What does independence mean to you?

Patriotic spirit: Multiracial with traditional costumes waving flags during Malaysia Day celebration. - FilePhoto: ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/ The Star

For this columnist, the nation’s independence is our own personal and individual independence and independent responsibility.

AS the month of August looms, I feel a tight knot in my stomach and a feeling of dread in my chest. Independence Day, Malaya’s day of independence... the expression seems hollow after what seems like an eternity of a literally empty Parliament, that symbol of independence for the people of this country. That hollow feeling caused me to reflect on what the independence of this nation might mean for my children and their children henceforth.

I have always believed that independence means two simple things: that whatever happens, will happen and could happen to me is my “fault”, and that it is within my power to take responsibility and change things. Blaming others is not really something I do a lot of in my life. I believe that if we don’t “blame” ourselves for most of the predicaments that we find ourselves in, then we will never really be able to change our situation and our lives.

Of course, there are many things in life that are beyond our control, such as diseases like this Covid-19 pandemic, deaths in the family and some financial failures. Those are situations we can’t control, but there are, certainly, things that we can. For me, the first rule of being independent is to take charge of what you have, what you can do and what you can plan for the future. And to always remember the adage that when you point a finger at others, three fingers are always pointing back at you. Of course, this does not mean that, sometimes, others can’t be blamed for your situation, but my point is, don’t dwell too much on others until you deal with the three fingers pointing back at you.

When my daughter Aisyah went with me to register as a voter 10 years ago, I told her, “Congratulations, Aisyah, now everything that is wrong with this country is YOUR fault!”

I was, of course, talking in my usual philosophical, metaphorical and sarcastic style when I said that. What I meant was that the country is your responsibility to be made in your own way.

When I say this to many graduates, they stare blankly at me. The graduates are always ready to blame politicians, history, their elders, the job market, employers and a hundred more “others”. But I always tell them that it is up to them to gang up as young men and women, educated at the highest level, and call the shots.

What do you want, I ask. Would you like to have RM500 a month from the government upon graduation until you land your first job? Then ask for it. Other countries have an unemployment allowance. Why not us? Make it happen. How? Figure it out lah.

Find out what democracy is and where your rights and opportunities lie. Stop vilifying MPs on social media. Gather your 3,000,000 strength in numbers and list your “demands”. No political party that wants to rule would ignore 3,000,000 votes.

What else do you want? You don’t know? Well, how about a free capsule apartment until you can afford your own one-bedroom apartment? Get the government to get architects to design capsule rooms – it is not difficult to design and build what I call “beehive buildings” that can mushroom all over the country.

A single 10-storey block can have 1,000 capsules; 10 of these blocks can make one development that needs just 2ha. We can build 300 of these complexes, with 10 to 20 per state. Parking would be for motorcycles, bicycles and scooters only. No cars. If you can afford a car, it is time for you to leave the capsule to another graduate.

I am most amused at the reaction I get when I say all this to graduates. They usually look at me as if I’m nuts – a nutty professor. I ask them, why not? What is so strange about providing capsule living units to fresh graduates just starting out? There are 1.5 million civil servants in this country, each entitled to housing for life. Not capsules, mind you, but apartments or full family housing. Then there are 222 Parliamentarians with their own free housing. Over 600 elected state legislators have theirs. Why shouldn’t you, young citizens who are registered voters, get yours?

Come to think of it, why not just have automatic registration as voters when you come of age. Susah sangat kah?

Independence means things are our own responsibility, not other people’s. Independence means that you are responsible for every action you take. If you decide to hate another race or people of faiths different from yours, then it is your own doing. Don’t blame others, it’s you and it always has been your fault – because you need to be more critical about accepting the narratives of others.

Read more. Attend more forums. Teach yourself about the Constitution, the untold history of the nation and the real lessons of religion. Stop Instagramming or playing computer games for a while and spend time reading, discussing, planning the future of your own nation because, at the end of the day, it is going to be your own.

The nation’s independence is your own personal and individual independence and independent responsibility. Never allow others to shape your nation because her future is entwined with yours.

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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