AUGUST is an important month in our national calendar. Our Merdeka Day celebration is in August, and runs into September, culminating in the commemoration of Malaysia Day on Sept 16.
It is time once again for Malaysians of diverse races to spare a thought for the significance of "Merdeka" and what it means to all Malaysians.
Come Aug 31 this year, we celebrate 55 years of nationhood.
As we celebrate 55 years of independence, it is imperative for all Malaysians to reflect on our efforts and sacrifices in nation-building, and identify our strengths and weaknesses.
While we want to capitalise on our strengths, we certainly have to overcome our shortcomings as we move on to face the many challenges in this new millennium.
Nation-building is no easy task. It is fraught with challenges and is a long process which requires good and strong leadership, understanding, hard work, sacrifice and commitment.
On looking back, we have accomplished much in terms of modernisation, economic, scientific and technological development.
These accomplishments, though commendable, are not the only determinants for the nation's future.
Strong morals, good family institutions, social justice, the need for harmony and unity and for a caring society are no less crucial to ensure the success of nation-building and sustainability of society.
I have since my school days always regarded "Merdeka" as a historical occasion, freeing the nation from our colonial masters and giving ourselves the right to determine our own future destiny.
Since we achieved independence in 1957, Malaysia has travelled a long way and paved the path for the attainment of racial harmony and unity, which many other countries, including the developed ones, are envious of.
As Malaysians of all races will soon commemorate another anniversary of our independence, allow me to stress once again the very fundamentals that have brought us together -- the principles contained in the Rukun Negara.
The Rukun Negara was formulated in 1970 and sets out to achieve a form of minimum consensus with regard to national aspirations among the various communities in Malaysia, regardless of their geographical location or ethnic character.
The Rukun Negara is our guide for nation-building and should be respected by all. It is a shared vision for national unity. Its principles should always be upheld and practised for we must never take for granted the stability, peace and harmony we have attained so far.
Many people are taking unity for granted. This is not a healthy development; for, in a multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural country like Malaysia, continuous efforts must be made by all Malaysians to nurture unity.
Malaysians must be prepared to reduce their strong sense of ethnicity in order to achieve "Bangsa Malaysia".
Malaysians should start accepting each other as Malaysians regardless of race and religion and should not be preoccupied with ethnic origin.
I always believe that being a Malaysian does not make anyone less a Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan, Iban, etc. The people should be proud to identify themselves first and last as Malaysians.
Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, Trustee, 1Malaysia Foundation