Where Do We Draw the Line?


Offend is the word. It’s the very measure to our social behaviour that keeps the receiver from conjuring up a mixed feeling of anger, pain, indignation, humiliation, and acrimony. So when it is the norm that we don’t go about offending people by words or deeds we are led by the sensibility of respect, of politeness, and last but not least, of not provoking vengeance.

However, would we be offended if the offensive deed or remark is not done or said against us? Would we feel offended for others? Does the word ‘offend’ go beyond the personal realm to enter the larger socialistic field, which is the progenitor of the morality myth?

This is the strange feeling that has been affecting me lately, namely that I’m feeling offended by something my friend did and said, which by no means was/is related to me personally.

Immediately after the devastating earthquake in Sichuan the whole nation sank into a mourning mode: amidst the somewhat over-sentimental (at times like this one is allowed to be sentimental) singings and shouting of tacky slogans, the people of this country came together in a bonding force last saw perhaps during the Anti-Japanese War. Blood-precious Chinese men and women queued up to donate blood, money poured out from all quarters, and the PLA received unprecedented support from the public. The Prime Minister quickly became the national idol, and it seemed only politically correct to be part of the grieving lot.

So when my Sichuan-native friend posted first her Malaysia holiday pictures then her bitching about the hospitality industry in Chengdu on her blog less than a month after the disaster, I was enraged. It was only later that I realised it was a sense of betrayal that disguised as indignation.

If I remember correctly the earthquake took place around a week after the equally destructive cyclone hit Burma, the junta’s cold response to the disaster contrasted sharply with the quick and open steps the Chinese government took. It seemed that the whole incident, coupled with the snowstorm and the Tibet incident earlier in the year, has scooped up a national pride and that strangely enough, can only manifest itself in tested times. Solidarity of mourn is the mood of the period, and any attempt to challenge the accepted narrative should be deemed as traitor.

I had once flirted with that idea, but quickly resolved to keep it private. A lavish birthday party in a luxury hotel isn’t a commendable thing to do in the post-disaster period; and to bitch about the staff wearing a sullen face and the quality of the food is, in my humble opinion, the last thing one would publicise on the blog. When people were dying could you expect others to put on a happy face? And when lots of victims have lost their arms or legs could you expect the belly dancers to flaunt in front of you their limbs that were still attached to their trunk? And when tens of thousands of those from the affected areas were starving could you complained the chicken wasn’t good enough?

But then who am I to sanction other people’s actions when, in fact, every one of us was breaking that tacit solidarity in our own ways? Why should they, if not us, feel bound to be aligned to the prevalent mood? Is there a moral obligation? Is there a law prohibiting that?

Certainly not. It was only me who dreamt up this whole business of a mass sentiment and willingly entered the unspoken agreement of austerity so as to allow myself to be betrayed.

Offence is a private business after all.


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