Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Confront Your Assumptions


Undergraduate Surekha Yadav recently shared how many around her just watched as a foreign labourer was assaulted ("A bashing and a S'porean's shame", June 2).

Readers have written in and many focused on what onlookers should have done. But few discussed what could prompt a person to act so aggressively against another. In my view, the cause lies in a person's failure to take responsibility for confronting his or her stereotypes of others.

Many around the world see immigrants and foreign labour as taking jobs away from citizens, and bringing with it social menaces to burden a country's criminal justice system.

Yet, official statistics in most parts of the world indicate that there is little or no basis for such belief. In fact, it is possible to argue that immigrants and the use of foreign labour has helped countries.

Take Singapore for example. Without an immigrant population, she may have simply remained a fishing village.

Incidents against people one has pre-conceived notions about are not isolated. In some parts of the world, heterosexual men wait outside watering holes for homosexual men to assault the latter as they leave. The former labour under the illusion that it is the wish of every homosexual man to get every heterosexual male to bat for the same side.

Some employers are unwilling to employ HIV-positive persons for fear that talent will be driven away and the disease could spread in the office. They are unconvinced by medical evidence that the virus spreads through an exchange of bodily fluids.

We are unwilling to be seen in the company of women from China, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia or Thailand, or even transgenders, since others might see us as their "customers". So we avoid places like Orchard Towers.

If such assumptions are not confronted, there is a risk these generalisations will root themselves in our psyche and escalate to aggressive or insensitive acts.

I used to think I would never be able to survive in a local company as some of my views diverge from the established thinking of the day.

I also believed that the leaders of such companies have a penchant for toeing the line.

I confronted my assumption — and have had three enjoyable years working for a local cooperative where critical thinking and robust debates about the established line are encouraged.

I am comfortable with both my homosexual and heterosexual friends. A night out in Orchard Towers is as decent as a night out at the Ministry of Sound.

Every time I have had to confront my assumptions about others, I usually found myself to be mistaken. Instead of throwing stones, I have found it better to engage with these people.

Our judiciary has shown a desire to help people confront their preconceptions with the setting up of a community court. Judge Bala Reddy directed a young person who had made negative remarks about an ethnic group to work within that group.

Other organisations here can follow the judiciary's example.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has consistently emphasised the need to build an inclusive and gracious Singapore. He reiterated this at the end of a divisive electoral battle and at his Cabinet's swearing-in ceremony.

An inclusive and gracious Singapore cannot happen if we — as individuals — are not willing to take responsibility in confronting our assumptions.

Dharmendra Yadav

P.S: Lest you assume, I am not related to Surekha Yadav.


Shivani Ratra said...

While I agree with Mr Yadav that unless people confront the stereotypes they have, social tension will remain.

In most cases, people are aware of the negative stereotypes they hold and use these views as a binding factor within their community.

For example, part of being a good Pakistani citizen is to be 'anti-India' and so on.
When negative stereotypes about other races, community or genders become a way of expressing one's own identity, then confronting these stereotypes is much more difficult.

For example, as long as it is 'manly' to hit your wife, domestic violence will not stop.
Society needs to accept that negative stereotypes that it holds against others reflect how limited and exclusive its own identity is.

The Oriental Express said...

Looks like people throughout the world are the same, not only our local people.

A similar incident prompted Lu Hsun to switch his desire to be a doctor to a writer, for what is a healthy body if the mind is weak? Lu Hsun's "Medicine" and "The True Story of Ah Q" written so many years ago.... yet are as relevant today! Sigh...