I AM writing this piece in a Malaysian café in Melbourne where my kids have chosen to park themselves for the full duration of the school holidays.
It’s been a while since I visited Melbourne, the last time in 2009 when I recall landing in Tullamarine airport, not exactly one of the easiest airports to land in.
The city still retains its status as one of the most liveable places Down Under, with hordes of smiling, courteous people ever willing to lend a helping hand to tourists like me. The only exception was a couple of drunks who chided me for wanting to “shoot Australians in the back just because they smoked weed in Bali”.
Took me a while to understand what they were getting at but when I did, I wanted to explain three things: Firstly, I don’t work part-time in a firing squad; secondly, the Bali guys were dealers (not marijuana-smoking hippies) and thirdly, I hold a Malaysian passport, not Indonesian!
I also wanted to remind them that firing squads shoot people from the front, not the back, but considering that would be worse, I decided to keep mum. As for the discussions on my nationality, it was best to stay silent too, since I hold a passport from a country that hanged two Aussies three decades ago for the same offence!
Anyway, my point is this: The source of most conflicts is not so much the disagreement over an issue but rather, the insistence by one party to force their conviction upon the other.
But the good news in such flashpoint situations is this. All it takes to prevent a disagreement from escalating into a full-blown conflict is for the wiser party to simply keep mum. And walk away.
No need to continue an argument that you are not going to win.
At the very least, it will help you identify which friendships to keep, which ones to terminate, whom to disassociate with, whom to ignore and whom to avoid like the plague.
While that little verbal fracas in a Melbourne pub is a rather trivial example, my missus and I used this conflict avoidance principle to redefine our associations with several people recently.
We didn’t get too affected though, since we’ve lived long enough to understand that friends may not be permanent, unlike foes who are a bit more consistent.
People, being people, will invariably change. They are usually friends, although family members can also suddenly choose to dislike or hate you for no apparent reason.
Recently, we both had the unpleasant experience of being attacked publicly by some “friends” on social media.
Our crime? Posting “too many selfies”, which apparently annoyed some very insecure people who didn’t like the fact that we were seen to be having a good time, on time, every time.
Wait, that sounds like an airline ad, doesn’t it?
Anyway, my wife and I laughed off most of the attacks (known as “trolling” in Internet slang), since the trolls’ perpetual interest in our lives only meant that we were either perceived to be rich or famous, or both!
Personally, I was rather flattered that we both had a sizeable army of haters out there who for some strange reason, still cannot stifle the compelling urge to follow us around like faithful felines on Facebook.
Although they hate us!
Maybe it’s time my wife and I started our own reality show - although “Keeping Up with the Karasus” does sound rather cheesy!
Personally, I find that the root cause of people who suddenly decide to hate is envy. And when a person suffers a strong and sustained sense of jealousy towards another person for whatever reason, then there really is nothing we can do to help them.
Take a simple thing like posting a photo of a family trip overseas, a child’s achievement, a new property or even a creative work like a painting or essay.
There are bound to be people who will feel that your postings reinforce their shortcomings and therefore, need to attack you in the hope that trolling will help them feel better about their own inadequacies.
So to them, it won’t matter that you didn’t denigrate, tag or even compare yourself with anyone when making that post.
Yet they will insist that the sirloin steak photo you posted was, erm, tasteless, since it reminded them of the instant noodles they had that morning.
They will insist that your cheerful family photo overseas reminded them of their own failed marriages and local trips.
They will argue that the photo of your son’s school debate trophy is “showing off” towards other kids who have learning difficulties.
As ridiculous as it gets, it never ends. Bitter or negative people will continue to view the rest of the world in, well, a bitter and negative manner. So they are perennially at war. At war with themselves, with their families, with their friends and with society!
So if you or your child gets bullied by trolls on the Internet, remember not to be jointly dragged down to their levels of despair. Stifle the urge to react or retaliate.
Just leave them be and keep on being good people. Just don’t waste time trying to prove it.