WORDS MAT­TER AND CAN HURT

We must make ef­fort not to let per­sonal prej­u­dices cloud our judg­ment about what is clearly wrong from right

New Straits Times - - Opinion - john­teo808@gmail.com The writer views de­vel­op­ments in the na­tion, the re­gion and the wider world from his van­tage point in Kuch­ing, Sarawak

SO­CIAL me­dia chat groups have been in the news lately. It is a most telling sign of our times and for those in author­ity, whose busi­ness it as­sumes to have some con­trol over our so­ci­etal nar­ra­tives.

Some will sug­gest it is no busi­ness of those in author­ity over such mat­ters of per­sonal thoughts and think­ing, but I per­son­ally tend to dis­agree that such au­thor­i­ties can or should ease up, es­pe­cially on mat­ters which can se­verely im­pact peace and har­mony in our del­i­cate multi-racial, multi-re­li­gious so­ci­ety.

But, this is more a per­sonal tale of my own ex­pe­ri­ence in a chat group of school old boys and girls, which I only re­cently joined.

A sim­mer­ing con­tro­versy and some de­bate had raged on for some time (or so I gath­ered from some who had been in this group much longer than I have) over the fond­ness of some of the men in the group to tell risqué jokes, which oc­ca­sion­ally de­gen­er­ated into crude locker-room ban­ter.

It prob­a­bly would not have mat­tered much if all was strictly within the con­fines of an all-men chat group.

But there were women (mostly wives, moth­ers and even grand­moth­ers) in the group, and some of them in­vari­ably voiced their dis­quiet and dis­com­fort over all the sex­ist ban­ter. Ap­peals for wiser coun­sel and greater self­con­trol have been fu­tile.

Mat­ters took a de­cided turn for the worse when one of the men aimed a par­tic­u­larly crude re­mark at one of the ladies in the group.

For over a week af­ter that re­mark, noth­ing much hap­pened and this, de­spite some grum­blings and oblique ref­er­ences aired by a few about how un­called for the re­mark had been.

A be­lated apol­ogy came but only af­ter the lady in ques­tion fi­nally let rip a scathing ri­poste to the crude re­mark di­rected to­wards her.

But that, sadly, was not all of it.

Some of the men quickly latched on with re­marks in sol­i­dar­ity with the of­fend­ing fel­low (while of­fer­ing noth­ing to the poor of­fended lady).

Some of these men even felt of­fended by the seem­ing temer­ity of the lengthy re­ply given by the of­fended lady. A not un­com­mon, but per­haps, to­tally un­ac­cept­able case of blam­ing the in­no­cent vic­tim?

Un­for­tu­nate, too, were those who took to im­ply­ing that those who had spo­ken up for the lady in ques­tion should avoid tak­ing a holier-than-thou stance!

This episode is told here only be­cause I pre­sume it to be a most telling vi­gnette and very sad com­men­tary on at least two se­ri­ous mat­ters af­fect­ing our so­ci­ety as a whole, and there­fore, will tend to ex­pose the episode as not al­to­gether unique.

The far more se­ri­ous (and per­haps even more so be­cause plenty seem­ingly take it so cav­a­lierly) has to do with gen­eral sex­ist at­ti­tudes among our men to­wards women.

While many peo­ple in more de­vel­oped coun­tries may have gone to the ex­treme of be­ing ridicu­lously cau­tious over such re­marks (as they are about re­marks per­ceived to be dis­crim­i­na­tory based on race, re­li­gion, gen­der or even po­lit­i­cal views), and have since brought on some­thing of a back­lash against too overtly po­lit­i­cally-cor­rect lan­guage, we as a na­tion, re­main stuck al­most in the Stone Age over such mat­ters!

There may be a gap­ing wound in our cul­ture and so­ci­ety, which is blind to con­tra­dic­tions within our­selves, or is at least far too frivolously and bliss­fully obliv­i­ous to oth­ers.

We tend to think our­selves fully ma­ture adults able to self-reg­u­late and self-po­lice our­selves with little or no need for any hint of “Big Brother” over­see­ing us con­stantly or even pe­ri­od­i­cally.

As this story il­lu­mi­nates, one can­not be so sure.

So­ci­ety at large and lead­ing mem­bers within it must make some real ef­fort not to let our per­sonal prej­u­dices cloud our judg­ment about what is clearly wrong from what is harm­less ban­ter.

It is un­ac­cept­able in po­lite com­pany to di­rect racist or sex­ist re­marks against par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­u­als within any group un­der what­ever cir­cum­stances. Words mat­ter and can hurt, al­most as much as bul­lets!

There may be a gap­ing wound in our cul­ture and so­ci­ety, which is blind to con­tra­dic­tions within our­selves, or is at least far too frivolously and bliss­fully obliv­i­ous to oth­ers.

NYT PIC

It is un­ac­cept­able in po­lite com­pany to di­rect racist or sex­ist re­marks against par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­u­als within any group un­der what­ever cir­cum­stances.

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