Letter from Malaysia
By Nurhidayati Abd Aziz
Imagine that you know nothing about me.
I grew up in one of the Asian tiger economies, receiving a standard higher education in Science & Technology (S&T), and went on my way to work with a small and medium-sized company. I am unmarried with no kids. My parents are retired, and my siblings work in the city.
I am like everyone you see on the streets of Asia, part of the hodgepodge of the growing middle class who aspire to improve and better their lives. I am also a part of the Millennial Generation. My generation and the generation after me make up nearly or more than half of the total population in Asia.
By 2050, when the world reaches 5 billion people, the majority of my generation will be in the driver's seat to determine the fate of the planet and its people. It’s a big responsibility. One we are increasingly recognising as one of the biggest concerns of our time:
How are we going to feed 10 billion people?
Are we going to have enough oil by 2050?
Do we have enough natural resources?
Is 10 billion people too many for the planet earth to sustain?
Can we get along with each other?
Underlying these concerns are the common questions of “who are we?”, “where do we come from?” and “where do we go from here?”
WHO DECIDES WHO WE ARE?
As a millennial who grew up with cellphones and Google, geographical, cultural and social barriers play very little role in my interaction with my peers and my understanding of the world.
I could be going to a monocultural education system by day, and playing online games or spending time with fellow gamers from the Philippines or the United States in the chat room by night. I could be growing up in a religious family, and going to university and later on work with members of different faith, seculars, atheists, and agnostics.
What I found is that we are all similar. We are eating the same food, paying for the same student loans, worrying about the same issues every day.
Seth Godin wrote how barely 50 years ago, television changes the way we view the world by “introducing us ideas, people, and places that are outside our personal experiences”.
Similarly, in our lives today, despite living in countries where we are separated by race, politics, and religion, my generation continues to interact with our peers regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what their belief is.
Over time, faceless strangers become people we can relate to. We learned about the Arab Spring, the fate of displaced Rohingyans in Myanmar, a woman our age being gang-raped in India, thousands of children died by poisonous gas in a religious clash in Syria. These people go to school just like we do, going to the movies at night just like we do, running errands for our elderly parents just like we do – but some people decide that their gender, race, or religion can be a cause to hurt them.
So we are faced with a defining question: Should race, religion or politics be the deciding factor of how we treat each other?
Of course not, a lot of people will tell us. But what we are seeing in the world today is proving otherwise.
IN SEARCH OF SELF
The basic adage in the philosophy of self and meaning is “Know thyself.” To know ourselves, we have to know where we come from, we have to understand the choices made by our parents, our grandparents, and the people before them.
This is what I hope to embark by starting a series of articles: To find out what my generation thinks are answers to the seemingly easy questions:
“Who are we?”
“Who decides who we are?”
“Do we have the ability to change, to transform ourselves?”
As millennials, we are taught that we can do whatever we set our mind to, that the possibilities to success are limitless. On the other side of the spectrum is not only the inundation of choices we face every day, but also the limitations or expectations put forth by the society upon us.
How do we operate and thrive within these conflicting environments? How do we make it advantageous for our future and the future of generations after us?
Parallel to that is the evolution of religion in our lives. Five hundred years ago, god comes in the face of weather goddess to improve crops yield and protect harvest, or as wandering Messiah as a cause to defend in war and empire-building efforts. My generation is losing that sense of urgency to be wanting of faith or religious institutions. We live in the age of affluence.
Who or what, exactly is the god of our generation today? Our iPhones and Facebook? The Amazing Race, American Idol, or MTV?
Editor’s Note: This is the first contribution by the author on her series on “Growing Up in Religious Asia.”