Nury Vittachi looks into the insensitivity epidemic
My friend watched the dinosaur movie “Jurassic World” in front of her pet bird so that the creature could remember when his kind ruled the earth. She was trying to be nice but I thought it was horribly insensitive.
The same friend once told me that she thought I was as “dumb as a box of rocks” while we were walking through an ornamental park. “Shh,” I said, moving us away from the rockery. “They can hear you.”
But, of course, there are no people on earth as insensitive as children. Child: “Can we have a bee hive on our balcony?” Me: “No. Mum’s allergic to bee stings.” Child: “When she’s dead can we have a bee hive on the balcony?” Me: “I guess.”
Now a question: if someone is two hours late for dinner and then complains that “the food’s a bit overcooked”, is it justifiable to dice him into cubes and lightly flash-fry him with cilantro as an extra meat dish?
I knew you’d say yes. I do this sort of thing a lot these days (identify acts of thoughtlessness, not flash-fry friends). Because it is clear that a massive epidemic of insensitivity is spreading around the world.
The most astonishing example came from a reader in China. A funeral company touting for business set up hundreds of fake gravestones bearing the names of (living) local residents in gold letters. Sales staff showed residents their names, saying: “Look! That could be you.”
Locals were unimpressed to the point of apoplexy. The hard-sell morticians at the China Dragon Garden graveyard in the Beijing suburbs were eventually persuaded that their venture, though creative, scored 8.9 on the Richter insensitivity scale. Especially in a community where omens are taken as scientifically verified proof. Doctor: “You have three months to live.” Patient: “My test results were that bad?” Doctor: “No, but you picked waiting ticket 44 and sat in the Unlucky Chair. You’re a-goner.”
Most disputes are due to thoughtlessness. In the paper was a story about a bid by organizers of a British vegetable growing contest to attract more entries by allowing people to enter veggies bought at the local supermarket. They never thought about the vegetable growers, who were outraged. A cynical colleague reading over my shoulder (go away) said that everyone had probably been entering vegetables bought from supermarkets for years anyway.
He maintained that people today were over-considerate, and offered an example. Earlier this year, a university in the US state of Connecticut said it was promoting inclusiveness and invited applications from the “LBTTQQFAGPBDSM” communities. This apparently refers to every possible sexual preference, and caused much head-scratching. Please do not write in and tell me what each letter stands for. I treasure my innocence. Let children be children. And let the childish be children too.
I concede that it may be possible to be too politically correct, but I still think it’s good to be thoughtful. On the afternoon before writing this, my bird-owning friend declined an offer of ice cream because she said her teeth “were extremely sensitive these days”. I replied: “Shh. They can hear you.”