Monday, March 20, 2006

Speaking damage

Recently, I was at a Christian event where the speaker recounted a painful event in his youth when someone passed an insensitive comment about his appearance. He didn't look at his image in the mirror for 2 or 3 years, I forget which.

What I found disturbing was when he concluded the story with the statement that from then on, he has made it a point never to pass comments on another person's appearance, people laughed. When he elaborated that this is because you never know what damage you'll cause with your comments, they laughed again.

Now, I have made fun of someone else's acne before. I was a little brat, maybe about 8 or 9 at the most. I regretted it when I was a little older, maybe because by then I had to deal with acne myself. Now that I'm quite a lot older, I regret it because it was just plain ugly, having a laugh at the expense of another person's feelings.

But the audience at this event were mostly adults. Well-educated adults. Groomed, successful, eloquent. Those whom I know, I like a lot. Shouldn't they know better?

The powerful tongue
It made me wonder, how many of us actually care what effects our spoken words will cause? King Solomon said once that life and death are in the power of the tongue, and they didn't name him the wisest man ever for nothing.

Malaysians in particular, I think, are good at saying what they think, and hang the consequences. Why else do you hear people telling children they've just met, children they don't even know, "Wah, so fat lah you, you like eating a lot, ah?" Or the infamous "Why you don't eat [fried chicken; chocolate; peanuts, etc]? Scared of pimples ah? Ya lor, oily skin like you, better be careful."

Did I somehow miss a memo that was passed round, giving all of us free licence to say whatever we please about anyone we like?

We're supposed to be civilised. Could we maybe learn to let up on each other and give up the childish tendency to make remarks about an acquaintance's skin/body size/dressing/eating habits unless we're actually asked for our opinions?

'I'm not going to feel ugly all by myself!'
Sadly enough, I think, the real reason why so many Malaysians feel they must make negative comments about other people is that it's the only way they can feel good about themselves. Somewhere along the way, our society has failed to make known that it's all right to be and love yourself, warts and all.

Maybe if every single person in the country, from the auntie who sweeps leaves off the road to the big deal corporate director, knew how beautiful and unique he or she was, we'd all just be a lot happier.

And social occasions would be much more fun because we'd know that nobody was going to remark that we'd gained weight since coming back from overseas, or suggest a special face cleanser to get rid of blackheads.

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