Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Speaking Of Insensitivity

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Shariah, Hudud, 13 Mei, Beer, Macai, Dedak, Rosmah...

Interestingly, not every word there will be offensive to you. It might actually refer to very positive connotations in your head, depending on who you are and what you understand and accept.

Whenever we hear the word "sensitive" nowadays, it rarely refers directly to neurological phenomena, but hot button topics that can offend people, even when the reasons for offence aren't clear.

What it really refers to, is "current cultural insensitivity", or the reference to concepts, people, places or events that can offend people by mere mention, let alone discussion of it.

"Current", because it isn't permanent and can last for as short as a day to as long as decades. "Cultural", because it has to do with the ambiguous and constantly morphing meaning of ideas in different people's heads, but have a shared narrative among a group of them. "Insensitivity" because the one person talking about the idea doesn't have full understanding of the meaning inside the other person's head.

For a few months, "McDonald's" was a bad word and there were people arguing over social media questioning each others' rationale and religious convictions for patronising the franchise.

Then, one day, the original organisation that made it an issue dropped it, and it was no longer insensitive to say their name or eat there.

"Starbucks" is still a thing, though.

All this insensitivity is caused by different levels of understanding and acceptance to a particular idea. For example, it is seen to be okay for a racial slur to be used by someone of the target race in jest, but a no-no for those from other races.

So, to be able to track what is okay and what isn't at any one time is a challenge as there are now so many social influencers who can turn the tide one way or the other.

Thus, the safest way people discuss these socially insensitive ideas is to do so in small groups, away from those who find it offensive.

The next problem that arises is, because of this safety, these small groups feel too free to use the ideas derogatorily to attack, decry or malign other groups. With chat apps being ubiquitous, it gets easier and creates more hatred and more hidden negative context. This keeps and pushes us apart.

This leaves only two other options: Either stop using current culturally insensitive words, or start talking about them in a mature manner. Both are difficult, but only one is practical.

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