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Accepting criticism with an open mind

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Adopting the mental shortcut that BN is always wrong and Pakatan is always right falls short of open-minded criticism, says Douglas Teoh.

The freedom to think turns crises into opportunities
The freedom to think turns crises into opportunities

I have little difficulty in confessing that I am a Pakatan supporter.

After weighing the pros and cons of either coalition, the answer that emerges seems rather intuitive in nature. The current BN is corrupt, greedy, and tyrannical – the worst kind of democratic government possible. Compare that to Pakatan – freedom fighters, typical wage-earning leaders, who also happen to be the electoral underdog.

In this battle, Pakatan occupies the moral high-ground, strengthening their discourse with populism and calls for social justice. Consequentially, any attack on Pakatan’s “character” by BN supporters seems ludicrous and invalid.

So what’s the issue here? Some might say that this is after all a classic good-versus-evil political narrative. Our sentiments (as with any good story) often lie with the struggling underdog who champions a good cause.

But there’s a catch. The trouble with this kind of dichotomous division of political parties is that we over-sympathise with and to some extent even victimise our party of choice.

Indeed, the sacrifices of some Pakatan leaders are awe-inspiring. To say that Tian Chua is less than a hero for lying in front of the FRU is “obviously” ethically wrong. I respect Pakatan leaders and what they have done for the country.

But their contributions do not absolve them of responsibility and legitimate criticism. This is based on my observations of comments in various news portals, with regards to criticism of Pakatan. A good example would be the proposition by the Penang Malay Congress to delay the salary increment of state representatives. This is an instance where perfectly sound criticism is met with unreasonable responses by some pro-Pakatan supporters, who view it as an attack to gain ‘infamy points’.

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Why should a populist coalition be immune to populist considerations in the first place? In essence, some Pakatan supporters may be subscribing to heuristics in order to make simplified judgments – BN is always wrong, and Pakatan, standing on the other side of the divide, is always right.

It results in the downplaying of criticism of the coalition we support. This is a negative outcome; after all, we would no longer be able to judge actions and policies in a constructive manner.

My suggestion is simple. The people have to be open about dialogue directed towards their chosen representatives. We should give credit where it is well deserved, and criticism where necessary. It is only with such a mindset that people can truly begin to regain ownership of their country and help to chart its future instead of relying on “heroes” (who are not immune to mistakes), in order to oppose the villains (who may not always be completely wrong).

Malaysia needs heroes for a revolution – but its development has to be driven by a synergy comprising a good leader and a sound public.

Douglas Teoh is currently a psychology tutor in a local private university who intends to pursue his postgraduate degree in politics.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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7 Jun 2013 8.12am


Douglas Teoh
Douglas Teoh
7 Jun 2013 1.33am

Hi Sam, thanks for the response! I think the most important thing is education, and a large scale change to the system as a whole would be the best possible solution. However, this is not gonna be until the far-future, so I reckon what we can do for now is to encourage people who are politically conscious, aware and more “intelligent” to engage in discussions within the different spaces available. If more and more objective and mature people engage, the discussion would eventually have to step up into a more sophisticated one as well. This is also a great way to “educate” (for the lack of a better term at the moment) the more brawl-y ones by exposing them to arguments which are more logical, rational and most of all respectful. I’m optimistic that this would come full circle – that these people who have improved in terms of thought and deliberative abilities would be able to in turn, influence others to do the same. The starting point, however, is that the more “educated” bunch have to start engaging first. With no one to illustrate a… Read more »

7 Jun 2013 5.53pm
Reply to  Douglas Teoh

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6 Jun 2013 10.42pm

Dear Douglas, you’re absolutely right. Though it’s natural to jump to the defense of one’s heroes, one should always rationally weigh the merits of the criticism before responding to them.
The problem today is, so many people seem to be lacking in the most fundamental virtues, e.g. being objective, responding with decency, and being logical when defending/criticizing opinions. Coupled with a poor command of language, a head sold on the idea of “relativism”, any attempt at gentlemanly discourse inevitably degrades to the level of a pub brawl, focused only on bashing a particular political party, ethnic community or religious belief. The PM’s concoction of a “”chinese tsunami”, (just minutes after being declared winner) is a typical example of the extent of this malady.
How do we address this?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x