Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Kesian (kasihan) Culture

Kasihan (or when spoken sounds like kesian) is well and too alive in our midst today. Actually,, I think we are living in an empathy crazed society. Translated loosely into English kesian means pity, empathy. We empathize way too much today. In school, the practice today is we try to be understanding. We try to empathize... and that's where we ourselves go sesat. Empathy, it seems does not make us do the right thing.

A teacher warns the class at the beginning of the year that work must always be handed in on time. Right from the very first homework, a student fails to complete his homework. He tells the teacher that he had to help with a kenduri over the weekend and could not complete his homework. It's his brother's wedding. Now do you let him off? He expects empathy from you cos it's his brother's wedding. And if you take action, you will seem so unreasonable. So, you let him off the hook because he tells you some story about having to help with the massive cooking and entertaining the guests. The parameters were set earlier, yet when it was broken, we empathize. Punishing him would make us look as if we have no heart. Empathizing with him makes us feel good, look good...

Empathy... I found myself empathizing with my kid back in his teenage years. The more I tried to empathize, the more he learned to work around things. I was trying too hard to be his friend. I've realized this, we go through phases with our kids too. There is a time when we should be friends, but that phase comes after we are parents to them. To be a parent means you have to rebuke, remind... do all the unpopular things first. So that he gets onto the right path, a helpful routine. To get gold, we literally have to wrest it out from the earth. Same goes for diamonds too. You don't get beautiful things without effort. Similarly good kids don't just happen to be there.... somewhere along, someone, some experience need to show them the way...

So empathy... recollections from those who surveyed the Holocaust showed that many of the Nazi soldiers were crying as they sent the Jews to their deaths. Those deaths were horrible deaths... death by gassing, being mowed down, they did all kinds of horrible unimaginable things. Yet those soldiers continued with their task. It seemed that when their personal interest was at stake, empathy does nothing. Duty on the other hand makes men willing to die for their country.

Students misbehave all the time. When you have enforced rules, a better learning environment is created. Troublemakers get less opportunity to drag everyone else down with them. Because there is more empathy and less discipline, recalcitrant students learn that they are able to get away with their disruptive behavior. They are emboldened. Chaos descend after a while. Marginal minds after all follow their equally marginal hearts.

Parents try too much to empathize too. When you empathize you are actually trying to be a friend. A kid needs parents to enforce a certain discipline in his life. I learned it the hard way. In trying to empathize with my boy when he was in his teens, we brought out the little monster in him. I look back into my own childhood and that of many of my friends'. I think our parents instilled into us, first and foremost a sense of duty. When we were too marginal to understand, they made sure that we knew we had a duty to our parents and family. But as I grew older, that sense of duty was slowly transferred to ourselves. It is only with maturity that one is able to differentiate and carry out decisions which we don't feel like doing but know that is needed.

Empathy... It makes us favor people too, our friends and family. We feel for our friends, so we tell them only things we know they'll want to hear. We try not to be harsh because we don't want to break them down. We don't seem to realize that sometimes we need to say the unpleasant things, stand up for the wrong, even sacrifice. Well, sacrifice is perhaps too big to ask for. Say, someone goes up to the pulpit and share in church about how a certain TV station's broadcast has helped her.... The problem is it's an 'illegal' satellite TV station. And no one from the leadership comes out and clarify the issue... That's what is plaguing the Muslims in this country too; the cow head incident, church arson, corruption cases. The sense of duty, it feels, is all mixed up in the cauldron of empathy. Sometimes, it's hard to see whether religious institutions are there because we believe in an eternity or it's just there as a tool to further our own personal agendas.... God just happens to be a good idea to use cos it gets us what we want.

A sense of duty, a sense of empathy... both leave lasting legacies. One ensures that we do what is required and right while the other ensures that we carry out as we feel....

1 comment:

Thomas C B Chua said...

The "kesian" leads to compromise and downfall of character training. Negative "kesian" is a form of child abuse, too. It is pampering ! The "wearing of Pampers/diapers" right through adolescents does not go well with toilet training !

Another weakness is "Orang Kita" mentality which also corrupts character and weakens personality. You know you can get away with it so why bother to obey !