose to the occasion in providing aid and rescue missions.

Malaysians never waited for Godot to make things happen. Today’s realism taught us to acquire the endurance to overcome calamities, be it poverty, pandemic, or social disorders. Endurance built on a value system that is common and communally shared across religion, race and political ideologies.

The sight of Malaysians helping each other with what they have tells everything about our endurance and resilience. This will surely reverberate for the years to come.

When the Spartans handed the government of Greece to Athenians, it required the transferring of common riches and resources to the new government. They needed to find a person of virtue and integrity to undertake the duty faithfully.

All eyes were on Aristides, cited as the best and most honourable man in Athens and nicknamed Aristides the Just.

The calamities we endured have given rise to the Aristides among us. The ordinary people who presided over the task of helping others with the trustworthiness and devotion of caring for our own treasures. This year, I am humbled and more grateful than usual for being a citizen of this compassionate country.

In Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, he wrote about a soldier who traverses life with character, strength, and honesty, the ultimate principles that define legacies. Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee, Malaysia.

Happy New Year 2022, may our endurance, unity and resilience carry us forward stronger together because love, not force, is our resistance.

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

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