What has become of us?


Mob violence: Anger spreads fast and gives us a burst of adrenaline that can spark havoc like the riot at the Seafield temple.

Mob violence: Anger spreads fast and gives us a burst of adrenaline that can spark havoc like the riot at the Seafield temple.

IT was heartbreaking to hear about the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim. He was an amazing lad who lost his life while serving his country.

The brutal manner in which he was treated by angry and unruly men that eventually led to his death is something we will never ever come to terms with. A promising life snatched away because of toxic venting of an angry mob. Shame on us.

In these painfully divisive times, all this anger and derision that is being harboured within us is not healthy, not for us and definitely not for our beloved country. It does not help that every morning we wake up to instigating tweets or mischievous WhatsApp messages.

Are Malaysians getting too angry?

Judging by the rise in angry and threatening outbursts, it does seem that Malaysians are getting overly angry these days. We seem to be always ready for battle; any bit of breaking news can bolster fear within us and make things go out of control. From a sociological perspective, societies deeply rooted in deep, fearful, tribalistic mentality tend to run on extreme emotions which has toxic side effects.

Anger can be infectious. It is an emotion that is more powerful that other than other emotions like sadness and joy.

Anger spreads faster and more broadly than other emotions. It gives us a burst of adrenaline and sparks a fight-or-flight response in our nervous system and plays havoc with our psychological state.

Anger can be a sickness and it spreads because we as humans are programmed to follow our peers. For the vulnerable and those who are mentally unstable or feel they are disenfranchised, this sickness can lead to violence towards the person or institution that symbolises their disappointment.

There’s no lack of theories about why we, as a nation, have become an angry lot. If we do not blame the economy, we blame the government and its policies. It is also easy to blame the teachers for the failure of instilling good behaviour in our children.

Heartbreaking reminder: We should not let the death of Muhammad Adib be in vain, and learn about how fragile peace is from it.
Heartbreaking reminder: We should not let the death of Muhammad Adib be in vain, and learn about how fragile peace is from it.

Then there are those who think the chemical in our food is causing us to be be more angry these days. There is scientific evidence, however, to suggest that for some people, the pre-frontal cortex of their brain is not sufficiently developed – leading to angry and often irrational outbursts.

Human beings tend to emulate their peers and chiefs – leading to what is conceived as pack mentality – as opposed to many other creatures that are not so banded. Social psychologists point to the role of modelling and vicarious reinforcement in triggering aggressive behaviour. In practice, this means someone who is influential in a particular ideological group can turn one corner of the Internet into a virtual mob. In this mob mentality, it is often difficult for us to recognise that our sentiments can be inappropriate and that we need to curb our own aggressive inclinations.

Therefore, it is not surprising that social media is largely blamed for the perpetration of rage, violence and unbridled aggression. And rightly so. The perceived anonymity of the social media makes anger particularly contagious. Anger has now become the currency of social media.

In the aftermath of the violence associated with the death of Muhammad Adib, it was highly commendable that the main politicians from both sides of the divide stepped in to buttress any possibility of mayhem and chaos. We managed to stop the tide. The few who were trying to instil trouble learned to their disappointment that the Malaysian public would not be duped into joining forces with them.

Our leaders could have been more forceful in reminding us that we all play for the same team. However, their demeanour and words did convey a powerful message that in the new Malaysia there is no such thing as Us and Them. We are all in it together.

We need to learn to resist the temptation to contribute to the viral spread of angry outbursts in the social media. If a troublemaker screams and you do not retweet him, his “screaming” will stop. Social media allows a person to convey a message immediately. When a person is angry, they are not logical. Therefore, any means of instant communication is very dangerous when at the hands of an angry person.

Ideally social media should be self-regulated but in certain circumstances the government should not hesitate to shut down social media for short periods of time to prevent lies and provocations that can incite violence.

We need to support Muhammad Adib’s grieving family, without being intrusive. Their loss is a loss for the whole country and their sorrow is felt by all Malaysians. His death is a reminder of how fragile peace is and how important it is to control our own misguided rage for the sake of harmony and stability. Let not the death of Muhamad Adib be in vain. Goodbye Adib, Hero of the nation.

Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj is a consultant psychiatrist and author of the book Battling Adversity.

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Family Community , Adib , tribute