It was certainly a proud moment for many people when they saw the Malaysian flag being hoisted at the stroke of midnight on 31 August 1957. This Sunday we celebrate 57 years since that momentous moment when we proudly declared ourselves Malaysian. After the struggle of many people who gave their lives to this cause, finally we free ourselves from our colonial masters.

A flag whether billowing proudly in the air or flown at half-mast out of respect for a death or a tragedy is a symbol of pride for any country. On the anniversary of independence, school children will be given flags to wave in parades, cars will proudly display the stick flags, and office buildings will unfurl from their windows giant-size flags that are visible from afar.

But have we stopped to wonder what happens to all those flags once the celebration is over? Many of us may have come across little flags lying on the ground, soiled, torn and discarded after a parade. Car owners will remove the flags from their vehicles and cast it aside, the management will instruct the workers to remove the huge banner-like flag and put it away in the store room where it will only be retrieved the following year.

Having pride for our country means more than waving or displaying a flag. It means more than showing our allegiance once a year and then going back to our bickering, accusations, mistrust or inciting religious and racial hatred. It means more than using political means for personal gain.

From political unrest to racial and religious tension to nation-wide tragedy, our country has been bruised and emotionally hurt. For many, hope has turned into despair as they envision a bleak future filled with uncertainty. Talk about migrating to another country is not uncommon these days. Parents who have children studying abroad no longer feel guilty telling them to stay on and find a life there. It is indeed a frightening thought that in decades to come, those who are financially well off will find a new home elsewhere and we are left with only those who have nowhere else to go.

This year alone we have been struck by two tragedies that have something in common – they are unprecedented. Whether you lost a loved one or not in these tragedies, most of us felt a sense of sadness and pain. Tragedies have a strange way of uniting people, no matter what their race or religion, rich or poor.

Unfortunately those who lead this country did not do enough to rally the people to unite and use these unfortunate circumstances to put an end to bickering, insults and bigotry. All that some of them were interested in was to increase their political mileage. So where does this leave us?

Will we ever recapture the innocence of that first ‘muhibbah’ spirit and a sense of allegiance to the country in the same way our forefathers felt hearing Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaiming, ‘Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!’ I would like to believe that it is possible but it is not in the hand of politicians. If we allow our politicians to dictate the agenda, we will become more divided and polarised. It is in our hand – the hands of the ordinary people. So then, the next time you decide to fly the Malaysian flag, remember that we can make a difference… however small the action may be, it will go a long way in recapturing what we had a long time ago and longed for by many today. Selamat Hari Merdeka.