Recently, at the wedding of a good friend of mine, a group of us met a schoolteacher of ours. This schoolteacher taught us Chemistry in Form 5 and while she could not remember each and every one of us, she could remember our faces and some of our names.
The schoolteacher has now retired. The last time I saw her was probably some 10 years ago, perhaps even longer. Of course, a lot has changed since I was in Form 5, some 15 years ago. Yet looking at the group of us, the teacher said she was happy that we were still good friends.
"So 1Malaysia," she remarked.
1Malaysia? It is not merely a slogan to us. It may sound clichéd, but although we are different, the fact of the matter is that our brotherhood transcends all differences.
I have known this group of friends for a very long time. If Form 5 was 15 years ago, I have known them for longer. After high school, we went our separate ways, seeking education, pursuing our careers, and building our respective families. But despite the different paths we chose, we remained close. We are grown-ups now, but the bonds we forged when we were in school have remained strong until now. We may be adult men with other people, but to each other we are still just boys.
It is not as if we do not realise our differences. We are well aware of them, we acknowledge them and we celebrate them. These differences make our lives richer and more colourful. Our diversity strengthens our relationship instead of impeding it.
It is through these friends that I know of the fallacy of the claim by certain quarters who question the loyalty of the non-Malays. The vast majority, irrespective of race or religion, only have this country to call their own.
It is unfortunate that some of us can only see through racial lenses. Issues which should transcend ethnicity and faith have been racialised. Every issue becomes a race-related as a result of certain parties with ulterior motives. Thus, the country suffers as constant inter-racial and inter-religious friction strains the very fabric of our society.
I do not possess the capacity of looking at issues from within the narrow confines of race and religion. I believe it is because of my experiences with my group of friends.
It is through them that I understood that we Malaysians have far more in common with each other than we realise. If we peel away the race, religion, ideology, skin colour, socio-economic class and others, we will find that we Malaysians essentially want the same thing - to live in a peaceful and prosperous country and to strive to improve what we have. Only a handful of us want the opposite.
In a country grappling with the challenges of inter-ethnic relations, in a world wrecked by sectarian violence and aggression, I find solace in the fact that I am lucky enough to have a group of friends that I can call my brothers, who I know I can count on for anything at all.
These friends constantly remind me of the foundations upon which this country is built upon; diversity, moderation and acceptance.