I received one of those “public interest” visual clips on my mobile messenger service.
It suggested, now that the general elections are over, friends should not remain alienated over politics and party lines.
The clip ended with the caption “Governments come and go but friends are forever”.
This single message gave me the resolve to write this piece on reconciliation and healing after the tumultuous elections and equally nail-biting post-election scenario.
Since the dust has somewhat settled, it is time to move on collectively as a nation.
This will not be an easy process as people took sides which may have left groups and family deeply divided.
The healing process must begin now but for that to happen, we need to understand the forces driving us apart, find common grounds and bring people together to tackle shared challenges.
This cohesion creates resilience against the forces that threaten to divide our society.
Tackling shared challenges can also diffuse potential “us versus them” narratives and create a sense of belonging that includes everyone.
Sadly, people too often refuse to contemplate on a point of view different from their own.
Whether it is through social media platforms, or face-to-face interactions, society seems to have lost the fine art of thoughtful, reflective, and reasoned dialogue and debate.
So, is there any hope of reversing this disturbing trend, as we embark this journey of reconciliation and healing?
Certainly, there are no simple answers or quick solutions.
However, we could start by trying to understand or accommodate another person’s view by putting ourselves in their shoes and understanding where they are coming from.
Agree and disagree
It is important to see their viewpoint and perspective even if we do not agree with them.
Approaching others with humility is also important while recognising that no one truly has the monopoly on the truth about everything.
Rather than feeling overly confident in our own views and trying to convince others that we are correct while they are wrong, we must approach difficult conversations with an openness to learn from the other.
We must imagine that others, in their own way, want what is good and best, too.
We can start our conversation from this perspective and with the assumption of their goodness and good intentions as well as their fears.
We must never assume that those who disagree with us are bad or ignorant or disturbed.
Ultimately in this process of healing, we should also strive for solidarity in public discourse.
Solidarity is a commitment to social justice that translates into action.
Social justice is dignity for everyone in a society.
In other words, in a truly socially just society, no one’s dignity is left behind in the name of progress or political power.
The current demands of social justice aligned with upholding people’s dignity are quite modest – to address cost of living, to be gainfully employed and to educate our children.
Political parties are supposed to be a means to achieve social justice.
This ought to be the collective focus in this period of reconciliation and healing, putting aside power mongering and personality politics.
For the newly elected members of parliament, duty of care to their constituents must be paramount.
It would be too much of a burden on our leaders to expect them to be saviours.
Our public discussions need to shift away from, “Who can save our society?”
Rather, it must be: “Who can be the catalyst to bring about change that each one of us must make together?”
This is not a new concept.
We can do this
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we complied with the call to wear masks.
Even when we were personally not in danger, we felt we had the obligation to consider the implications of our action for others, particularly the vulnerable segments of our society.
Our aim was to collectively flatten the curve.
The same logic holds when we put the interest of society before our own different views, drawn by party lines or philosophies.
We must try to understand the forces dividing us through the lens of people’s values and identity.
This requires a focus shift from the top of the iceberg to what lies below the surface – the deeper beliefs that shape what people think and do.
Beliefs are often highly predictive of how people respond to a wide range of issues that can affect our societies.
We can then start planning effective engagement strategies by understanding a person’s orientation to society as expressed in their core values and their own sense of belonging and identity.
Ultimately we can explore areas of consensus and look at ways to build a common ground through attention to values and not just focus on demographics.
Particular attention must be given to groups which often feel left behind, powerless and disrespected, causing them to participate less in community life and have high levels of loneliness and isolation.
They are characterised by having strong feelings of being under threat and lacking confidence in the system.
Slow and steady
Implementing change as part of the healing and reconciliation process requires delicate navigation.
Change can provide hope and opportunities.
On the flip side, however, sudden change can make people insecure, anxious and fearful of others.
While qualitative change is part of reforming society, it must not be perceived to be vindictive in nature, otherwise it would only deepen societal divisions.
Understanding people’s psychology and group identities can provide useful insights into benevolent nation building.
To achieve impact on a more systemic level, we need to build up a larger ecosystem of organisations, networks and initiatives to unite divided societies and build resilience against social fracturing.
Philanthropists, political parties, media, social institutions, academia, business groups, faith-based organisations and culture groups must come together to achieve this goal, without depending solely on government agencies to take up the challenge.
Our journey towards healing and reconciliation must be underscored by the values of respect and compassion.
This is the bare minimum to live in a civilised society focused on the common good.
In the midst of the excitement surrounding the formation of the new government, I managed to watch the British television serial, The Crown.
One particular episode alluded to the words of Walter Bagehot, a journalist and political analyst in the 1800s, who commented on the English constitution.
Bagehot asserted that a constitution has two important elements – one “to excite and preserve the reverence of the population” and the other to “employ that homage in the work of government”.
The first he called “dignified” referring to the royal institution, and the second, “efficient” alluding to parliament.
I could not help thinking that hardly two weeks ago, we witnessed the wisdom of “the dignified” guiding “the efficient”, to give birth to a government – all done in a smooth, honorable and decorous manner.
Ultimately it is the people who have spoken.
The call of the day is to move on and for the business of governance to begin – until we exercise our franchise, once again, five years down the road.
Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj is a consultant psychiatrist, the Malaysian Mental Health Association president and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Taylor’s University. For more information, email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.