Tuesday, October 24

Sanitizing Personal Opinion

There seems to be much ado about Wee Shu Min, a teenage blogger whose online journal was criticized as insensitive and elitist. The story has escalated to the point of absurdity with her father, MP Wee Siew Kim, and the principal of Raffles Junior College telling The Straits Times that Miss Wee had received counseling for using insensitive language.

She has since shut down her blog and apologized for her comments, though not directly to Mr. Derek Wee, a Singaporean who works for a multinational corporation. He had written in his blog on Oct 12 that he was concerned about competition from foreign talent and the lack of job opportunities for older workers. Miss Wee had responded to him on her blog, calling him old and unmotivated and said he was overly reliant on the government.

She specifically wrote: 'Derek, Derek, Derek darling, how can you expect to have an iron rice bowl or a solid future if you cannot spell? There's no point in lambasting the Government for making our society one that is, I quote, 'far too survival of the fittest.' If uncertainty of success offends you so much, you will certainly be poor and miserable.' She concluded by telling Mr. Wee to 'get out of my elite uncaring face.'

In the apology, Wee Siew Kim went further to say that in "In our current desire to encourage more debate, especially through the Internet, our comments must be tempered with sensitivity. I will not gag her, since she's 18 and should be able to stand by what she says. ... Nonetheless, I have counselled her to learn from it. Some people cannot take the brutal truth and that sort of language, so she ought to learn from it."

Before writing an unpopular opinion, I will offer up that as an accredited business communicator, I adhere to the International Association of Business Communicators' Code of Ethics, which encourages members to "engage in communication that is not only legal, but also ethical and sensitive to cultural values and beliefs; and engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding; among other things." I wish more bloggers would consider such ethical guidelines before posting various rants on the Web.

However, Wee Shu Min has obviously not bonded herself to such a code, and therefore, must be respected for her opinion, no matter how insensitive or elitist it may have come across. If anything, I have personally welcomed people to state their minds, no matter how insensitive, ignorant, or bigoted they may be, because it is the very language they use that may reveal their own lack of credibility or character. In fact, Wee Shu Min self-describes herself as elitist and insensitive, which seems to me to make any criticisms of her for being that rather redundant.

In sum, both Derek Wee and Wee Shu Min have a right to their respective opinions. It seems to me that Derek Wee probably made the stronger case, given that Wee Shu Min did resort to name-calling and colorful insults as one might suspect from an 18-year-old college student. However, the equally aggressive rebuttals and public outcry, and then public apology by her father and the principal of her college, seems largely disproportionate.

If anything, her post did succeed in revealing the country's growing disconnect, perhaps, between younger and older adults, skilled and unskilled workers, and/or affluent and less affluent citizens. Until that is addressed, with open dialogue, there is little chance any measures could be taken to address Derek Wee's concerns and grievances.

But then again, I live in a country that, despite occasional pressure to be 'politically correct' in stating opinions, allows for unpopular language under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Although frequently tested, one simple truth remains: the abuse of free speech will die in a day, but the censorship of free speech, including rants from those like Wee Shu Min, will span generations.

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