The anarchy of bad manners


Marina Mahathir, The Star

I’M usually quite unshockable but occasionally I see something that really knocks my socks off. That was my reaction upon seeing a video recently. It was not pornography or anything mildly like it but it was still horri­fying.

In the video, two Caucasian men found that their car had been blocked by a pasar Ramadan stall.

Understandably they asked the stall owner how they might get the car back.

Less understandably, the stall owner started screaming and shoving at them.

Others joined them and all were shouting and manhandling these two men.

Some even yelled at them to “balik lah …” (go home), although it is unclear where to.

What was shocking to me, besides the fact that this was obviously during Ramadan when we are meant to exercise restraint, was the sheer over-reaction to something which could have been resolved so easily.

Surely it is reasonable to ask someone who is blocking your car what to do about it?

Surely the response should have been an apology, followed by an explanation of when the stall would pack up for the night, thereby releasing the car.

What was the need for all the shouting, screaming and shoving?

I don’t think any civilised person watching this video could have felt anything but embarrassed, as I did.

What has happened to the sopan santun (manners) that we are known for, more so during Ramadan?

I grew up having manners drilled into me and if there’s one thing I am old-fashioned about, that would be it.

So I find it hard to understand when people are rude for no apparent reason.

Those who follow me on social media will recall a recent episode when I had to give a little lesson in courtesy to a young man.

He has since apologised and I’m sure it wasn’t normal behaviour for him.

But where would young people learn about manners but from adults?

When we have parliamentarians saying the rudest things to fellow Members of Parliament and mostly getting away with it, when we have adult men who think it’s funny to go shake their posteriors at a woman’s house, when we have people flying off the handle over the simplest things, why would not our young also devalue courtesy and politeness?

If you’re polite, it is not news and you don’t become famous.

But if you’re crass and crude, you get headlines and everyone remembers your name.

There may be reasons for rage but what I don’t get is the infantile way it gets expressed.

Name-calling, jeering and shoving is the way of juvenile hooligans, not mature adults.

Have we regressed to such a childlike state that those are the only ways we can express rage?

What next, mass foot-stomping?

Everything today points towards a society that is encouraged to express itself in mob-like behaviour.

One person needs to just say that they are offended by something and for no rhyme or reason, entire hordes of people decide that they should be offended, too.

Indeed they even look at ways to be offended.

And when you have leaders who say that the onus is on minorities to behave a certain way so as not to offend the majority, what else could you expect in response?

Are we all supposed to live in such a way that we constantly have to look out for offen­ces imagined in other people’s heads?

Every time we go out, are we supposed to be always on the lookout for ways to avoid offending total strangers?

We might go to a government department where, as taxpayers, we may reasonably expect fast and efficient service.

Instead we are treated as if we are offensive creatures because of our choice of clothes.

How does the sight of anyone’s legs affect the efficiency of the service?

If such a sight was too distracting, even through an opaque desk, then there is something wrong with the person serving the customer, not the customer herself.

Why do people whose salaries depend on us paying our taxes get to play both fashion and moral police?

All this could so easily be solved if we had the type of leadership who would come out and say that we should all stop this nonsense about petty things and focus instead on more important issues.

For example, how to get our currency to rise again, or how to manage the high cost of living, or how we can work on bringing people together, rather than tearing them apart.

But obviously, with a leadership so silent they might as well not exist, the anarchy of bad manners continues unabated. Is it a symptom of something?

Do people get ruder because they feel rudderless?

Doesn’t anyone want to know?

Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. The views expressed here are entirely her own.