For the love of Malaysia

Come SEA Games time, we couldn’t care less for our athletes’ skin colour or beliefs. We are only interested in the colours of our Jalur Gemilang. There will be cries of jubilation and groans of despair, all in unison. Let’s remember that.

I HAVE worked at The Star for over three decades. It has been my one and only employer, I’m proud to say. I’ll make an educated guess here and assume that this kind of allegiance would shock most millennials, who rarely stick with an employer for a sustained period. Apparently, three years is almost an eternity for them.

The biggest draw, for me at least, when I joined, was that The Star, as a predominantly English language media group, had a multiracial work force, a scenario which has reassuringly remained status quo to this day.

More than 1,500 staff work, and share their lives in the various departments and subsidiaries, the environment boasting an even racial makeup.

So, we stand tall for being truly Malaysian. This means, my colleagues of all races and religions, including Sabahans and Sarawakians of various ethnicities, bring our collective experiences together to make decisions.

Naturally, in this kind of ideal setting, the views of every group are considered and taken into account when facing challenges or making plans. Everything is consistently based on consensus.

A diverse workforce thrives in these settings, the comfort in communication and mutual respect generated providing for a larger pool of ideas and experiences.

Above all else though, genuine friendships have forged, grown and strengthened over the long years of service in the company, which celebrates its 46th anniversary next month.

We are so familiar and at ease with each other that harmless banter and jibes rarely offend or hurt anyone.

We might have earned this luxury and good fortune for having been products of English medium schools or institutes of higher learning, which emphasised the language.

However, this kind of neutral ground has not been accorded to those who grew up in (and continue to study at) vernacular schools, or the many mono-ethnic sekolah kebangsaan these days.

From my experience, students with similar upbringing and exposure to mine, were a multiracial lot.

Friendships were put through the grinder over the years, and came out stronger, and in many cases, life-long, as an end product.

Of course, we fought and sulked but made up, too, because we could all see the bigger picture.

And as was the practice in my time and before, we visited each other’s homes, celebrated our various festivals, ate from the same plates and slept in the same beds, as well. That was how close we were with our schoolmates – we existed in a racially-borderless world.

These are solid friendships built through the years, which is a far cry from the functional relationships of today, where meals are rarely communal affairs and visiting friends’ homes is becoming an alien concept.

I’m grateful to be able to say that it’s great to be serving at Star Media Group because of its multiracial staff, where everyone subscribes to our primary value – moderation.

In fact, I extract greater satisfaction in denouncing this as marketing ploy and instead, celebrate it as a way of life, ahead of the National Day.

It’s also heartening to know the good luck we have, because come the festive period, we are able to cover for one another – no festivals are celebrated simultaneously, after all. So, a multiracial workforce is clearly an asset.

However, I’m compelled to spare a thought for my fellow journalists who work in the Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese or Tamil dailies, because I know of their frustrations during the three major festivals.

It can’t be easy, not at all. I can only imagine how they feel, but the nature of their medium makes it difficult for them to have a mixed-race workforce.

The lessons learnt from this? Not much, it seems, because for inexplicable reasons, some employers fail to see the need and benefit of a strong, racially-mixed work force, this malaise including government-­linked companies, and mirrored by today’s civil service.

And no, token representation doesn’t count – only a genuinely multiracial makeup can lead the way forward.

Often overlooked is the better communication a multiracial workforce is able to provide, with greater linguistic skills reaching out to a larger customer base.

Any employer will extol the virtues of a diverse collection of skills and experiences, professing that languages and cultural understanding will enable a company’s staff to provide better service to clients on a global scale, and not just within the limited confines of the Malaysian market.

Breaking it down further – an organisation that embraces diversity will be successful and competitive.

It is practically common knowledge that when organisations actively assess their handling of workplace diversity issues, or develop and implement diversity plans, multiple benefits surface, such as increased adaptability and sustainability.

Likewise, a multiracial country like Malaysia is a blessing.

Sure, the ugly examples are bound to crop up, like how a school principal, who surely needs professional help, insists on separating the drinking cups of Muslim and non-Muslim students.

Generally, though, Malaysians understand and embrace the importance of maintaining our multiracial society.

No doubt, there are those who insist on imposing certain “values”, but the majority of us share more well-meaning and holistic ideologies. If we feel stifled, we simply need to speak up. Together as Malaysians we can do wonders, as we have for a long time now.

Just take a look at our athletes competing at the upcoming SEA Games.

Almost all of us couldn’t care less for their skin colour or beliefs. We are only interested in the colours of the flag – our Jalur Gemilang. After all, isn’t that what defines us as Malaysians, the hues of our nation in our hearts?

From the deep recesses of remote villages in Sabah, to swanky penthouse suites right smack in the capital, this Saturday onwards, cries of jubilation and groans of despair will pierce the air as our heroic athletes strive for the targeted 111 gold medals.

It won’t be easy, but it all starts with a dream – the same kind of dream that sought to see Malaysia as a diverse nation. Malaysia memang boleh.

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Opinion , on the beat wong chun wai


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