Monday, February 1, 2016

On the demise of a former lecturer...

My mobile’s WhatsApp beeped non-stop yesterday. One of our Class of 73’s lecturers had passed away. Our WhatsApp administrator asked if he should send a wreath on behalf of the class. Virtually everyone active in the loop responded with a resounding yes.

Would anyone say no? Obviously no, right? This is basic courtesy and decency!

During our time in Engineering at the University of Malaya, there was no streaming in the first two years. Everybody had to do the same subjects. It was only in Year 3 that we branched off into Civil, Electrical and Mechanical. Even then, there were a couple of common subjects, one of which is Engineering Management. It was taught by this lecturer.

This lecturer was himself an alumnus of the faculty; he might be one of the first to graduate from the faculty. He went on to become the dean during our final year.

Why then am I writing all this?

In life you had good teachers; you also had bad teachers. Many were also very ordinary. I can’t say this lecturer was exceptional; if I can remember correctly, he was only so-so as a teacher.

But the outpour surprised me!

I attribute this to a couple of symptoms.

One is old-aged born-again empathy. All of us are in the wrong half of our 60s. Many of us no longer have an office to go. We also don’t’ get to meet new faces. With the advent of social media like WhatsApp, we find reconnections with old friends and people we used to know as easy as ABC, especially we have so much time to kill. Ex-school and university mates are the best sources of our nostalgia and empathy. Urge to response becomes instantaneous.

Two is the herd or me-too mentality. You don’t want to feel left-out, or give others in the circle the impression that you are indifferent or don’t care. People might think that you are an ungrateful student, or one who is not aligned with the good values of the rest.

The second syndrome reminds me of how Kim Jong Un controls and minds and souls of the millions in North Korea. The way the masses there act in unison to “demonstrate” the outpour of their emotions is to many of us most incredible. But you can see for yourself they actually do so with great spontaneity. Pretension has evolved into part of their culture? If you don’t do it, you will be dead!

I am still not finished with my u-mates’ responses to this lecturer’s demise yet.

Our chat group’s administrator is also our class’s coordinator for our social events. Some requested that he helped to convey condolences to the lecturer’s family. He was quite blunt: I do it on behalf of the class; if you want separate messages, please do so yourself directly.

He couldn’t be more right in attitude!

Be that as it may, it is always good to offer one’s condolences to the family of the demised if you knew him or her. However, do ask ourselves this question: Is that family’s loss really a heartfelt experience to you? If the answer is no, then I suggest we don’t overboard to act like the masses in North Korea which, in my opinion, is really an act of pretension.

But to those who genuinely felt the loss of this teacher, let me say that this message of mine is not aimed at any of you!

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