Freedom to fear — Christine SK Lai

JANUARY 9 — There’s something disconcerting about a democracy that cultivates fear in the name of equal rights.

Somebody shoots off his/her mouth carelessly on social media and ends up being fired. Certainly I don’t support rude, uncouth, crude, crass or totally uncalled for remarks about another human being, no matter what my personal opinion is about their person or the things they do or don’t do. So yes, I think some people say some pretty distasteful, disgusting and sometimes dumb things. But then, that’s democracy, isn’t it? – the right to say and/or do anything, as long as it’s not a crime. If there are elements of a crime, then let the authorities do what they are supposed to do. That’s how my simple mind processes the concept anyway.

To put it in practical terms... if you object to what I say – when I am exercising my right to speak –  you can call up your ‘like – minded gang’ and march on the streets or at my work-place and demand my boss fire me. That’s your right after all. Everybody’s equal, and equally exercising their democratic rights. No problem –  except for the boss who is dragged into a most unsavoury situation, concerning an employee’s conduct during non-working hours regarding non work-related issues.

Of course the normal employment contract couches actionable misconduct in very wide terms. So I guess it would be well within the rights of every employer to terminate a worker who does anything that can or may adversely affect its reputation, business, or  operations.

Certainly having a mob of demonstrators brandishing memos outside your office building isn’t exactly desired publicity or good advertising PR. Might as well just let go the one who created this troublesome situation in the first place. After all, it’s legally justifiable. Too bad if that employee was a good worker in all other aspects.

The lesson for all employees is simple –  watch your mouth or rather your fingers when you hit the keyboard with your so-clever (you think) comment on this, that or the other, lest you find yourself being the subject of protests, hate-mail or worse on the chopping board of your boss. In short, if you value your job, shut your mouth (and your brain?) is the safest policy. Likewise for employers, maybe there should be an express clause to prohibit employees from disclosing company details on social media. But I doubt that would work, in a world where everybody’s so ‘connected’, where deleting posts or even accounts can’t hide what can be captured instantly by a screen-shot and viral-ed the next second.

I wonder, is all that democracy or fear ? It’s almost like the public at large can – when it makes enough ‘noise’ – actually hold a private company to ransom to demand a private employee be fired for exercising the right to express an opinion, which is deemed ‘insulting’, ‘annoying’, or just plain disagreeable. In fact it’s become so ludicrous outsiders can ‘insist’ a person be fired, and not just be allowed to quietly resign. No matter that we are talking of not just putting a person out of a job but labelling that one as guilty of professional misconduct – how would you like that on your reference/resume?

Sure, those who dare speak up should be prepared to face whatever consequences – that’s how the cookie crumbles. But I can’t help wondering, in the democratic process, what happened to mercy and grace for people we find ‘unlikeable’ (whom in all honesty we really don’t think too highly of), who hold vastly different opinions from us?

I guess as far as humanity goes, mercy and grace are reserved for the spiritual realm, although I distinctly remember the Bible exhorts me to be merciful , even as God is merciful.

It’s so easy to be provocative, although we may not intend to be. By the same measure, it’s also so very easy to allow ourselves to be provoked and to react in (perceived) defence of race, religion and matters dear to our hearts, which others may not share.

How sad we cannot accept that humans – whether they be leaders or ordinary people in the street – can and do make mistakes. We expect ‘our’ rights to be respected, and woe to anyone who dare trample on our tails. How tragic we can’t be big-hearted enough to accept apologies tendered and amends made, but like Shakespeare’s revengeful Shylock demand ‘our’ pound of flesh, according to ‘our’ rights. We even expect miracles of a transformed nation and a united society just because we democratically voted in a new government. Is it so difficult to exercise patience and forbearance, to build up instead of tear down people who may not “have-it-all-together”?

I have a rather naïve theory that the problem with Malaysians is the preoccupation with this thing called ‘ours’, because it is unfortunately taken to mean ‘versus’ i.e. in opposition or against ‘others’. Inevitably, we end up fighting everyone else over everything.

So I wonder what good is democracy if at the end of the day, all it produces is anger and fear?

*This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

Related Articles