Break the shackles of ‘Tribal Think’

Posted on August 20, 2008


Last year, through this blog, I got to know a lovely person .

Jayanath Appadurai.

He sent in something he had written bearing the title of this post, for my consideration whether it was worthy of being posted in this blog.

Without any hesitation, it was posted up on 26th July last year.

I think there is so much truth and wisdom in Jaya’s message that it warrants a re-reading today, particularly given the crossroads that we seemingly face today as a nation.

I am reproducing Jaya’s message below.


For a long time, I have agonised over writing this piece to challenge my fellow Malaysians. Finally I said to myself – “what the heck? If I don’t do it now, I may not live long enough to see if they really care about the future of this beloved land”.

What better time to challenge my fellow citizens if not the approaching 50th year of nationhood. So here goes.

For too long, we have allowed to our own detriment a “cartel” of self-serving politicians and their coterie of entrepreneur buddies to set the agenda for this nation. They have moulded our thinking and controlled our thoughts, behaviour, responses and actions using the time-tested symbols of manipulation – race and religion!

We readily succumb to their clarion call to defend the race and religion and have fallen victims to our own comfort zone of categorising and stereotyping our fellow Malaysians along these lines. We, without a thought, consciously and sublimely succumb to grand generalisations and condemn our fellow beings based on these categories.

“All Malays are stupid, lazy and dependent on government handouts!”

“All Chinese are greedy, uncouth and are prone to using any means to accumulate wealth!”

“All Indians are dirty, untrustworthy and are prone to alcoholism and criminal activities!”

Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your worldview very little is heard by way of generalisations on Kadazans, Ibans, Dayaks, Melanaus and other minority Malaysians because we ,especially in Peninsular Malaysia, have rarely taken the trouble to know about, let alone understand our East Malaysian brethren.

God forbid, if and when we do so, I am sure some equally ridiculous generalisations will spew forth from our warped minds! And we will spew it with relative impunity with nary a thought!

Just for a moment reflect on these generalisations…..better still say it out aloud!

Can you honestly with a clear conscience say that you have no family member, relation, friend or associate of your so called “racial-religious tribe” that is not stupid, lazy, greedy, uncouth, dirty or untrustworthy? If you can I would really like to meet you and your pure tribe! You really must be specially selected by the Creator.

Have you not ever come across Malays that are intelligent and industrious and self-reliant; Chinese that are generous, civilised and not wealthy; or Indians that are clean, trustworthy and “teetotallers”?

What about the Malay cardiac surgeon who did a triple by-pass on your father and saved his life? What about the Chinese hawker who donated his day’s entire earnings for the tsunami disaster victims? What about the Indian who donated his kidney to save your cousin?

Have you not ever come across, heard of, or befriended a fellow citizen of the “other” tribe who was kind, considerate, generous, moderate, rational and objective etc.

Surely you have but you would in all probability have rationalised it as he or she is “different” because….. You would have subconsciously enumerated a host of reasons not to “upset” your comfortable worldview.

So why do you do it? Because it is so easy when you stereotype and rationalise your way through life using tribal categories. You don’t have to think and waste your precious brain cells. It makes you feel secure. It gives you a warm feeling of oneness, ownership and identity with the ilk of your tribe.

You reinforce your ignorance with equally ignoramus tribe members and everything is honky-dory! The bonding feels good! You feel great wallowing in your misplaced tribal pride.

And of course the cartel has ensured that you continue to muddle along this way because they will always benefit from this tribal mindset. Ah! But have you for a moment reflected on what the cartel does to control and reinforce your thoughts and actions.

Consider these “symbols” of thought control and manipulation so creatively used by the cartel:-

“Bangsa Malaysia versus Ketuanan Melayu”

“Perpaduan Negara versus Perpaduan Ummah”

“Malaysian Malaysia versus NEP”

“Secular State versus Islamic State”

“Bahasa Malaysia versus Bahasa Melayu”

“Bumiputra versus Non-Bumiputra”

“Constitutional Liberties versus Social Contract”

Think! How many times have you fallen for these Machiavellian machinations?

Worse still how many times have you used them to achieve your own ends?

Did you really feel good about yourself?

Did not an “inner voice” say something to prick you?

Of course it did, but you rationalised it anyway!

So my fellow citizens the buck stops with you!

You and only you, can do something about breaking the shackles of tribal group think!

And this 50th Merdeka will be truly meaningful if you take the first step to liberate your mind from the insidious control of the cartel and your respective tribes.

I challenge you not to meekly accept your tribe’s group think and let the cartel’s agenda hijack your mind! Pledge that from this day on – to rephrase Martin Luther King – “I will not judge my fellow Malaysians by the colour of their skin or their religious affiliation but by the strength of their character and the courage of their conviction”.

This Merdeka Day commit to beginning the process to really take charge of your thought processes. Once you have sorted out the obvious “inequities” in your mind, move out of your comfort zone and go forth to “liberate” your family, relatives, friends and tribal members.

And Oh Yes! – don’t forget your fellow Malaysians. They are waiting to bond with you and discover the true meaning of nationhood!

Posted in: Bangsa Malaysia