Wanted in Malaysia: EmpathyHow did Malaysia come to this point? Where billions have been spent on national unity programmes, Bangsa Malaysia initiatives and grandiose 1Malaysia schemes and yet EMPATHY for each other is so glaringly missing from daily life.
The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Some may see it as "standing in someone else's shoes" or "seeing through someone else's eyes".
Whatever the definition, implicit in it is a feeling of compassion for another.
If the feeling of empathy courses through the veins of Malaysians, we would be very slow to ridicule the religious practices of another or even place each other in racial pigeonholes. Very slow. Because we would feel the hurt that a wayward word or action could cause another group of Malaysians.
In addition, we would be quick to condemn or disapprove of behaviour not in keeping with our national psyche.
That is why the incident at SK Seri Pestina in Sungai Buloh is disappointing, depressing and frankly, deflating.
Why couldn't the headmaster put himself in the shoes of the non-Muslim students and see how wrong it was to make them have their canteen break in a shower room during the fasting month?
Why didn't the afternoon school supervisor put himself in the shoes of the parent who complained about the insensitive and unsatisfactory eating arrangement?
Why didn't any of the teachers tell the headmaster or school supervisors that no Malaysian child should be treated in this manner in his own country?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that an increasing number of Malaysians have grown calluses in our hearts and that as long as hardship or injustice does not affect our kin, it is not something to be concerned about.
Unfortunately, in the Malaysia of today, our speed of response and empathy is dictated by race or religion, not citizenry or the simple fact that offering a helping hand or fighting for the cause of another is the right thing to do.
Perhaps, it is a by-product of looking at everything in this country through racial and religious lenses and believing that everything is a zero-sum game. Perhaps it is a natural progression from a country where racial polarisation has reached a point where colour of skin trumps place of birth.
Today, the children at SK Seri Pestina will be allowed to consume their food in the canteen. Not because the school administrators suffered an attack of conscience but because they are obeying an order from the Education Ministry. No empathy here just a grudging respect for the power on hiring and firing which the ministry possesses.
In slightly over a month, the Malaysian government will put on another grand parade to celebrate Merdeka, roll out a couple of heart-tugging Petronas advertisements of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Sikhs and Kadazandusuns smiling and hugging each other.
Increasingly, that picture of postcard-perfect happiness and love for each other only belongs in postcards and in advertisements.
In most parts of Malaysia, empathy is missing. - July 24, 2013.