Universiti Tenaga Nasional Tun Dr Mahathir Lecture

“Values and Beliefs: The Compass for the Young Towards Creating a Brighter Future”

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim.

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

Salam Sejahtera.

Beta bersyukur ke hadrat ILAHI kerana dengan izin dari Nya juga Beta dapat berangkat ke Universiti Tenaga Nasional pada pagi ini untuk menyampaikan titah dalam siri UNITEN Tun Mahathir Lecture kali ke-enam.

I am very pleased to be the sixth speaker in this lecture series. Going before me have been a Nobel prize-winning economist, several distinguished scientists and technologists, and Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir, after which this lecture series is named. The topics have certainly been diverse, ranging from the birth of the universe to financial market volatility, and from innovation and technology commercialisation to crisis management. These lectures have led to a rich exchange of ideas and I want to commend UNITEN for having organized them.

  1. Today, I would like to address a down-to-earth subject, that of young people of this nation. Looking around this room, I can see that this includes most of you here. There are also some of you in this room from other parts of the world, and although the youth of Malaysia is the focus of this lecture, most of what I will speak will apply to you and your countries as well. I assume that most of you are looking forward to having a good break when your courses are over, after which you will start searching for a decent job and build a career for yourselves. No doubt, you will then want to settle down and start a family. The more ambitious among you will probably postpone taking on family commitments until your careers are on the rise. Some may even aspire to public office. Whatever the case, these are the typical dreams of young people everywhere in the world.
  2. I was once in your shoes – albeit a long time ago. And I remember having the hopes and expectations that I imagine you now have. Not just my own, but also the hopes and expectations placed upon me by family, by teachers and professors, and by society. Today you are bombarded with many promises of hope and expectations of the future. Open the newspapers and you will see catchy advertisements for educational institutions that sound like this: “working for a degree that really works”; “expect a seamless transition upon your graduation”; “world class education that ensures greater prospects in your chosen career”.
  3. But you must be prepared for a reality that may not be as rosy as the picture you have envisioned or have been promised. Consider those who graduated into the present economic situation where output has plummeted, property prices have fallen, businesses are shrinking, equity values are at an all-time low and unemployment at an all-time high.
  4. The economic climate has become harsh and extremely unforgiving everywhere. For young graduates seeking to establish themselves, this environment will prove extremely challenging. In 2009 alone, the United Nations Development Programme expects 18 millions additional youths to be unemployed. Degrees are no longer the passports to jobs that they once were, let alone long and rewarding careers. This is the hard reality that youths everywhere, including you in this room, have to face.
  5. On the bright side, all of you are at a formative stage of life and I’m going to assume you are at an age when you are idealistic – that you wish to improve conditions around you – that you would rather build than destroy. The Malaysia of tomorrow will be made more in the image of your generation than of mine. The Malaysia of tomorrow will be the product of your hands, hearts and minds. You are the new green shoots being nurtured in a nursery of opportunity. In the next two or three decades, you will be largely responsible for what Malaysia is or is not – its strengths and weaknesses, its abilities and failings. This may sound exciting to some, nerve-racking to others, a cliché to still others, but the reality is that this is your country and all of you have a mammoth responsibility for the wellbeing of your fellow Malaysians.
  6. So how do you think you will fare? Are you being given the best possible education that the country can provide? Do you think you will be able to compete on the global stage and fulfil the high expectations of world-class employers? Are you able to think critically, creatively and independently? Are you a product of a university that faculty members can be proud of? Can you make the Malaysia of tomorrow among the best economies in the world? These are questions that must be faced and answered truthfully and boldly.
  7. You are already well aware of the prerequisites for prosperity, such as knowledge, skills, analytical thinking, creativity, innovation. I am not going to take up your time reiterating these. What is more fundamental to the nation’s future prosperity are the values and beliefs of our future leaders. This is the aspect I want to focus my speech on today. If knowledge and skills represent the powerful microprocessors that store information in a computer, then values and beliefs form the operating software that organizes, prioritises and enables the power to be unleashed. Without upright values, knowledge is enfeebled, and without enlightened beliefs, abilities are meaningless.
  8. Values and beliefs such as honesty, integrity, empathy, openness, tolerance and loyalty are integral to who we are as individuals and what we are as a country. If these are part and parcel of the national psyche, Malaysia can be ensured of 3 things: first that the principles of good governance will be held sacrosanct; second, that people will be willing to serve the country to the best of their ability; and third, that there will be unity among the people. If we have these three things, we can be certain of a prosperous future for Malaysia.
  9. But just as the right values and beliefs will enable us to forge a prosperous Malaysia, the wrong ones could lead to its eventual break-up. Long before there are violent conflicts on the streets, there are cultural conflicts and ideological conflicts, ones involving not just different ways of doing things but of perceiving things. When a country becomes fragmented, it stays fragmented for a long time. In fact, differences grow and intensify. What were splits become rifts, and what were rifts become chasms. This is why it is absolutely imperative that we never allow anything to threaten the unity and stability of this nation. Unlike a computer, we cannot just press the reset button and start from where we left off. It is not that easy.

Young friends:

11. Let us consider some so-called realities of the modern age. We are faced with an increasingly informed society, enlightened by the mass spread of information through ICT, ranging from the internet to the mobile phone. Ironically, we are also living in a vastly misinformed society, where wrong information can spread as quickly and as widely as correct information. At no time in our history has information been of more value to the average human being, to his or her government, and to the private and public enterprises that serve the individual. And at no time has the value of accurate information been more important. We are also faced with a much shrunken world, where distances have been immensely shortened not only physically through the development of affordable and reliable transport systems, but also temporally, where ICT has again made distance an irrelevant feature of communication. For the first time in history, we can share ideas across oceans in real time, without needing to wait for conquest for our ideas to be spread. We are also watching a shift in the value of social and economic priorities as the globalised economy comes into its own. We now place more emphasis on non-material assets such as knowledge and skills than on material assets that have defined human society for so long.

12. When I was your age, my family like most other Malaysian families subscribed to one or two national newpapers and watched the news from one broadcast station airing on just two television channels. Today you are innundated with numerous information sources. This has led to two categories of people in society – the super-informed and the sub-informed. The super-informed which I assume constitute all those gathered in this room, access multiple news channels and have mastery of the internet to draw the information they need on politics, socio-economics and business. The sub-informed avoid these subjects in favour of entertainment.

13. Two more closely related factors need to be given vital consideration. Firstly, global trade has created a vastly wealthier society at all levels and has opened up a consumerist hunger that is historically unprecedented. What was once been the domain of kings and emperors is at the reach of millions of people, with consumer goods driving economic growth as never before. Riding on this growth, we have seen new economic powers emerge in just the space of a generation. Nations like China and India stand pounding at the door of the west, wanting a voice, a presence, and recognition of their culture and their values. Sadly, we have also engendered a vast impoverished and disenchanted segment of society who have either been abused by the developments in the globalised economy, or have been left out of these developments altogether. They pose a significant challenge both to our economists who must suggest ways of including them in our miracle and to our philosophers and moralists who must explain how we can live side by side with our vastly more impoverished brothers and sisters while watching our own wealth and well being grow. And while we continue to debate the whys and the wherefores of the poor and disenfranchised, they are making themselves increasingly more noticed by drawing attention to their plight in ways both benign and violent.

  1. Secondly, we are potentially entering an age where we will for the first time in history share a global calamity of our own making in the guise of man-induced climate change. Not only can we share information and knowledge and hard technology across borders as never before, we can also share our pollutants and our toxins, to the point where all the inhabitants of our planet may potentially need to make serious adjustments to their lifestyles and their livelihoods to continue living on this planet.

15. These are precisely the kinds of issues that, as adults, you will increasingly have to deal with. You must have a strong set of values and beliefs to guide you in making decisions. These values and beliefs are the product of your home environment. They are also formed in schools, universities, religious institutions and among peers. This is why it is vital to expose yourselves to positive, constructive influences and not negative, destructive ones. Employers also seek to implant the beliefs and attitudes that they want, both through their management systems and by a process of acculturation. Those who are best able to adopt these will identify strongly with their companies and naturally rise to the top.

16. So what can you do to create a bright future for your country? Let me suggest a few ways.

17. First, you must be constructive. It is very easy to be cynical – to stand on the sidelines and shout obscenities at the opposing players and the referee. It is much more difficult to go down to the field, practice and get involved in the game. You can stand outside a room and curse the darkness within, or you can light a candle and start brightening up the room. The decision is yours, as are the consequences. Responsibility means being engaged with issues and not leaving it to others to decide. If you do not get involved, then the future of this country will be constructed based on someone else’s blueprint.

18. Second, set yourselves high standards of conduct. Demand good governance practices and be fully aware of the debilitating effects of corruption and the high costs to society of poor governance. But do not just insist that others show qualities of honour and integrity. You must internalise these qualities yourselves. Strive at all times to uphold the rule of law.

  1. I notice that society today has become excessively politicised and polarised. Positions have become deeply entrenched and goodwill and cooperation have markedly decreased. More worryingly, there no longer seems to be any restrictions as to what Malaysians are prepared to say or do. Whereas we had an unwritten code of civility before, some of the things that are said and done in the name of democracy today go far beyond common decency.

20. We all claim to want to live in a democratic society. In such a society we should be able to disagree without wishing harm on those we disagree with. We should be able to voice a different opinion without being insulted or threatened with humiliation. We should attempt to win others to our point of view not through coercion but by the force of our arguments and the justness of our cause. Have the courage to change your views if they come into conflict with the facts, instead of trying to tailor the facts to suit your beliefs. Always keep an ounce of humility within you. No matter how many degrees you earn, knowledge is no one’s monopoly. The world has no shortage of knowledge but it could always do with more understanding. Reject the politics of hate. Instead, accept only civilised democratic practices, one that is based on respect and regard for one another.

21. Finally, I challenge you to look toward a future beyond purely material reward. Instead focus on the rewards of seeing your nation prosper because of your efforts. All of you represent the valuable future human capital this country needs. The outside world knows this, which is why they set out to attract our best brains, creating a brain drain for us. Do not exacerbate the problem of the brain drain but strive to reverse it. We are, whether we like it or not and whether we know it or not, an inter-connected society. We are impacted by, and have a very strong impact on, one another. It is only when we look beyond ourselves and beyond our individual communities that we are prepared to make national-level sacrifices and attain things that are of national significance. I challenge you to take personal ownership over the wellbeing of your fellow countrymen. If you can do this and do this well, I can guarantee you that the material benefits will follow.

Ladies and gentlemen:

22. There are many more things that one can say about your role in creating a bright future for Malaysia. Today, I have deliberated on one aspect which I deem the most critical, namely, to develop strong and robust core values and beliefs. Looking around this room and seeing your eager faces, I am developing a measure of confidence.

23. Search within yourselves and transform yourselves, and in so doing, transform this country. I leave you with this thought and the challenge to follow it up with the actions that will bring them to fruition. For this, you need a bedrock faith in what you and our country stand for. I wish all of you the very best in your future.

Thank you.

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