The freedom to grieve without guilt


THE peaceful serenity of Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka was marred by a series of coordinated attacks against three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo. The suicide bombers set off explosives when the churches were packed with worshippers and the hotel full of patrons having their breakfast. The explosions killed 253 people and wounded 500 more.

We may be an ocean apart from the carnage but any sane human in the right frame of mind would feel anguished and aghast at the same time at these senseless atrocities. We were just reeling from the mosque massacre in New Zealand that took 51 lives and injured 49 others slightly more than one month before that.

In trying to figure out why all this was happening, we prayed, we pored over news, we posted our feelings on social media, or we spoke to friends as a way to find solace. As the New Zealanders and Sri Lankans slowly and painfully picked up the pieces, people the world over came together to hold vigils in show of solidarity with the two nations that are grieving.

About 200 people gathered at The Malaysian Ceylonese National Community Centre in Petaling Jaya in a solemn remembrance of the tragedy. The participants comprised leaders from different religious faiths, Sri Lankans residing in the Klang Valley, and people from all walks of life. This should be the case as we are a multiracial, multireligious, and multicultural nation.

News of the event was shared on a satellite television channel’s Facebook page. The post garnered 2,500 reactions and 1,200 comments. Reading the comments made me angry and sad at the same time. Here lives were tragically lost and people came out to show support to a nation recovering from the shock and devastation. And here we have people asking why the organisers of the event did not do the same for other tragedies.

If those critics felt so strongly about their own causes, they could organise themselves and do the same. They did not but chose to criticise others for standing up for other causes instead. They have every right to hold a vigil for any humanitarian issue they believe in and nobody has the right to deny them that. Likewise, they should respect the right of others to do the same.

There are 1,001 concerns in the world that need our attention. We cannot possibly be gathering for each and every one of them. Otherwise we would not have time for anything else. We pick and choose those we feel strongly about. This is called choice. But that does not mean we disregarded brutalities committed or lives lost elsewhere.

I have supported the disability, Palestinian, indigenous people, animals, and LGBTQ causes one time or another. I have grieved over the massacre in Christchurch recently, the loss of MH370 and MH17, 911 in New York, and the plight of the Rohingya people. I have also have not spoken openly on many other tragedies of monumental proportions.

I wish I could back more worthy causes and show solidarity with others in times of tragedy but that is about as much time, effort, and resources I can spare. Am I guilty for these omissions? Did that prove I had less empathy? Does it prove anything at all? And should I fault those who do not stand together with me on the causes I advocate for?

People should stop asking others why they are doing this and not that. It is the individual’s prerogative. This is a very personal matter. We should be allowed to grieve and show support without being made guilty or being told off.

These critics should ask themselves if they have stood up for causes other than those that affect their community, race, and religion. If they did, good on them. If not, why not? And if not, are they not guilty of the very thing they are being critical about? Instead of expending effort and time criticising others, it is better to use those in more productive ways rather than feeling bitter about what other people are doing.

Social media has given us a boundless avenue of reach and opened us up to say things we normally would not. We shoot off our mouths without a second thought, regardless of whether it is appropriate or not for the occasion. The snide remarks in that post is evidence of that. It shows how hard and cold and selfish some hearts are.

We should feel empathy for one another, irrespective of our differences in race, religion, and political leanings. We must remember that the world does not revolve around us. In times of crises, the least we could do is to come together in a show of solidarity. Doing that does not take away anything from us. If we do not want to support, it is also all right.

In a country with a population as diverse as Malaysia, it is a given there will be differences of opinion. If there is a need for criticism, make it tactful and constructive, bearing in mind the religious, cultural and communal sensitivities, and most of all human decency.

We need to learn to disagree in a civil and respectful manner. After all, the fifth guiding principle to nation building in our Rukun Negara is Courtesy and Morality. Let us not forget that in our actions and social interactions.