Maintaining courtesy, morality key to nation’s stability

The true spirit of the fifth tenet of Rukun Negara seems to have been lost with the passage of time

22 May 2024 01:00pm
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Photo by 123RF
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Photo by 123RF

KUALA LUMPUR - Harmony and unity are crucial for Malaysia’s diverse social landscape, with the Rukun Negara affirming the values of courtesy and morality as essential to harmonious living among its citizens.

Fifty-four years have gone by since the Rukun Negara (National Principles) was drawn up by the government. However, the true spirit of the fifth tenet (courtesy and morality) seems to have lost with the passage of time, evident in the misconduct among some members of society both in the physical world and in the cyber realm, where harsh words are used freely, insults are hurled and behaviour turns sour, experts said.

"As citizens, we need to give priority to peace and stability of the nation. Division and inter-ethnic strife can occur if the ethics of courtesy and morality are not practised.

"It should be nurtured from school days so that the foundation of being polite and courteous becomes the culture and essence of the people, especially in creating the envisioned Madani (Civil) society," Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Nizam Sahad, a lecturer at the School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia told Bernama in an interview.

According to him, every individual must practise courteous and moral behaviour in social interaction and respect for cultural and religious diversity among the races to ensure Malaysia remains peaceful while avoiding inter-ethnic disputes that could jeopardise national stability.


Rukun Negara was declared on Aug 31, 1970 by the fourth Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Almarhum Tuanku Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Zainal Abidin, to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence.

Elaborating, Mohd Nizam said that from the historical perspective, a year before the declaration, Malaysia witnessed one of the blackest days in the nation’s history as race riots erupted on May 13, 1969, which served as a lesson for the multiracial people to recognise the importance of staying united in order to maintain peace and live in harmony.

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"Hence, one of the principles of Rukun Negara emphasises the aspect of courtesy and morality. In terms of meaning or understanding, courtesy means respect, having manners, and behaving well, while morality is closely related to the meaning of courtesy, which is good customs and civility.

"Therefore, the true meaning and philosophy of the fifth tenet of Rukun Negara demands that the people should always uphold decorum so that society can remain peaceful and harmonious,” he explained.

"With the explosion of technology, the fabric of society has also changed, with many using social media platforms. Etiquette and courtesy still need to be maintained even in the virtual realm, especially when expressing any thoughts, comments, or posts on social media.

Commenting on the matter, Mohd Nizam said that sometimes the written words can be sharper than spoken expression, with today's era witnessing people’s enthusiasm in giving comments and reviews on social media. Therefore, it's important for such etiquette to be nurtured.

"Some individuals don't hesitate to mock and criticise specific individuals. This is because they can 'hide' behind their social media accounts. If approached for a face-to-face conversation, most of them would become more courteous.

"One of the keys to changing this behaviour is empathy. Each of us should possess this quality before writing something. Empathy means putting ourselves in the shoes of the individual we intend to criticise. We should ask ourselves, 'If someone said this to me, would I like it?' We also need to consider the impact if we write something sensitive, sarcastic, or defamatory on social media," he said.


Meanwhile, Senior Lecturer at the Research Centre for History, Politics and International Affairs,

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Dr Mohd Shazwan Mokhtar said the ethics of courtesy and morality is important in building individuals with good character.

He said that a progressive society is not only limited to technological or economic advancements, but also places high value on humanity to enable every individual to work together where beneficial relationships flourish as well as for the environment.

‘"Surely, we do not want to shape a society devoid of human values, resembling soulless robots. Likewise, in social interactions, every word or writing reflects one's personality.

'It is important for us to create a harmonious atmosphere without any doubts or prejudices that can easily arise with words or writing. Perhaps someone's intention is good, but every word and writing can carry different connotations,' he said.

Regarding the decline in ethics among society that are less focused on values of the soul and are vulnerable to cases such as road bullying, Mohd Shazwan said that moral values and ethics need to be sowed and nurtured among Malaysians.

"Today, we need to ensure the integrity of Malaysian society's ethics, encompassing various ethnicities, including in matters of understanding the principles of the Rukun Negara itself. Indeed, manners and moral values need to be instilled as early as the family level up to the community.

"The awareness to educate and become good role models for the younger generation is crucial so that it becomes a norm in their daily practices.

"Our conversations reflect our personalities. Personalities reflect our family backgrounds. This includes both formal and informal education. Likewise, education at the school level should prioritise character formation. This matter should not be taken lightly,' he said.

While navigating the virtual world, Mohd Shazwan said that society should uphold decorum and ethics by ensuring that everything conveyed on social media is true and does not cause doubts.

"This era witnesses social media platforms becoming rapid channels for people to obtain information immediately, not to mention a place where they express views and feelings. Therefore, social media users need to be sensible and wise to distinguish between 'glass' and 'gems.'

"Although some may consider this issue trivial, conflicts or misuse of social media can threaten national security, including relations and tolerance among ethnicities, political and economic stability. Without proper decorum and ethics, even a single post on social media can undermine the harmony we enjoy today," he said.


In ensuring interethnic relations among the citizens of this country, the government adopts various approaches that allow community members to communicate and get to know each other, including through national-level programmes, such as the Unity Debate Competition held almost every year by the Ministry of National Unity.

Addressing the theme ‘Embodying the Rukun Negara’, the 2024 National Unity Minister’s Cup debate competition involving institutions of higher learning, is described by observers as a very good initiative to strengthen the understanding of university students.

"This debate can be used as a medium to shape university students intellectually to achieve the desired goals because intellectual capacity is necessary for them to practise the principles of the Rukun Negara, not only in formal or official gatherings but also in the context of daily life," he added.

According to him, such competitions can shape the identity of students because to debate about the Rukun Negara, they need to conduct in-depth research about the country's history.

"What is learned in school is only basic; that's why many young generations today still do not know the history of the country and only rely on popular media as a source of knowledge," he said.

Mohd Nizam, on the other hand, describes the ministry's debate as a noble effort that can train community members to be vigilant in their behaviour and words.

"This debate programme should be held among various ethnic groups and nations at the school and university levels so that they are accustomed to criticising with full courtesy and morality," he said. - BERNAMA