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.