A “prayer” for my country

The following is an entry on using the format of a “prayer” to think about the forthcoming Malaysian elections. I did not have enough time to think hard enough about what I needed to know before voting in the elections. So, I used the format of a “prayer” to throw in all the elements I knew and then struggled with them. In the next blog entry, I explain how prayer helps me think more dispassionately. It is not in the same way that religious people would think it does.

Dear God,
On this the eve of an important turning point in the history of Malaysia, I want to say a prayer. I want to say to that there are many things I do not know and many things that I do not understand. But there is one thing I do hope. That you will be good to the country of my birth.
In a world where strident nationalism should be fading, the function of a country can only be to produce individuals who can be useful to the rest of the world. It is this that I pray for most of all. That my country will be a community of people that brings out the best in each other and make us fit for the world we live in.
It’s a difficult prayer for me, God, because I am not asking for things to go my way. I want things to go your way, but I don’t know what that really means. When the folly of men leads us to cause wars and famines, even there you have been at work, bringing the best out of us amidst the worst in us. So it is with great trepidation that I make this prayer.
This is the country that despite all of its quirks, gave me my existence. This is where I received an education that has equipped me with the skills I can apply in the best of countries anywhere. But most of all, it gave me my identity. No matter where I live or what I do, my country is me.
Help me to be clear about what it is that I should be asking for. The most pressing matter appears to be the general elections this Sunday. The choice between one group of men and women and another. Yet, to say that there is such a thing as a correct choice is to rate the follies of one group of men and women more higher than that of another.
Friends and friends, brothers and sisters, fathers and sons and daughters are split on this matter so much, that we cannot possibly expect you to be on one side and not the other. So, tell me O God, what is it that we can ask for your help on?
It appears to me that the one thing we have achieved together as a nation today is the ability to make a choice. For more than 44 years, we had acquiesced a series of leaders who took away from us that ability to make a choice between good and evil, right and wrong.
I want to thank you for the men and women who had steadily fought against this deception, for themselves and for the rest of us. At first, we treated these men and women as anomalies. Not mainstream. Quirks. Troublesome. Don Quixotes. Because the economy was progressing fine, we were willing to accept the degradation of accountability and integrity by our leaders in exchange for our personal gratification. Forgive me to the extent that I was a part of that culture.
It was only when it became clear to us that our children were going to grow up in a country that was not going to benefit from the dishonesty and deception, that more of us joined the swell of the disgruntled until it became a mainstream unto itself.
I ask you that we will not miss the significance of what we have achieved. It is the ability to make a decision together. It is a great gift that you have given all of us as Malaysians. But God, do not give us this gift without giving us the institutions to uphold them.
The judiciary, the police, the military, the civil service, the schools, the places of worship. They are all tainted. To foolishly think that one or the other political candidate for leadership at this forthcoming elections can lead us into an untainted future is sheer silly. We are a fallen people without the institutions to protect us from ourselves.
Reward the men and women who have shown us what is possible. Four of the states run by people who have chosen the path of integrity and accountability are prosperous and successful against so many odds. They have given us the language to describe the future we want for ourselves. It is possible.
Reward them by taking them to the next level of their work, regardless of the parties they represent. For what is a party but a creation of foolish men and women who have to think that they are better than the other. But integrity and accountability belongs to all. They are the bedrock of any good society.
In assessing the candidates for this year’s election, I do ask you most of all to protect our prime minister. I ask this because we need to remember the limitations of all who desire to be our leaders. He may be the worst of human beings. He may be the best of human beings. You have worked your hand through both, so please work through him in this time of need.
We cannot judge any man by what he says or thinks. We can only judge a man by what he has done. The prime minister too is paying a price for the choices that he has made. For if he fails, his own people will destroy him. So protect him to be able to continue the good changes he has already brought about.
Whatever that collective decision we make this Sunday, may he have the strength of character stay the course that he has started for this election. By doing so, may he continue to be part of the process of re-establishing integrity and accountability, until its completion. Spare no one.
I hope that in praying in this way, I am also preparing myself for whichever way the elections play out. For who am I to say that to pan out one way is to provide hope and to pan out another way is to harbor disaster.
I share this country with such a myriad of people of different ages, religions, languages, education levels, the urban, the rural and even the tribal. I am beneficiary to such a rich heritage that who am I to say that its future should pan out only in the way that suits me? You work in mysterious ways and my job is to trust you.
Forgive me for having thought that ideas like “meritocracy” and “achievement” would give us our future, at the expense of those of my country men to whom these were subservient to other equally important values. We can see clearly now that in the west it has led only to a shameless sense of entitlement and unprecedented personal greed. That is not the country I want us to become.
The truth is that I have never had the answers, any more than a farmer or a fisherman, even if I thought I did. Somewhere between the values of my different countrymen lies the correct answer for us as a whole. May the shared values arise through our continued interaction.
Please give me the humility to wait for that correct answer to work itself out through the choices we make together as a nation, again and again. Each of my fellow countrymen carry some of your truth that I don’t. So, in trusting them, I am trusting you.
What we need most now is not “change”, but healing. We need to be whole again. There will always be people in my country who are wounded, angry and frightened. Regardless of who wins the elections, these will be people who will never be satisfied. So, it is important for our institutions to be strong enough to accommodate the “them” and the “us”.
The disunity amongst us comes from describing our differences in racial terms. It is always the other race that is greedy, selfish, lazy or short sighted. The truth is that all of us have our own sordid shortcomings and uninspiring past. We have failed to believe the best about each other, when as a nation we have become a little like each other.
In all this, I pray that you will restore the confidence and pride of the Malay people. They are our defining race. I can accept this, whether or not it is enshrined in any constitution. The fact that theirs is the only race in the world that is not defined by ethnicity, should have hinted to us how inclusive they have been in the past and can be in the future.
But they have been wounded by the very institutions that were created to protect them. The most fiery of their orators have failed to articulate a future for them that they can genuinely believe in. I want to ask for your healing start with them, and then to reach the rest of us.
Dear God, I do want to thank you for the many brave people, some in the highest of their professions – doctors, lawyers, engineers – who gave up their status, wealth, careers and some even risked their lives to demand that accountability and integrity should define our institutions and our leaders. Few countries will ever come this point that these people have brought us to this week. They are our true heroes in this hour of decision.
As I struggle with all these thoughts, I become less afraid of the decision that I am going to make on Sunday, as I enter the election booth. Less afraid of the decision that is going to be imposed on me on Monday. But more trusting that it is a journey that we go through together.
But having come so far, dear God, please now give us a language that can transcend all elections. Give us leaders who can lift us from the parochial. Breathe life into who we are as a people, so that we will bring out what is best in ourselves and in each other. Dear God, in praying for my country, I am praying for myself. I want to believe in my nation, because I believe in myself. No matter where I live or what I do, there is no way for me to ignore this great moment in my nation’s history. Because of all it has done for me, my nation is me.


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