Are WE becoming Overtly Sensitive?

So Sensitive 1

Actually, in Malaysia, we would say – WHY SO SENSITIVE LAH?

Yes, we Malaysians, tend to add the word: “LAH” at the end of our sentences. It’s how we roll.

So, what is this overtly sensitive thing that we run the risk of becoming? 

There have been a few high-profile controversies in Malaysia – one in particular involved a Singaporean resort operator who had allowed a group of Buddhists to use the said resort’s surau (the place of worship for Muslims) for meditation. The Singaporean resort operator was arrested and has had his Malaysian Permanent Resident (PR) status revoked. This case has generated quite an uproar that even the local municipal has ordered that very surau to be demolished, because it has been “contaminated” by non-Muslims. You can read all about it here

There are those who think that the Malaysian Authorities and some fractions of the Malaysian Muslims have been too harsh in their judgement. In fact, a fellow prominent Malaysian Muslim, Puan Sri Jamilah wrote an article to address this “overly sensitive” climate in Malaysia, and it was published in The Star newspapers (a local Malaysian newspaper) on Saturday, 24th August 2013.

Her complete article entitled, “Need we be so sensitive?” can be read here.

This is what she asks of all Malaysian Muslims ~ “Why then have we become so unloving and so unmerciful? By we, I mean the Malaysian Muslims. We have become super sensitive, a reflection of how, some say, insecure we have become.”

However, it is not just happening in Malaysia, is it? This “overly sensitive” bug seems to be pandemic.  

It is happening all over the world, especially when it touches on a particular race or religious issue. An example of another controversy is the one surrounding Seth MacFarlane’s Dads sitcom. You can read all about it here.   

 Or, you can watch the trailer posted below and judge for yourself. 

How did your “sensitivity meter” fare after watching the above video? Did it make you mad? Do you feel that even presented in a comedic setting, it is still racism?  

My question is simply this – have we really become overly sensitive as we progress as a nation, and as humanity? Or, are we justified in our reaction?

Each individual will, naturally, hold their own views on this subject matter, imbued by their very strong emotions. Especially, if we change the “race” in question.

For example, what would happen if a group of Muslims have used a Buddhist temple instead? Would there be a huge backlash if we had changed the Asian joke component to a Caucasian one in the Dads sitcom? How would the viewers respond then?

Think about it, please. 

Here, I would like to highlight the story Puan Sri Jamilah shared in her article about a time when her son requested permission from his school to “claim a small “spiritual space” in the chapel by reciting the Takbir.”  (To learn the meaning of “Takbir”, please go here.)

She wrote, “Without the blink of an eye, the school was happy to accommodate that request, even though the school’s Muslim’s population was less than 1%. They were not offended by the request, they thought it was an excellent idea, at the very least to remind parents that even though they were an Anglican school, there are students of other faiths as well.” 

 She added, “The majority of the parents had never heard a Takbir before but they applauded and congratulated him and none of them indicated any hints of being insulted. They wanted to know more about the spiritual significance of the wordings and what it meant to all of us.” 

My personal opinion of the whole matter is this – for the Malaysian case cited above, I think the Singaporean resort operator may have acted in poor judgement, even if he sincerely did not think of it as wrong. Hence, it was not deliberate on his part.

And for the Dads sitcom, it may be comedy done in poor taste – even if Seth MacFarlane had the intention of making fun of how one culture perceives others. Hence, MacFarlane may not have meant it to be racist per say. 

However, it is really our response to or judgement on something or someone, that affirms what kind of people we are.

Because our response or judgement reflects our faith, beliefs, values, morals, upbringing and education. Sometimes, it even reveals the maturity of our minds, as well as our security in who we are.  

Kindness 1


There is definitely a huge difference in being overtly sensitive and being emphatically sensitive

Overtly sensitive comes with the territory of intolerance. Thus, there is very little room for understanding and compassion. We would end up being very harsh, rigid and merciless in our judgement as a result of it. Needless to say, it produces negative consequences. If not, disastrous.

Where as, being emphatically sensitive is generated by the virtue of kindness. It is the desire to see from the other person’s point of view in order to better understand. The result would most likely be positive, because it promotes mutual respect and appreciation. Above all, it cultivates forgiveness.

Over Sensitive


That said, I am not advocating that we simply stay silent and not care about anything or anyone. Please understand the difference.

When there is real injustice done to someone, or a group of people, we should most definitely stand up and speak for one another. When we see someone being mistreated or abused, we should definitely help. When there is misunderstanding and confusion, we should offer clarification to dispel animosity or hostility. In other words, we should all work in unison to build better harmony and unity wherever we go. Because our intention should always be inspired by peace and not hatred or violence.


Empathy 2



Those who continually engage in divisive speech, actions and thoughts would never uphold peace for himself/herself or anyone else. Entities and individuals who invest in schismatic regime or policies will not have humanity’s best interest at heart. They are not working for peace, but fulfill their own agenda. Therefore, how could these entities and individuals be entrusted with the nation’s welfare? Just look at what is happening right now in Syria. 


Empathy allows us to live harmoniously with one another.

It goes beyond just sympathizing with one another. In fact, it mirrors the very quality that is encouraged and promoted in every single religion in the world. And that is, KINDNESS.

At the very core of each religion, is loving kindness. Yet, not many of us practise it as often as we should. Especially, in times when it is severely needed.

There can be no understanding, when empathy is absent. There can be no mutual respect without first understanding. Hence, forgiveness will have no room to flourish in our hearts and intolerance becomes our default defense mechanism.

This is why living together as a nation and humanity, as a whole, becomes challenging and abrasive. 



I, for one, am very glad that someone like Puan Sri Jamilah has taken it upon herself to write that article and publish it in a national Malaysian newspaper for all to read. I applaud her fearless act.

I dare say that if the article were written by someone of another race, the impact would not be as powerful and the message would be lost. Hence, Puan Sri Jamilah‘s fearlessness is motivated by the greater good for all, and is not self-serving. 

This is why I keep emphasizing that good people of every race in every nation should stand up and speak for each other in order to promote stronger unity and better harmony. 

 The video below illustrates exactly what I truly mean.

“A House divided against itself cannot stand.”  ~ Abraham Lincoln

In the same respect, a family estranged will never know peace or experience harmony.

Doubt not that we are all part of a larger family, united by our diversity as well as our hopes and dreams for a better world. 

Our courage should always lead us to becoming better individuals for ourselves, and our loved ones. Because only in our fearlessness of upholding good virtues, can we leave behind a better world for our children, and our children’s children. 

In our strive to becoming inspiring icons of humanity, we will create a legacy of greatness for all. 

So, start your brand of fearless living and love the life you live. 

Peace to all! 


Being Afraid Is Human, But Staying Afraid Is A Choice.

  • corpusbrit
    August 26, 2013

    Dear Shirley, I agree entirely with the sentiment in your blog about sensitivity, that is, that we should all have more empathy in trying to see other’s point of view. You touch upon a few themes, one of them being sensitivity between people of different religious persuasion. I can only speak for myself and say that it is the very divisive nature of adherence to one religion or another that has ultimately persuaded me to turn my back on organised religion; I used to be a secular Christian but no longer claim to be a Christian of any particular adherence. My time living in Saudi Arabia was the final straw for me in that I saw how vile a particular faith, in this case the Wahhabist form of Islam can be towards other faiths, including other, different adherents of Islam, the Shi’ites, for example, whilst also being intolerant, indeed hostile towards the Jewish faith. As for their views of Christians? No, instead of being entirely accepting of their faith the Saudi view was that they are all “misguided” Muslims who have yet to discover the next (and last according to them) Prophet. I decided then that I did not want to be the ‘target’ of another hostile religion, and likewise did not want to become a militant person by being inspired to combat those who had no respect for my faith. Thus I freed myself of this dogma and have removed myself from all forms of inter-religious strife.

    Why do I explain my personal religious journey in adding to this debate? Only to illustrate that there are many out there (probably the majority) who, unlike me, have retained their faith but, like me, feel that there are hostile religions out there wishing to convert everybody else, if not by subtle guile then by force if necessary. This leads to the very sensitivity that you provide examples of. Instead of the ‘space’ used by Muslims as a masjid being loaned to the use of Buddhists as a temple being seen as a benevolent use of that space, it is instead seen as an attack. This psyche leads to the adherent of one faith seeing the other’s customs and practices encroaching into their world as a ‘takeover’ and having to be ‘nipped in the bud’ – the classic “NIMBY” – Not In My Back Yard syndrome.

    Unfortunately, not all faiths are benign, and those that are insistent upon aggressive conversion are the worst of those that are malign. As stated before, I include the Wahhabis as just one example. In fact, may I be so bold as to say that I do not know of any other forms of religion in the modern era other than a minority of those in Islam that advocate forcible conversion. In my own country, the United Kingdom, the secular and non-secular feel threatened by aggressive Muslim sects. When these crazy “long beards” burn the flag of the country that has harboured them, and say, “death to all British soldiers”, and pronounce that, “the Black Flag of Islam SHALL fly over the United Kingdom” then it’s difficult to be tolerant of the vast majority of ‘ordinary’ Muslims who wish to build a new mosque or build a Faith school, with Government funding, where only the precepts of Islam will be taught. As a person that knows that the vast majority of Muslims are good, kind people, I have difficulty arguing against those that see the expansion of the Muslim community as anything other than a cover for the “Islamisation” of what is a Judaeo-Christian society.

    Did the Muslims who objected to the Surau’s alternative use do so because they felt sensitive about their religion and thus their way of life being under threat in modern Malaysia? Perhaps, or perhaps it was just old fashioned intolerance.

    As for the clip from the America sit-com. I saw the American lady of Chinese extraction being persuaded to dress up as an Asian schoolgirl as just a bit of harmless fun but then again I am a Caucasian guy who has lived in Europe and the States for most of my life. However, I think the script writers got the wrong type of Asian girl for the metaphor – shouldn’t she have been a Japanese schoolgirl?!

    No, seriously, if we cannot poke fun at one another then we have lost the plot as human beings. There is a big difference between having some gentle rib-poking, as the schoolgirl metaphor was, and being nasty about another race. This is where sensitivity factors come in to play. So, have we become too sensitive in dealing with one another? Perhaps we have but please, let’s keep teasing one another and trying to see the good and not so good in all of us.

    • shirleymaya
      August 31, 2013

      Trying to always see the good in everyone is a great starting point, and not allowing any poor examples of humanity or even religious figures (organised or not) to erode our own humanity and faith. I believe that all religions advocate compassion, understanding and mutual respect for all. It is not exclusive to some, but all-inclusive and all encompassing 🙂

  • Just Mae
    January 17, 2014

    Hi Shirley, excellent post! And I agree with your belief that all religions advocate compassion, understanding and mutual respect for all.

    • shirleymaya
      January 17, 2014

      Thank you. I am so glad to know that another person thinks the same 🙂

  • Perisai
    July 25, 2014

    Unfortunately, some Malaysians think that their religion is the one and only path to God. These people are called ‘pelampau'(extremists) and they will not hesitate to hurt and offend those from other religions or races. Malaysia has plenty of them who get agitated for small things such as this. You should try seeing Asian sitcoms or dramas. They have hardly got any hate for racism because they are careful to make their end product clean and funny/meaningful.(Again, this is all my opinion)

    • shirleymaya
      July 31, 2014

      Extremists and those who do not have empathy for those different from them can sometimes do a great deal of harm to others. That is very sad and most unfortunate indeed for humanity as a whole.