By Yuet Me Ho-Nambiar
In 1859, Charles Dickens penned: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
It is certainly the best of times now for us in terms of science and technology. Artificial intelligence-powered systems are capable of understanding and generating human-like speech, recognising objects and faces, and performing complex tasks with high levels of autonomy; Internet of Things technology connect everyday objects to the internet, enabling the collection and exchange of data allowing for improved efficiency, convenience, and decision-making. Advances in biotechnology have led to breakthroughs in areas such as gene therapy, regenerative medicine, and bioengineering providing innovative treatments for various diseases and conditions, and even personalised treatments tailored to genetic profiles. 3D printing enables the creation of complex three-dimensional objects, from customized medical implants to architectural prototypes, with reduced waste and increased design flexibility. Space exploration technology enables us to observe distant celestial objects, and for missions to the Moon and Mars.
Against the backdrop of these amazing achievements, World Health Organization in 2020 reported that “nearly 1 billion people live with a mental disorder… Every year, close to 3 million people die due to substance abuse. Every 40 seconds, a person dies by suicide. About 50% of mental health disorders start by the age of 14.’ Sadly, the covid pandemic has only worsened the statistics. Certainly, we are experiencing the worst of times in this regard.
Is there a co-relationship between the two phenomena? That medical science and healthcare have improved tremendously but more people are sick and there are more new ailments than ever before. Why is it that education is accessible to so many, yet more and more young people are going astray? Why is that everyone talks about justice, but women and some communities still treated unfairly? How is it that wealth has increased dramatically but still poverty abounds. Why is it that science has proved humanity is one, but people continue to construct otherness within their societies? Why is it that we blame society for everything that goes wrong forgetting we are all part of that very society?
Perhaps we need to go back to basics and think about how we have been interacting with each other to bring us to the condition we are in today. And reflect on what does it take for all of us to live, nay, thrive together on this one finite resource habitat of ours.
No one will dispute that we are interdependent on one other as we live in a globally interconnected world. With 8 billion people and growing, it makes rational sense that it is in our collective best interests to live harmoniously together and to work towards common goals which benefit us collectively for our better future.
Living harmoniously together involves fostering understanding, empathy, and cooperation among individuals and communities. Living harmoniously together also implies respecting and valuing diversity, embracing different cultures, perspectives, and ideas. It also acknowledges that every individual has a role to play in creating a more inclusive and equitable society.
To live harmoniously, we would need to learn to assist each other face different kinds of challenges, and to try to find unity through pursuit of common goals; we need to learn to put aside inherited customs and attitudes and overcome prejudices of all kinds, and learn to guard against tendencies to view matters with cynicism, and instead sustain constructive outlooks; we would have to work to put the equality of women and men into practice and support plans for collective action. We need to learn to tap into the joy of helping each other.
Clearly, achieving such harmony and interconnectedness is a complex process. It requires addressing various challenges such as social inequalities, conflicts, environmental issues, and global cooperation. Different cultures, interests, and priorities can sometimes create tensions and hinder progress towards harmonious coexistence.
So how do we live harmoniously together? Perhaps, shifting of behaviours and changing of mindsets are the necessary first steps?
Mahatma Gandhi wisely told us that we should be the change we want to see in the world. We know that individual actions have the power to create ripple effects that can lead to significant changes in society. For example, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, it sparked a movement that paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement. Similarly, when Greta Thunberg started protesting outside the Swedish Parliament for action on climate change, it inspired a global youth movement that has brought attention to the urgent need for action on the issue. Crucially too, individual actions can lead to positive societal changes in everyday life. Simple acts of kindness can make a huge impact on the lives of those around us and change how we interact with each other. It is essential to remember that our individual actions matter and can create a ripple effect that can lead to significant changes in society.
Happily, we are already seeing glimpses of this unfolding in varying degrees in many settings, including in Malaysia. Think about those amazing individuals who work devotedly and selflessly for grassroot communities, for preservation of our biodiversity, and other praiseworthy causes.
Such enkindled individuals work for the prosperity of all, recognising that the welfare of individuals rests in the welfare of society at large. They are loyal citizens who steer clear of partisanship and the contest for worldly power, and focus on transcending differences, harmonising perspectives, and promoting the use of consultation for making decisions. They emphasise qualities and attitudes – such as trustworthiness, cooperation, and forbearance – that are building blocks of a stable social order. They champion rationality and science as essential for human progress. They advocate acceptance and understanding, and view everyone as a potential partner to collaborate with and strive to foster fellow feeling even among groups who may traditionally have been hostile to one another. They are conscious of how the forces of materialism are at work around them, and aware of the many injustices that persist in the world, yet they are equally clear sighted about the creative power of unity and humanity’s capacity for altruism.
The actions of these inspiring individuals have the potential to galvanise others to also embrace such qualities. In time, the pattern of their community life might evolve to become nurturing environments where they live harmoniously together with relationships founded on unity and justice.
So, can we be those individuals who are like candles in the dark? Individuals who can provide illumination and be a source of light and guidance, allowing others to see our surroundings and navigate through the chaos? Even in the face of overwhelming challenges or a seemingly insurmountable darkness, a single candle can make a difference, that small acts of kindness, courage, or determination can have a significant impact on the world around us. Just as one candle can inspire others to light their own candles, one person’s actions can motivate and influence others to join in creating positive change.
Guided by personal ethics of ‘do more good’, Yuet Mee Ho-Nambiar has a long involvement with sustainability and community building activities. Belief in the oneness of humanity and the nobility of man underpins her interest in matters relating to unity and social cohesion of communities, while her background in a finance-related profession focuses her interest to the area of inclusive economics and development.
The views expressed here are that of the writer’s and not necessarily that of Weekly Echo’s.