Thursday, September 29, 2022

Where have all the ‘budiman’ gone?

Where have all the ‘budiman’ gone?

One of the most important findings of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which produces the annual Global Peace Index, is that 89% of all conflicts globally occur in countries with low intercultural dialogue.

“Intolerance and prejudice are key drivers of low intercultural dialogue and continue to present a barrier to peace, economic development and global stability.”

This is one crucial area that we in Malaysia need to improve. There is hardly any intercultural dialogue. Most of us seem to have fixed positions and we think we are right.

Increasingly, there is little dialogue between people of the different cultures; what we have are face-offs, which we then expect the authorities to resolve.

A major reason for this is a hardening of positions regarding culture and especially religion. Increasingly, people think that only they are right; Increasingly people think that only their religion is God-inspired and all others are mistaken and, therefore, there is nothing wrong in disrespecting them or their beliefs.

This is dangerous in multirelgious, multiracial Malaysia.

I’m afraid I don’t see the dialogues or discussions I used to see in the 1970s and early 1980s. I remember hearing or reading of people of different races and religions meeting at symposiums and conferences.

People used to gather in coffee shops or park benches or playing fields.

As a student, I was always with a bunch of friends from various backgrounds. We used to find excuses to be together, whether swimming in the Burmese Pool or cycling in the Taiping Lake Gardens or visiting a friend or having group studies.

When I was active in a youth club in the 1970s, we used to meet frequently with members of various other youth clubs to share ideas or participate in joint activities. Today, I hardly hear of any youth club that organises events where youths of other racial or religious backgrounds participate.

What has happened to the youth movement in the country?

I remember in Perak, and later in Penang, the youth department would organise events that involved youths of all races. And Penang would try all sorts of experiments to bring the cultures closer, including creating a dance with Malay, Chinese and Indian elements which was performed publicly.

And where are the sports activities that one used to see in the evenings? When I was young, a bunch of us would play football and invariably you would find Ahmad, Ah Chong and Arumugam there.

Today, sadly, there are barriers even in sports. How did we allow this to happen?

I am told by my seniors that there always were healthy discussions between Malaysians of various races and religions – and especially of their leaders – in the 1950s and 1960s and that people participated in each other’s activities and functions joyously.

What has happened to that Malaya, that Malaysia?

It was a more tolerant, more open nation.

Today, we are shrinking as a society. Everyone is becoming tribal in their thinking and largely keeping to themselves. The advent of social media has made it even more convenient to stick to our own racial or interest groups. And hate speech is increasing on social media.

Today, we are seeing more and more restrictions on various intergroup activities. More and more barriers are being built, including by some in authority, to separate Malaysians from themselves.

With a decrease in intergroup activities and concourse, certainly one can expect a rise in intolerance, suspicion and prejudice among individuals and groups.

We desperately need to tackle this holistically and in a reasonable and rational manner. But we can’t depend too much on the government because some of its policies or the way certain policies are implemented, add to the problem.

Citizens need to engage in more activities that bring us together and allow us to learn about each other’s cultures and religions. We would do well to emphasise the commonalities that exist between the different ethnic groups and religions, rather than focus on the differences.

Although, on the ground, many Malaysians generally cooperate, share, and show kindness in everyday life, all it takes is for someone to claim that one’s religion or race is under attack for tensions and suspicions to rise; and these days for a “war” on social media.

Although there is harmony among the various groups, it is a solemn, even studied, harmony; it’s not a proactive, positive and joyous harmony. We are not building enough bridges.

I feel we have lost our sense of budi bicara of earlier days.

Then again, the word “budi bicara” today has lost its soul and become merely “discretion”.

Most people in earlier days – or people who are senior citizens now – would exhibit a discerning intellectual empathy, a mix of wisdom, ethics and consideration for the other – which is what “budi bicara” entails – in their dealings with everyone.

They would use their discretionary thinking powers, the faculty of judgement, with a dash of care, concern and flexibility in their interactions, with the idea of maintaining harmony.

In fact, “budi bicara” is what helped our founding fathers forge this nation from a cacophony of interests voiced by the various races.

There was a healthy culture of “budi bicara” when I was growing up and in my earlier days, as there was budi pekerti (upright character/moral behaviour), budi bahasa (courtesy), akal budi (intellect/common sense) and “hutang budi” (gratefulness/indebtedness).

Mention of “hutang budi” always brings to mind the “peribahasa” or proverb, “Hutang emas boleh dibayar, hutang budi dibawa mati,” which in English translates as, “A debt of gold can be repaid but a debt of kindness is carried to the grave.” It is an exhortation to always be grateful to those who have done a good deed or shown kindness. I learned this in primary school and it still resonates in me.

I wonder if children are taught this in school these days.

Unfortunately, the word – and essence – of “budi” is missing from our lives. And that brings me to “budiman”, which refers to someone with a mix of wisdom, prudence, integrity, courtesy, kindness, righteousness, considerateness, gentlemanliness and selflessness.

In earlier years, we had national leaders – Tunku Abdul Rahman and Hussein Onn come immediately to mind – who were imbued with “budi”.

Where, pray tell, have all the “budiman” gone?

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