Friday, February 19, 2010

Can you Imagine?

I believe one of the costs of the over-stimulation of modern minds and bodies is the effect of desensitization  on individuals.

When we see gory pictures of mangled bodies in the news, uncensored and watched by children and adults alike, what we get is people on the streets gawking like idiots at dead bodies strewn across the road in accident scenes. Wow, it really does look like that, huh? Some even pull out phone cameras or text their friends about the sight they are witnessing.

Any respect for the dead or those they left behind is thrown out the window. Nobody shields the eyes of their young who witness not only horrible death, but adults reacting like it's a sideshow.

It's something that reminds me of what many Malaysians who have travelled have noticed about their fellow non-travelling Malaysians: how they take photographs.

The idea of taking a travel photograph is to capture an image that serves to remind you of the memories you are creating while on holiday or working - whatever reasons you're away. But oftentimes, travelling Asians (yes, it's a weirdly Asian thing which includes Malaysians) I've seen while living abroad just take pictures of themselves. Themselves in front of the store display on a busy shopping street. Themselves in front of a fountain. The idea is that for them, the picture is proof. "I was here". It's a claim, a souvenir.

I'd hear comments from my local Australian friends which ranged from confusion ("how come they're taking pictures of themselves when the Swan Valley is there in all it's glory behind them?") to disgust at the rampant vanity of the situation. I couldn't explain it then, but I think I can now.

Well, nowadays, camwhoring is a fun way to fill up your camera, but it ain't an Asian thing, it's a  fabulosity thing! If you've ever wondered why it's all Malaysians blocking up walkways at the KLCC taking pictures of themselves leaning on the balcony of the atrium (instead of the display in it or the towers themselves) - now you know. It's proof. I hardly see non-Asians doing that. Have you?

Hubby Boo now understands this phenomenon, because he himself has become the display. Fans, well-meaning, some polite and some rather rude, stop him for photos which he is usually happy to oblige them with. But then, the amount of time we have spent as a family waiting for the fans to get happy with the pose they want, the configuration of who stands next to him etc - we his family are forced to forfeit private time with him, and he begins to feel like a zoo animal. Why? Because they are more concerned with the souvenir they are getting ("the proof") than the time they are spending with him. They could be asking him questions about himself, glean information about his work. No. they spend it arranging themselves to look good.

I'm not judging the fans. I'm judging the cultural attitude. It's the same attitude which perpetuates shallow interaction, non-feeling judgments and unsympathetic moralism.

When you cannot imagine what the other person is feeling, you have lost touch with your humanity. You are simply drifting along on the currents of life, without imbuing meaning into your own life.

If you've ever felt passionate about something, and then been ridiculed for having silly dreams, you could say that would have been a first step towards numbing yourself to the pain of the ridicule. Listen to the way you speak to your family, or the way they speak to you. Is it all about putting each other down for having an unusual, even a stupid thought? How often do you hear, "oh, that's an interesting way of thinking of it. What an amazing brain you have!"

Hubby Boo does get some people inquiring after him when they meet. If they make rude inquiries, they get a rude answer. They could either say to themselves, "well, I deserved that for being rude" or "see, all artistes are/Afdlin Shauki is an asshole(s), so next time I will just take my picture (even though I don't like them, but at least I can show my friends as I have proof) and not bother with the fact that I am taking up their time". You learn to see what people are thinking, because they don't realise that they are being read, just like the many before them.

Some are very polite, realise they are infringeing on personal family time, and apologise for interrupting. I know it takes guts to approach a famous stranger, and actually even more guts to acknowledge that you  are taking up their time, and saying that you feel bad about it. I really do appreciate people who see the truth of the situation, acknowledge it and are prepared to vocalise about it.

Which comes to the reason of my post - which is about something on a much bigger scale.

Can you imagine?

Can you put yourself in the shoes of the victim? Can you sympathise with the blighted few? Can you empathise with the families of people lost to senseless violence, war and poverty?

It's hard to do, because it brings you down. It also means that as a normal human being, you wish you could do something. It makes you care.

The tough thing about caring is that when you don't want to care or must move on because you can't, the guilt of not caring weighs even more heavily. Once you're past caring though, life is back to facebooking and camwhoring and counting the blood spatter drops at the next accident.

In Islam, seeking knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim. I take this not only to mean scientific, technical or informational knowledge, but knowledge of each other, of humanity, of the whole of the world we live in. When we numb ourselves to experience, we are losing ourselves to the numbness.

This ties, I think, with the idea of moderation in Islam. For example, anger, or even consumption of alcohol. Both states of excess will create a sense of abandonment of the self, an "insanity" one may say, in which we behave in ways we would not when "sane", emotionally sober, or sober of alcohol. You can very well imagine this - when rage consumes you so much, you strike someone, or say something cruel, something you would not normally do in a calm state. This momentary loss of self is what I believe the idea of moderation in Islam is about, and guards against.

So I say this: if we are continually over-stimulating ourselves with the detritus of the modern age (useless information, entertainment, crowds, crime, whatever), aren't we practising excess? Shouldn't we be moderating, balancing our lives with real human emotional relationships and actions?

That is, being MINDFUL?

So, next time you are tempted to dismiss injustices, crimes and moral corruption as "just a part of our lives, so live with it and shut up", think of those whose families were destroyed by these injustices, then gone unnoticed or ignored by the watching, silent public. You.

Think twice when reading the news - information manipulation is very sophisticated and has been used for centuries to incite wars, hatred and injustice everywhere. Just because some of our leaders were born Muslim does not make them any higher on the moral stepladder than those of you out there also born Muslim.

You have every right to think for yourself - to seek knowledge. If we are to judge anyone, let it be by their actions and not by their birthright or by their empty words.

Better yet, let us reserve judgment, ALL of us, because not one of us is pure or perfect.



pye:rudz said...

hmm... i think i know just the person who inspired you to write this entry. ah, let me just reserve my thought ;)

mamasan said...

Haha! Funny la lu! Thanks for stopping by.


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