What do we really know?

AFTER a yoga class, a bunch of us were discussing the joy of having pets. While some gushed about their adorable dogs, others began cooing about their cute cats. A woman then just burst out, "I hate cats! They don't really love you, they only show their love when they want food!" A few of us looked at her dubiously, while one person protested, saying that cats just show their love differently.

"No!" the woman said resolutely, "I know! Cats just don't love you except when they want food!" This was a disconcerting proclamation, especially after a yoga class from a yoga practitioner. The all great "I know", in which lies the seed of prejudice and narrow-mindedness.

I don't blame this woman though, I used to like cats a whole lot less than dogs. Maybe I still prefer dogs because of their display of affection for me. But after having lived with a bunch of cats, I realise that the "I know that I don't like cats" has been eroded.

Let's look at the "I know" in the tricky and sensitive issue of the Rohingya. Even among Malaysians, there seems to be two huge camps: there is the "I know they are immigrants who are causing traffic jams in the city centre" camp; and there is the "I know they are good people who don't deserve what is happening to them" camp.

But what do we really know about the Rohingya crisis? There are so many conflicting reports, with some frothing to the point of passion that the Rohingya are terrorist groups from Bangladesh who killed off all the people of Rakhine, while others are saying that they are a good group of people.

We are not from Myanmar. We do not live there, and I suspect only those living in Rakhine would really know what's going on. So let's not assume we know, just because we got a WhatsApp message or social media tells us something.

Let's just ask ourselves, if we can be compassionate to another human being. Not conditional compassion as in "I am a compassionate person but only if (insert condition)". Are they "good" people? Well, who knows? If they are "evil" people, does that justify what is happening to them? I think not.

We walk through life shouldering a whole bunch of "I knows". For example, I wonder if the Rohingya were blue-eyed, blond-haired, model-looking community with fair skin, would all the anti-Rohingya Malaysians feel the same. I also wonder if certain religious segments would support the Rohingya if they were of another religion.

Race, ethnicity and communal prejudice and bias are one of the big "I knows" that we carry and nurse, and propagate in our lives. We look at people and box them into their ethnicity or into their religious community and add a huge "I know" on the tags we label them with.

If we're really honest, we're a pretty racist and xenophobic nation. Some political groups still represent only one race (think 19th century), something that perplexed me even as a child. We also know we dislike migrants, surprising though that may be, considering how many of us are descendants of migrants.

It doesn't have to be Rohingya. Our racist and xenophobic nature rears its ugly head with the Bangladeshis, Indonesians, Filipinos; so long as they are working "beneath" us, or have darker skin or are just different, we don't like them.

My hope of hopes is that we actually stop ourselves and ask, "What do we really know?" Are these ethnic groups really like this? It's like cats and dogs, really. Is one better than the other? Is there even a competition? Can we stop and ask ourselves: "What do we really know?" about others. Because there really is no others; there's only us.

Daniel has a passion for health, fitness, sleep and travel. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com