Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sammy Chan, regarding your apology…

I applaud you; certainly not for the recent racial tirade on your blog against Indians but for your subsequent ‘unconditional apology.’ I applaud you for your courage to come forth and apologise and to appreciate the fact that what you expressed was insensitive, highly inappropriate and should not be tolerated.  

I was also struck by the fact that your apology was not just directed to Indians. You said: “I sincerely and honestly apologise to all Malaysians, not just Indians, as my comments have offended them.” 

To your credit, you epitomised a character trait that, sadly, many in our society lack: the ability to be reflective about oneself and to have the moral fortitude to stand up and correct oneself. Oh, I could go on and on with the clichés and metaphors, like ‘to err is human but to forgive is divine,’ or ‘those without sin should cast the first stone,’ etc. but these are all too self-evident – albeit apropos.

More importantly, I look upon your handling of this uncomfortable episode as a ‘teaching moment.’ Through your apology, you have modelled a sense of introspection that many of us ought to be more appreciative of and would be well-served to emulate. All too often, we encounter episodes where politicians, public figures, as well as ‘average citizens’ get tangled up in racially laden controversies. And despite the patently obvious faux pas having been committed, these individuals find it so difficult to apologise and redeem themselves or worse yet, to appreciate the gravity of their mistake. You did not take any of those paths.

It is not unheard of in our society to see some individuals who deliberately manipulate and thrive on exploiting racial hot buttons. In these instances, their motives are patently obvious and the matter of an apology doesn’t even seem relevant. In fact, the apology becomes cheapened – precisely because it is not meant as a genuine apology but rather a ‘political manoeuvre’ for what may be termed ‘damage control.’ Frankly, I find those kinds of apologies worthless and rather insulting.   

You, on the other hand, appreciated the incivility of your offensive words. From your apology, it is obvious that whatever the plausible explanations for your objectionable remarks, I have no doubt that the motives for your remarks were not insidious. Through your apology you showed us a simple truth: self dignity comes from humility – certainly not from arrogance and nor from having an over-inflated ego and sense of self-importance. And the fact that you appreciated that your insensitive words about Indians would have offended most non-Indians further illuminates much about your character. This humility you exhibited by coming forward and publicly acknowledging your mistake is something we can all learn a good deal from.        

If we are to be candid with ourselves we’d admit that for many years now, we Malaysians have been plagued by not just institutionalised racism in our society but by a lack of dependable and competent leadership committed to building genuine trust and equality across racial lines. I think we would be well-served on all these fronts if we had leaders who showed as much of an ability to be introspective and self-reflective as you have through your sincere apology.  

It is indeed reassuring to come across a fellow Malaysian like you.  

G. Krishnan