Friday, 28 March 2014

Old is gold: Beware the beast in us

There are many circumstances that can test our patience to the max and bring out our ugly side.

The refrain of a song, Say You, Say Me, brings back memories of working life in the 1980s. I remember how a “say you, say me” episode could spark off a cold war or seething anger, which could explode at the slightest trigger. The atmosphere would be tense and ripe for open hostile confrontation and a nasty exchange of words.

To be dragged into the cesspool of mud-slinging, name-calling, and even character assassination as an unwilling witness was a task anyone would do well to avoid. Both parties were unlikely to listen to reason and were bent on being the loudest voice in this unleashing of fury. Diplomacy and quoting extenuating circumstances didn't usually help to pacify the situation when both sides were so heated up.

Once, I tried pulling out my favourite “stunt” – a quotation I had mastered. I announced: “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it does not behove any of us to talk about the rest of us.”

An uncomfortable silence ensued as both sides collected themselves and tried to figure out what I was hitting at. In their negative frame of mind, they had rejected all overtures for peace, but this time I succeeded in diverting their attention away from each other, and to me instead. Any short reprieve was welcome. It didn’t matter that they thought I was trying to be a smart alec, and they certainly weren't impressed.

The good, the bad and the ugly are in most of us, though in different measures. It's possible for a normally even-tempered, genteel and courteous person to be suddenly transformed into a short-fused, uncouth savage when provoked. When our feathers are ruffled and our tolerance stretched beyond limits, we're thrown off guard and our sour side emerges.

Our uncivil parts are constantly vying for mastery over our emotions. Stress, coupled with fatigue and sleep deprivation, only serve to aggravate matters. When our expectations aren't met and goals are thwarted, it's a feat for most of us to remain calm and composed.

One place to observe human behaviour at its worst is on the road. We balk at the selfishness, aggressiveness and callousness of people who enjoy wielding power behind the wheels. Hours of bumper-to-bumper jams, congestion at bottlenecks, road bullies who behave like they're kings of the road, reckless drivers who endanger innocent lives, and daredevils who flout all rules – these are enough to rile many road users and cause them to spew curses.

A joke comes to mind about a little girl who asked her mum an innocent question: “Why do all the idiots come out to the road only when Dad is driving?”

Road rage isn't peculiar to men. Women, being more articulate, are capable of an expressive tirade of cursing and swearing. A Singaporean motivational speaker related an amusing incident he encountered while driving on a narrow road in the outskirts of Malacca.

With his other friends in a convoy, they were following at snail’s speed, an orang asli guide who was leading them to his village on an old scooter. They were holding up the traffic as the road was too narrow for the cars behind to overtake them. A trail of Malaysian cars honked loudly and noisily behind them, venting their frustration at the Singaporeans. When the Malaysians finally overtook the Singaporeans at a broader stretch of road, they gave them a nasty earful, followed by dirty looks and crude hand gestures.

The speaker said he wished he had the opportunity to shout back at them and tell them that Singaporeans could drive as fast, if not faster, than Malaysians, if only they knew what was happening. His concluding remark was that misunderstandings often occur because there are some things in life that we can't explain.

The intrinsic problem behind our unbecoming reactions is our lack of patience. In this fast-paced, digital age of instant gratification and quick fixes, patience is becoming a rare commodity. Ironically, we expect to learn patience instantly, and in our hurry, we often miss it.

The test of patience can be observed in the crowded waiting room of a specialist clinic in a government hospital. One day, I accompanied my husband to the eye clinic after his cataract operation, and I had time aplenty to observe a graphic display of human behaviour.

When the waiting time stretched beyond the third and fourth hour, signs of restlessness set in. The patients fidgeted and looked at their watches intermittently. Grimaces and sighs of exasperation were followed by audible complaints. Some got up and paced the room, while others grumbled openly to themselves and their neighbours.

One man demanded an explanation why patients holding numbers after his were called earlier, whilst his number was deliberately missed out. Another patient, an ex-army man, openly chided his wife for nagging him to check with his doctor if his number had been missed out.

Then there was the patient who laughed at himself for being a born loser. Though he was starving, he resisted going to the canteen for fear of missing his turn. Finally, there was another patient who had a computer on his lap. He was so engrossed in whatever he was doing that he was oblivious to the fact that four hours had slipped by.

My husband was one of the last to be called. Thankfully he kept his cool and accepted the long wait as part and parcel of life.

Old is gold is a platform for readers age 55 and above to share their wealth of experience and take on life.E-mail: star2@thestar.com.my. Published contributions will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and phone number.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Family , Senior , old is gold , road rage , patience , temper , anger , dirty looks , hand gestures , ugly side


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