A Christmas wake-up call


BERLIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 23:  Santas-to-be w...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

PUTIK LADA By RAPHAEL KOK

Christmas is the time for us to redeem and reconcile our relationships with people that we care about. It’s a time for us to remember and rekindle the passions in life that we dream about.

IT all began in a little town called Bethlehem, where a baby was born in a manger. Over centuries, it has captured the joys of wintertime like listening to sleigh bells ringing, building snowmen in the meadow and roasting chestnuts on an open fire.With or without snowfall, Santa Claus always comes to town whenever the season is upon us, in the malls and on the streets.

Today, Christmas is no longer just a religious or cultural festival celebrated in the West, but a global event transcending race, religions and cultures.

Much of its universal appeal lies in the values embodied in the spirit of Christmas. The highlight at any Christmas party, whether hosted by Christian families, schools, offices or friends, is the exchange of gifts.

Christmas is about goodwill to all and sharing between loved ones.

Of course, cynics would say that Christmas also epitomises the sin of greed, considering how much people spend on Christmas decorations, shopping and parties.

However, that says more about human nature, rather than Christmas itself. After all, how we celebrate Christmas is very much like how we celebrate life.

In life, just like during Christmas, we expect to be rewarded for the good things we have done. Life, just like Christmas, is about dreams and desires.

True, more often than not, they are materialistic in nature. True, we always want to have more than what we already have, and that there is no end to dreams and desires.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, where we go wrong is not knowing what we truly want out of life. We instead want things that bring little value to our lives.

We crave for more clothes, cars, properties and sources of physical affection. We crave for the same things we already have in abundance, except in different designs, colours and sizes.

We are like kids crying out for toys, ice-cream and a playmate, with no time to think of the consequences.

However, there’s got to be more to life than chasing every temporary high.

Just like Lord Buddha centuries ago, Mark Zuckerberg exhorts us to eliminate desires. Not just any desire, but desires that don’t really matter to us to begin with, or any more.

Having desires is not greedy. Having false desires is.

Our fragile minds, wrecked by insecurities, are always vulnerable to being incepted by foreign ideas. We constantly worry about what others think of us, and what they tell us we should be like.

Not only are we weighed down by excess material and emotional baggage, but we are also forced to abandon our own innermost dreams and desires.

Only when you have eliminated your false desires, will you discover what you want, what you really want.

Basically, start doing the things you have always dreamt of doing but never did because you kept telling yourself “Not this weekend, there’s a sale”, “Not this month, peak period” and “Not this year, saving for a bigger car”.

And it doesn’t just stop there. If you fail to recognise the things that truly give you joy, chances are that you will fail to recognise the things that truly give joy to the rest of the world.

Getting a gift for someone is never easy. We can’t read minds.

Sure, you may ask them what they want, but that’s rather spoiling the whole idea of a gift or they may be too embarrassed to reveal their innermost dreams and desires to you anyway.

The true value of a gift is not how much it’s worth to the giver or anyone else, but to the recipient.

How much the person appreciates the gift is a measure of how much you actually know and care for the person.

As noble as our intentions may be, the act of giving itself is simply not enough. Yes, it’s the thought that counts. But with more thought put into a gift, the more value the gift has.

So make your gifts count, be it to your family, friends or lover.

Don’t just go for the safe gifts like chocolates, Hallmark greeting cards, mugs or even expensive jewellery.

Make an effort to think hard about what the person truly wants. It may be something the person never even thought about having.

Don’t just buy something off the shelf. Forget about the price tag.

Be original. Go the distance. Fly to the moon and back. Like writing a song for your girlfriend that she can tell everybody this is her song. Don’t just say “I Love You”, say “I Love Us”.

Sometimes, the greatest gift is simply changing the way we treat others. Like being more obedient to your Mum and Dad. Or stop yelling and giving unreasonable deadlines to your employees.

And instead of just giving away monetary handouts such as bonuses, subsidies or salary increases every year, governments should also give its people greater freedom to express themselves.

As a wise prophet once said, man does not live by bread alone.

People should also be entitled to ask questions like “Who is producing and selling this bread, was there an open tender exercise?” and “Why do I only get one loaf, and my neighbour gets two?” without fear of persecution.

Whoever we are, rich or poor, Christmas ultimately serves as a wake-up call for us to change our lives for the better.

It’s the time for us to redeem and reconcile our relationships with people that we care about. It’s a time for us to remember and rekindle the passions in life that we dream about.

There’s something magical about Christmas. It’s the magic that makes us believe in miracles, and make miracles happen. It’s the magic that makes us rediscover our freedom and power to dream.

So, although it’s been said many times, many ways – have yourself a merry little Christmas, for now and always.

The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, visit http://www.malaysianbar.org.my

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Malaysia establishes diplomatic ties with Vatican Papal


Pope Benedict XVI and Malaysia PM Najib Razak in Castel Gandolfo (18 July 2011)

Pope Benedict XVI and Malaysia PM Najib Razak in Castel Gandolfo (18 July 2011) The Vatican said the talks between the two leaders had been “cordial”

The Vatican and Malaysia have agreed to establish diplomatic ties, following a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The move comes after years of talks between the Catholic Church and the government of majority-Muslim Malaysia.

Mr Najib’s visit was said to have been intended to reassure Christians in his country, who have long complained of discrimination.

Ethnic and religious tensions have risen ahead of expected national polls.

On Monday Mr Najib met the Pope at his summer home near Rome.

In a statement, the Vatican said that during their “cordial conversations, the positive developments in bilateral relations were discussed and an agreement was reached to establish diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Holy See”.

The Vatican said the two leaders had also discussed the importance of cultural and religious dialogue for the promotion of peace, Associated Press news agency reports.

Mr Najib’s meeting with the Pope is significant for Malaysia’s Christian community, which makes up about 9% of the population.

Malaysia’s constitution promises freedom of worship to all faiths, but a string of religious disputes in recent years has raised fears among the country’s religious minorities that their rights are being eroded, says the BBC’s Kuala Lumpur correspondent Jennifer Pak.

Pigs heads

In 2009 the authorities tried to enforce a ban on Christians using the word “Allah” when referring to God in the Malay language – Christian leaders said the word had been used in their bibles for decades.

The authorities’ efforts heightened tensions, leading to arson attacks on churches and tit-for-tat defacing of mosques, including the leaving of pigs’ heads at doorways to Islamic prayer halls.

Ramon Navaratnam, who works for a Malaysian inter-faith council, said earlier that forming ties with the Vatican would give the concerns of Christians a better hearing.

“We now will be saying things the way we have, what is right, what is wrong, what we like, what we don’t like about religious freedoms or the lack of it, and we know we will have somebody in the Vatican who would be able to at least talk to them, the government, privately and say ‘look, we can’t accept this. Please moderate your views’,” he said.

Mr Navaratnam said the government could no longer ignore religious minorities, most of whom are ethnically Chinese and Indian.

However, some Malay Muslim groups have become more vocal in demanding privileges and support from the government.

In 2008, Chinese and Indian minorities across Malaysia, who are mainly Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, abandoned the government and voted for the opposition.

Many complained of racism and a lack of religious freedom.

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