Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Analysis of the Wang Hantaran Fight

Last Saturday, an unfortunate incident happened where two families fought over what the media said was the wang hantaran (gift money) for a would-be wedding. Like a wildfire, the social media took this story to another level.

There are many things that I could say and want to say about this story, but I want to focus mainly on our reaction to it.

As you are reading this, it is possible that the people involved in this story are already sorry about what they did and they want to move on with their lives. Unfortunately, it is a bit difficult to do that since the video of the incident already went viral and people are talking about it.

I was a bit doubtful whether I should join the conversation by writing this blog post due to the risk of drawing more attention to it. But in the spirit of hoping that we improve the way we conduct ourselves when something "hot" like this happens, I decided to write about it anyway.

It became difficult to ignore. I noticed it when suddenly a few of my friends shared the same story on social media. It is not common that I scroll my timeline and see the same story twice or thrice within one scroll. Evidently, many people in our society gravitate easily towards these kinds of story. My question is: why?

I don't know for sure, but one of the possible reasons could be our tendency to love sensational news. Like a hot gossip story, we swarm to it like locusts. Understandably so, since sensational news is inherently interesting and we are most probably invested in the subject matter at some level. But we have to be careful with sensationalization, because it can easily shape our perception of what is happening. More importantly, it can easily dictate how we emotionally react to it.

Like the wang hantaran fight story, we weren't there to witness it, we only heard about it from secondary or tertiary sources. On top of that, the viral video of the incident only showed us the fight. It didn't show us what happened before or after it. It only showed us what is sensational to our eyes.

We have to ask ourselves a simple question: am I responding to the actual news, or am I responding to the sensationalization of it? A good way to differentiate between the two is to observe our reaction to the news. Is it immediate? Is it emotional? Is it grounded on facts? Is it based upon any sound reasoning or purpose?

Sensational news sells like crazy, because it is sensational. At some point, that is what some news media wants: they want to sell. Why do you think tabloids are doing so well, even after so many years? You would think that it gets old after some time, but no. We keep on buying it.

If we calm our emotions down and take a step back, we realize that there isn't much that we know about the wang hantaran fight. There are many other variables that we didn't consider (or thought about) before we make our judgment about the people involved. Truth is, we don't know enough to make a judgment. But we still judge them, didn't we?

When we see something that is wrong, it is easy to negatively judge the people involved, especially if we don't know those people and we don't know the circumstances they were in. Psychologically, judging others can make us feel good. When you look down upon people, you are simultaneously, consciously or not, putting yourself on a higher ground. It gives us that holier-than-thou feeling and it feeds the ego.

If that is not the textbook definition of arrogance, then I don't know what is.

Am I saying that the people involved are innocent? No. I am simply saying that I don't know enough to make a well-informed and fair judgment.

On groom's side, it looked like the bride's family made an unreasonable demand and that led to the fight. Seemed like the groom was oppressed. But on the bride's side, it looked like the groom's family already agreed to a deal but then didn't follow through, and they were rude about it. Now, it seemed like the bride was oppressed.

All we know is what witnesses of the event told us, and there seems to be a discrepancy in the witnesses' testimonies. For example, who started it? The person in the video said it's the bride's side, but the bride herself said it's the groom's side. This brings us to another question: how reliable are these testimonies? Have we considered potential biases?

Which one is right? How do I choose a side? Here's the thing: you don't have to choose a side, especially when the facts are unclear. It is understandable that we want to pick a side. But when we don't have enough information about it, then perhaps it is better to keep our judgment silent or to simply default to positive thoughts.

Plus, it is simply not our job to judge who is wrong or right. Let them deal with it in court if they want to, and ultimately, let us leave them alone. Give these people the space and the time to learn from their mistakes and move on. It is none of our business.

So what now? Am I saying that we should just ignore the story? Yes, and no.

Yes, we should ignore the story in the sense that we don't bring it up every now and then just to make small chit chats. We should just let this incident go and move on. Lets refrain ourselves from making silly jokes and unnecessary parodies about this. If we can't make the situation better, then please don't make it worse.

Ideally, we should not even record the video to begin with. When someone is experiencing an emotional outburst, there is a good chance that the person is not thinking straight. That could lead the person to do things that he or she wouldn't normally do. Later, usually the person regrets it and makes amends. Emotional eruptions can happen to anyone. It could happen to you or to me.

It is quite inappropriate for someone to record that moment of weakness. It is even more inappropriate when that moment of weakness is shared widely in public. This issue should not be in the news to begin with. This family issue should be dealt with within the family, without the background chatter coming from the rest of the society.

If the video is recorded as evidence for the court, then that is understandable. But it shouldn't be out for the public to see, because this is a matter of people's dignity. Would you like it if the same thing happens to you? I wouldn't like it. If I am experiencing a moment of weakness, I want people to help me. Not record me, and make it viral.

Having said that, we should not ignore the story in the sense that it is already out there and we need to deal with it as unified members of the society. This is not a Muslim problem or a Malaysian problem. This is simply a human problem, so we are on the same boat.

Many groups have issues with marriage and money, not just Muslims or Malaysians. Getting to the bottom of this issue is a different conversation altogether. It is a much needed conversation and it has to be conducted maturely.

However, we can still gain something from this story as individuals. But first, we have to change the perspective in which we look at this story. Instead of looking at it from a self-satisfaction perspective, where we highlight how wrong they are and how right we are (going back to the aforementioned holier-than-thou feeling), we should look at it from the perspective of self-reflection.

If we can't do much to counsel the people involved, then the very least we can do is to shower them with our good thoughts. Don't think less of them, just because of one incident. As for ourselves, try to take lessons from it for our own self-improvement. In other words, learn from their mistakes.

If we were in the same situation, under the same circumstances, would we behave the same way or would we behave better? If we are being honest, we don't know the answer to that question, since many of us haven't experienced the same situation and the same circumstances before.

I, personally, can't say with 100% certainty that I would behave better than the people in the video. I am not saying that I want to behave that way, but I just don't know how I would behave in such an emotionally intense situation and I am scared of myself. I am scared of the possibility that I might lose control and succumb to the power of the situation. It has happened before. In fact, it has been documented in the famous Stanford Prison Experiment.

In the experiment, normal people like you and me were chosen to act like guards or prisoners. These people were rounded up and divided randomly into the guard group and the prisoner group. Then, they just acted out their role in the experiment. Over time, the guards started to behave beyond what is prescribed in the experiment. Long story short, they stopped acting and they started becoming.

They treated the acting prisoners like they were actual prisoners. The prisoners stopped acting as well. Things became real and so out of control, that they had to cut the experiment short. A number of individuals from both groups required therapy afterwards, due to the traumatizing experience. The lesson from the experiment was simple but not simplistic: never underestimate the power of the situation.

None of the people in the experiment were violent people, but the situation has encouraged them to act violently. This is not to say that we can blame the situation 100%, but it is important to note how powerful a situation can be. Just like the situation in the wang hantaran fight.

So we shouldn't feel holier-than-thou when reading a story about a fight over wang hantaran. Yes, it looks silly. It even sounds silly. But it is possible that the same thing could happen to us. We should feel fear. We fear the possibility that we might behave the same way, or worse, if we were in the exact same situation.

Perhaps having that fear would make us more careful and more aware of our choices. That would be our best defence against acting foolishly, in an emotionally intense situation. Hopefully, looking at the situation from this perspective will make us see the people involved not with the eyes of contempt, but with the eyes of compassion.

Friday, March 25, 2016

If You Publicize Your Good Deed, Then You Are Not Sincere. Really?

I've been thinking about sincerity and what it truly means.

Some might think that sincerity simply means that you do something in secret or you hide your actions from people. Although that is somewhat true, I don't think it's the whole picture. Sincerity might not be that simplistic.

You could be hiding your actions, but still be insincere. How? For example, if you hide your actions such that you want people to call you sincere or humble or righteous. In such a case, you're not sincere.

On the other hand, you could publicize your actions but still be sincere if the publicity doesn't matter to you. In such a case, you are considered to be sincere right? Even though the whole world knows what you did.

So is sincerity simply means hiding our actions? That could be a part of it, but it is not the defining characteristic of sincerity. I think the defining characteristic of sincerity is in the intention.

If we intend to do it for none other than Allah, then we are sincere. It doesn't really matter if we publicize it or not, because the true measure of sincerity is in the intention. It is in the heart, beyond the sights of people.

Our state shouldn't change whether we publicize it or keep it secret, because we don't do it for any type of recognition from people. We do it for Allah, and He is present whether we are in public or in private.

That is sincerity.

Having said that, another question arises: can we know if someone is sincere or not? Since we already established that sincerity is in the intention, so in the grand scheme of things, we don't really know for sure. We can't say with 100% certainty about a person's sincerity.

However, what is in the heart can show on the limbs. Meaning, it is possible that we can see signs of sincerity. But again, these are just signs. They point towards a possibility of sincerity. At the end of the day, we cannot know for sure. Only Allah and the person know that.

What's my point?

I just want to highlight the idea that sincerity might not be as simplistic as not publicizing our actions. Therefore, we shouldn't be quick to conclude that a person is insincere just because he or she publicized something on social media.

On the other hand, we also have to keep in mind how tricky sincerity can be, because it is tightly linked to our intention. Just like the Prophet's prayer, our hearts is tossing and turning.

"O Turner of Hearts, turn our hearts to your obedience." (Muslim, no. 2654)

Meaning, our intention can change from moment to moment. One moment we might be doing it for Allah. The next moment we might be doing it for something or somebody else. So we have to guard our intention securely and always review it closely from time to time.

Whether we want to hide an action or publicize it, think twice (or more) about why we are doing what we are doing, and be honest about it. If we are doing it for Allah, then the people around us shouldn't affect our actions.

Lastly, don't be so quick to label people as sincere or insincere, because we don't have the concrete evidence to prove it. We can have good thoughts about people and thinking that they are sincere. Obviously, good thoughts about our fellow brothers and sisters is highly encouraged.

But at the end of the day, we don't really, truly know what is in a person's heart. I am not encouraging people to post everything they do online, nor am I encouraging people to keep everything a secret.

If a person wants to publicize a good deed that he did, then let him be. Think good of the person. If a person wants to keep it a secret, then leave him alone. Think good of the person.

Their sincerity is their business. As people who care, we can advice them. But we shouldn't assume anything about their state, since we don't know the reality of it for sure. If we don't know, then we shouldn't act like we know.

Avoid focusing too much attention on something we can't know for sure. We can't know for sure what is in their hearts. But, we can definitely know for sure what is in our own hearts. So perhaps it is better if we focus on that instead.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Does Your Child Cry When You Leave For Work?

I am grateful to be in a position where I can babysit my own child. I am fully aware that not everybody has that luxury. Many have to leave their children in the care of nannies and nursery homes, not because they don't love their children. Rather, it is because their current socioeconomic condition is such that they have to make that arrangement, and in their best calculation, they have decided that to be the best course of action to take.

I have nothing but respect for these people. They go to work in order to make an honest living, just to provide for the people they love at home. How can you not respect such people? Some of those respected people are my neighbours. Day in and day out, I witness them go to work early in the morning, leaving their children behind. Often times, the little ones are crying as they see their mothers and fathers walk away from them.

No parents would want to see their children cry. Above all, no parents would want to be the cause that their children cry. But in a situation where they have to be in that position, I can only imagine the heartbreak as they leave their children at home in the care of another. If there is any other viable option where they don't have to do that, I have no doubt that they will drop everything and be with their children who need them the most. No doubt.

But this post isn't intended to talk about them, but it is intended to talk to them because in the midst of the nobility of their work, there is something that I think should change: the way they leave their children behind. I understand that they have to leave their children to go to work, but that doesn't mean that they have to be unnecessarily harsh when they do it.

Often times I see them trying to silence their children from crying. That is understandable. When children cry, surely parents to want their children to stop crying. Children crying, especially in public, can be a bit embarrassing and if they don't cry in public, it is still not a pleasant experience to endure.

Having said that, it is not cool to make our children feel bad about crying. Often times I see parents use shame (e.g. Why are you crying, look at the other kid. He's not crying, is he?) or fear (e.g. If you keep on crying, you won't get candy!) to stop the children from crying. Is this the best course of action? What type of feeling are we developing inside our children with that kind of response?

Lets turn over a new leaf.

I think we can make the experience more tolerable. We still wouldn't enjoy it, but at least we can go through it without losing our cool or making our children feel bad. The basis for this is simple, but not simplistic: understand why our child cries. I believe understanding the other is one of the best ways to start handling frictions between two people. In this case, it is between us and our child. When frictions arise, the first step is to get out of our own small world.

We see life through our lens and our perspective makes sense for us. That's fine. The problem comes when we use the same lens to understand the perspective of others when that perspective is generated from a different lens. Our child has a perspective, based on how he sees the world. We need to tap into that world, by first consciously exiting ours.

After that comes step two: try to enter our child's world. People don't do things without a reason. Everything must have a reason, a motivation, behind it. Our child cries for a reason. On the surface level, the easiest reason to figure out is that our child simply doesn't want us to go. He wants us to stay.

At this stage, we might be thinking, "Doesn't he understand that I have to work? To provide for the family?" If we haven't gone through step one (getting out of our small world), then this might be a reflex thought that pops up. But if we have gone through step one, then we should know better that a child doesn't understand that we have to work. In a child's world, he just wants us to be there for him.

In time, perhaps he will understand. But for now, he doesn't. So we, as the adult, should be more careful with how we react to his behaviour. We can't react as if our child can understand why we have to leave. A child has no ability to enter into the mind of the other, yet. That is soon to be developed. A child is inherently egocentric, meaning that he can only perceive his world and his world only. His world is his reality and the only reality.

In his reality, we are leaving him behind and that makes him sad. On one hand, we might choose to get annoyed because our child doesn't understand. On the other hand, we can choose to appreciate his reaction and show compassion instead. Because we know our child has developed the ability to understand the other yet, but we have.

On the surface level, he wants us to stay. On a deeper level, he wants us to stay because he loves us. If we think about it, isn't that better than if he doesn't care if we stay or not? Imagine a situation where our child doesn't cry. It makes no difference to him whether or not we are there or disappear from his sight.

Imagine that. Isn't that heartbreaking for us, as parents?

Obviously, this isn't an encouragement to make our children cry. But this is simply a call to understand and to show compassion. If we understand why they shed tears as they see us leaving, then we wouldn't see it as annoying. We would see it as a sign of love, and we should reciprocate with more love.

Next time, give them a warm hug before you leave.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Taking Pictures Without Permission

I was at a rest stop with my wife on a 7-hour road trip. We were having a meal. Soon after that, I received a message online from a person who knew who I was and he/she saw us at the rest stop. The person was a fan, but he/she was shy to approach and greet me.

That's okay, I understand that. But what I don't understand is that this person secretly took a picture of my wife and I, having our meal, and posted it online. I felt violated and a bit scared, because a stranger had just taken a picture of my family, without me knowing it.

From time to time, I like to bring my family to gatherings of knowledge so that they can benefit from the gathering. It is an educational experience that I want my family to be a part of, and I want them to feel accustomed to going to beneficial events.

In one such occasion, I was the invited speaker. I brought my family along with me. My wife and my son sat at the back. Partly because my wife is shy and she doesn't like the attention, and partly because if my baby son cries, she can easily exit from the back without disturbing the other audience members.

After the event, my wife told me that some of the girls in the audience were playing with my son and they wanted to hold him. I understand that. Babies are cute. But what surprised me a bit was that they took pictures and selfies with my son without our permission. What is more surprising (and a bit scary) is that I found one of those pictures online.

To be fair, the content of the picture was not inappropriate, but the act of taking the picture without our permission was indeed inappropriate. I understand that they have no ill intentions, and I am not accusing them of anything. I am simply trying to convey a simple message: please ask permission before you take pictures of other people.

This has been a common sense thing for me ever since I can remember, so I didn't think that I have to mention it. But seeing that the common sense may not be that common anymore, I have to speak up. I understand why people do it, considering that cameras are everywhere these days and we publicly share our lives more today than ever before.

I try my best not to see previous generations as necessarily better at everything compared to the current generation because both grew up in different circumstances. Each generation has their own unique challenges to deal with. With the current generation, I think gadgets is a huge challenge.

In the book “Focus” by Daniel Goleman, the author mentioned in the first few pages of the book how gadgets are negatively affecting our social skills, particularly since we are spending more screentime (looking at screens) than facetime (interacting face-to-face with people).

To extrapolate on what Goleman mentioned in his book, it is possible that some common sense things that we naturally pick up from social interactions are becoming less and less common, because people aren't having meaningful social interactions like they did before the advent of gadgets and social media (how ironic is the name).

One teacher I know complained about how her students aren’t understanding some basic mannerisms. For example, some of her students take selfies in the class…while she’s teaching. I understand that selfies is a normal thing now and I do myself in my personal life, but rudeness should never be normalized.

With pictures, there are some basic mannerisms as well. One of which is to ask permission before taking someone else’s picture. Why? Because you are “taking” his/her picture. Meaning, you are taking something from the person. If you don’t ask permission, then it can be considered as a form of stealing.

What are you stealing? You are stealing the person’s privacy. Privacy is an individual right, and it should be respected regardless of who the person is. It is only in few specific circumstances where you can take a person's picture without asking for permission. But generally speaking, the default should always be to ask first.

I understand that there are people who are okay with their pictures being taken, with or without permission. But just because some people are okay with it doesn't mean that everyone is okay with it. Whether the person thinks it's a big deal or not, it is safer to ask permission first. I mean, it is a polite social gesture and you really have nothing to lose by asking.

So if you want to take a picture of the person, please ask for his/her permission first. If you want to take a picture of someone’s child, please ask permission from the parents first. Don’t ever assume that the person is simply okay with it just because taking pictures and sharing everything is a trend. Not everybody is a trend follower.

But what if the person says “No”?

Well, that is his/her right and you don’t really have a say in the matter. It is not considered rude if a person refuses to take a picture with you or refuses to allow you to take a picture of their child (provided that the person refuses politely), so there really is no strong reason for you to feel offended.

What is considered rude, intentionally or not, is that you secretly take people’s pictures or pictures of their children without their permission. Furthermore, it is even more rude when you post the pictures online and spread them around like it’s no big deal.

Violating someone’s privacy is a serious thing.

Think of it this way: would you like it if it happens to you?