Everyday Matters: Thank you 2014

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THE year is ending — 2014 is slipping by — no bells or whistles to mark its end. Just another year to add to the many years we have collected under our ever-expanding belt. Or is it?

And in December 2014, I celebrated my 57th birthday. The dust has settled and I add another year to my chronological age.

I am aware that I come from a time called BC (Before Computers) and that my children are born in an age called AD (After Digital) — and it separates us. The BCs are now insultingly called digital immigrants (’cos we don’t know how to operate our smartphones well!) while the ADs are called digital natives! Well, indignantly, I say, “I never!” I have never been called an immigrant in any kind of setting and I am upset!

Be that as it may, 2014 has been anything but uneventful. I saw more this year that has increased my faith in humankind and I have cringed more this year than ever to see the silly and hurtful things that we do to each other.

I see people reaching out to improve their lot. I see our neighbour Indonesia welcome a popular president who is equally at home squatting at a warong and enjoying a hot bowl of bakso as he is at a state banquet.

President Joko Widodo is very brave. He pointed to and spoke openly about that big elephant in their room — institutional corruption. And I see them chipping at that age-old chronic problem in their country by implementing very strong measures unheard of before. Case in point: they decided to clean up and improve their oil giant Pertamina and had the whole board removed. Talk about decisiveness!

I see people accepting a “new normal”. I see Thailand seizing and stopping its downward-spiralling social and economic realities by grudgingly accepting a new government — thus re-establishing order amidst chaos. Yes Dorothy, Thailand’s economy is on the mend.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha knows that it is economic growth that will keep the Land of Smiles on song and he has done just that. Nothing beats a hands-on approach.

I see hope triumphing over dried-up dreams. The world’s most populous nation, India, chose to go with new honcho Narendra Modi and the BJP rather than  stick with Manmohan Singh’s tepid, uninspired Congress government in the recent elections.

Divisive he may be, but Narendra Modi (NaMo in short,  that led to the creative and noisy Indian media coining a new word — Tsunamo — to describe his overwhelming election victory) has brought back hope of a more efficient, more effective government to the one billion plus people he is leading.

Why, even the Americans are falling over themselves trying to welcome this man who was once on their visitors’ blacklist. That, my friends, is rebranding at its most successful.

This year has not been without its dark moments.

Closer to home, I see us struggling to give meaning to this 51-year-old nation. We have to accept that Malaysia came to be when four (now three) parties decided to face the future together. Malaya, North Borneo and Sarawak agreed to a joint destiny moving forward in 1963. This nation has been blessed by that union and we saw unprecedented economic and social growth over a long period of peace and prosperity.

Contrary to colonialist beliefs that we would soon break asunder over racial and religious issues, we did not only survive but we thrived. So, to continue to be suspicious of each other now is not funny. We need to decide what to teach our younger Malaysians, so they may continue to make our nation great.

I see the unwelcome effects of a dawdling leadership of the nation and I am not happy for Malaysia. Where once there was unity of leadership amongst them, our powers that be seem intent on squandering that legacy. Where once we believed in a united goal of peace and prosperity for all, bipartisanship and playing games of political brinkmanship have encouraged the growth of extremism and intolerance amongst us.

We were a beacon of hope for the world in a very recent past. We were praised for our tolerance and our ability to live and work together, and we need to work towards those ideals again. We need to learn to celebrate our differences — the qualities that made us uniquely Malaysian. We need a strong, heartfelt repositioning of our brand! A hollow, meaning-challenged 1 Malaysia is not a clarion call.

I cannot end this piece on 2014 without mentioning the mystery that is flight MH370 and the tragedy that is flight MH17. These unfortunate events will continue to haunt the Malaysian psyche. We are no wiser now at the end of the year than we were when MH370 suddenly blipped off our radar screens in March. Neither are we closer to fingering the nasties that downed KL-bound MH17 over Ukrainian airspace a few months later.

We condemn these tragedies and we seek closure, as a people and a nation, of these aviation events most vile. But searching for a silver lining, I see Malaysians united in their grief, forgetting our differences and consoling each other. In those fleeting moments, I see hope for 2015 and beyond.

It’s funny really — when we were young, we couldn’t wait to grow up so we could do “adult” things. Then, when we became adults and with advancing age, we now wish we could go back to our childhood, our younger days.

To re-create history? I think not. To savour those rose-tinted moments, even for a little while again, is probably what most of us are after.

Silver hair, laugh lines, wobbly knees after climbing a short flight of stairs — I will take them in stride and make the best of what is given. I will age, but I will not grow old.

Welcome 2015. I look forward to see what you have in store.

Zakie Shariff is a director of a stockbroking company and co-founder of hCap Associates

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 22 - 28, 2014.