Many a time this column has addressed the challenges we face in progressing as a nation, from our post-colonial era to becoming one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Just like any infant nation reeling from post-independence, we naturally had our differences that needed addressing. These included income disparity, natural resource distribution, political and governmental ideologies.
Admittedly, there was a time diversity was easy thing to manage. Most people, despite background, want to get on in life as comfortably as possible. We all want peace, economic mobility, health and happiness for our own sake and for our loved ones.
However, it is unfortunate that most of the time, petty differences get in the way and muddle our common goal. As a nation that was born our of a divide and conquer policy, it could have been much worse.
This is where Malaysians are the strongest. True strength lies not in its display, but in its restraint.
Getting to where we are today has, of course, been a struggle. We had to overcome our differences of language, culture and worldview, and naturally overcoming distrust, lack of communication and economic disparity.
Perhaps this struggle is not over, but I can attest we’re advancing.
In 2009, Prime Minister Najib Razak added a new chapter to our progress as a nation. The cabinet announced that 16th September will be a public holiday to allow Malaysians Day. It is an official recognition of the day that we, as Malaysians, truly became a nation.
Today, we are a nation that celebrates our differences. We recognise that it is these differences that make us a progressive nation.
As a Sarawakian who has lived in both Sarawak and the peninsula, I’ve learned to appreciate and witness innovation and creativity bred through our diversity. Homogeneity often breeds bubbles of homogenous, unchallenged thought.
When the people you work with come from diverse backgrounds and world views, they tend to challenge ideas you may have taken for granted. These difference of norms then require defense and dialogue, and the best of ideas are born from such discourse.
My point is simple – our history created a situation where our social engineering placed us in a position to be innovative. The next step now becomes obvious – we need use our unique position to take the nation to the global stage.
So, next time you see Malaysians arguing over their differences, facilitate mature discourse and do not discourage the celebration of those differences. You may witness the next great innovation – born out of diversity.
Fifty four years ago, in 1963, the federation known as Malaysia was officially formed.
It doesn't matter why we decided to form the federation, what matters is that as a nation, we have progressed together because of our collective efforts to move together as one.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.