From winter to spring, from despair to hope

Recently, a cold spell swept over the nation. The temperature in the Klang Valley dipped to 22C and it was even colder in Cameron Highlands where it dropped to 15C — perhaps the closest we have come to experiencing a ‘winter’ of sorts in the modern era.

Jan 31, 2018

By Anil Netto
Recently, a cold spell swept over the nation. The temperature in the Klang Valley dipped to 22C and it was even colder in Cameron Highlands where it dropped to 15C — perhaps the closest we have come to experiencing a ‘winter’ of sorts in the modern era.

This unexpectedly cold spell shows us that weather patterns have changed and are now so unpredictably prone to wild and extreme swings. With climate change reaching us, we can expect more cold spells, extra warm weather, thunderstorms of greater intensity and prolonged dry spells.

This looming crisis adds to the litany of challenges which Malaysia already faces: mounting debt, the rising cost of living, chauvinistic religious views, grand corruption and wealth and income inequality largely caused by neoliberal economic policies.

This is part of a global chasm of inequality, highlighted once again in Oxfam’s latest annual observation as the world’s wealthiest gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum.

The Oxfam report noted that the top 1 per cent grabbed 82 per cent of the wealth generated last year. Billionaire wealth rose six times faster than the wages of ordinary workers. “It takes just four days for a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands to earn what a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her lifetime,” observed Oxfam.

Oxfam listed some of the factors responsible for this disparity: erosion of workers’ rights, Big Business’ influence over government policy-making and the trend to cut corporate costs so that shareholders can reap greater returns.
To tackle this growing disparity, Oxfam called on governments to come up with a fairer economic system. The group suggested three main ways:

-- Limit returns to shareholders and top executives; ensure a living way for all workers.
-- Protect women workers’ rights; eliminate the gender pay gap.
-- Crack down on tax avoidance and ensure the rich pay their fair share of taxes. In this way, the state will have more money for public hospitals and schools.

All this suggests that a small minority of folk have grown stupendously wealthy at the expense of ordinary workers and the environment.

It is against this backdrop that we head to a general election in the ‘spring,’ perhaps some time in March or April. Already, there is a mixture of hope and pessimism, whether the outcome of the general election will offer better days ahead or even more gloom and uncertainty in its wake.

This morning, I read a verse by the 17th Century English poet Anne Bradstreet: “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

I suppose the equivalent from a Christian perspective would be, without Good Friday and the Cross, there would be no Easter and the Resurrection.

It is said that it is the journey — of struggle and perseverance in working for change and justice and peace — that makes life more meaningful, especially when we are not yet able to see the harvest.

But sometimes, we get too preoccupied with the struggles of this world, it gets too overwhelming and we fail to see the simple beauty all around that should inspire us.

The shocking pink bougainvillea on my balcony sometimes sheds its flowers. One morning, I found that a Buddhist friend of mine, who was spending a few days on holiday at my place, had collected the fallen flowers strewn on the balcony and placed them in a bowl on the kitchen table.

“Look at how pale and delicate those flowers are now,” he marvelled. “And you should see how they twirl in the air as they fall from the verandah to the ground below.”

This ability to see beauty in the smallest things in our world is a gift. The bowl of faded flowers can also be a metaphor for discovering beauty and hope in the most unlikely places, even in the discarded.

It can also be a metaphor for genuine unity in our land. Imagine, if we allowed all the resplendent tropical plants in our land to grow and flourish together — bougainvillea, hibiscus, orchid, jasmine.

If we nurture them, water them often and provide some fertile soil full of nutrients — imagine the riot of colours they would produce. Now, imagine if we collected the flowers and placed them in a bowl. What a delightful rojak of colours and scents that would be. This potpourri could be a metaphor for a celebration of the great diversity of people of different backgrounds in our land.

It is a vision that probably can only be realised if we remove the barriers of chauvinism, bigotry and exclusivity that are keeping us apart and holding us back. Somehow, we have to move past these barriers that are suffocating us in a chokehold.

It is only if we can remove these mental barriers that we, as a nation, have a chance of grappling with all the other issues that are of concern to us. We must believe that it is possible. We must believe that hope will eventually triumph over despair and gloom. We must believe that the Lord will answer our prayers for ourselves and the nation.

These words from Psalm 145 should keep hope alive:

17 Upright in all that he does, Yahweh acts only in faithful love.
18 He is close to all who call upon him, all who call on him from the heart.
19 He fulfils the desires of all who fear him, he hears their cry and he saves them.

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