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The Power of Programming ... and its consequences

I know of a Malay woman who just could not bring herself to eat ANY Chinese food, or even step foot into any Chinese restaurant. Why? Because her parents had raised her to think of all Chinese as dirty disgusting unclean non-Muslim scum, what’s why! And while this person had learned to function and interact fine with Chinese people, she just. Couldn’t. Eat. Their. Food. She’s tried – she’d puked. She couldn’t overcome her programming, despite being aware of it.

This is an example of Malaysia’s “racial & religious tolerance” the country boasts about.

Slightly over a year ago, I was discussing food with NS, a relatively close friend from my schooldays. She for some reason deemed it fit to advise me on what food to eat (the halal/haram issue) while I was going to be bumming around in the states. She said she was quoting her father, who is quite the religious type: “Eating kosher meat is fine. If you can’t find that, if you want you can eat food prepared by Christians or white people. But never ever eat anything by Chinese.” Me (incredulous, and immediately seeing so many holes…): “Oh, really? What about Chinese who are Christians?” She didn’t know. And had no opinion – couldn’t even say that maybe what she’d blithely regurgitated didn’t make sense.

I see this as an example of Malaysia’s practice of quashing independent thinking combined with the assumption that elders/parents always know best, and are not to be questioned. I was actually quite disappointed to discover from this interaction that NS was not the independent thinker I’d thought she was…

Don’t let the above examples give you the idea that I’m going to rant about the racial, religious and cultural “tolerance” (as opposed to the more effective, productive and peaceful CELEBRATION!) in Malaysia.

I want to talk about “programming”

It starts as soon as we are born, if not before….

In the Middle East, it is said that babies on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict are fed hatred along with mothers’ milk. … and while this continues to happen, is there any way to find some sort of peaceful workable solution to the situation? People are being bred to hate, to answer violence with more violence… but do they know what they are really fighting for? Do they understand what has brought the situation to the condition it is in today?

In Malaysia, with the convoluted situation of three main races (Malay, Chinese, Indian), practicing diverse religions (“there are no non-Muslim Malays”; Chinese = Taoist, Buddhist, Christian, some Muslim; Indian = Hindu, Christian, Muslim), the inbuilt discrimination for “bumiputera” (Malays, and the aborigine tribes which may practice animism, Islam or Christianity) within the Constitution, and the blurry status of how Indian / Chinese converts to Islam can become “bumiputera”… and resentment on all sides at perceived unfair practices, discrimination, etc etc… it’s not surprising that SOMETHING is “passed on” along with mothers’ milk! How, then, to achieve true cooperation among the many peoples that make up Malaysia??

But all that is talking about programming “against” “other people”…

What about programming against yourself?

I’m thinking about growing up in an environment that is harmful to a child’s sense of self-worth…

How about growing up with parents who call you “stupid” all the time?

And not just “stupid” but rather “styoooopid!” with anger, disgust, irritation, hate, sarcasm and/or venom dripping off every word…

I don’t care what the child has done, or how it behaves: when growing up, a child needs to be encouraged to learn, explore, question, make mistakes in order to learn from mistakes – not to get such savage blows to its self-esteem…

The child grows up all confused … it knows it’s not stupid: after all, it gets pretty good grades in school… do the parents hate it or something? Is there something wrong with it? Why can it never make them happy?

It grows up withdrawn, shy. Then the parents scold it for being shy, for failing to meet peoples' eyes when shaking hands with them, for staying up in its room when there are visitors... but what do you expect?

The child grows up with resentment and anger smoldering inside.

It starts to live a double life: on the outside it seems shy and withdrawn, but on the inside is a seething mass of emotions.

Fortunately, deep within the child lies an inner core of strength, which it finds and taps: perhaps despite of, probably thanks to, the anger and resentment within itself.

The child finds strength and belief within itself.

It also starts to observe its parents interactions, and realizes that its parents are actually really screwed up, and that a lot of how it was raised was a reflection of their dysfunction. It is amazed that they would actually take their frustrations out on their child that way. Did they not know any better?

While it is thankful there was never any physical abuse, it knows that what it experienced was a form of mental abuse…

…the scars of which exist to this day…

And the parents wonder why the now grown-up child is cold, distant and treats them with contempt. Sure, there are other factors involved, but still….

... what goes around comes around.

A point to ponder: whay is it that most people who were abused as kids end up abusing their own children? Why those who grew up watching their father beat up their mothers have a high chance of beating up on their own wives?

As much as they swore to themselves that they would never treat their kids/wife the same way, in the end, when they are in the same situation as they were 30 years prior, unless they have the highest of self control and self awareness, chances are high that they'll just perpetuate a terrible behaviour....raising yet another kid who's very likely to abuse its own child/partner in the future... and the vicious cycle continues...

I have always had grave doubts about ever settling down, and if that were to ever happen, whether I'd ever want to have kids - purely from the perspective of being to raise them is such a way as to NOT perpetuate the dysfunctions I'm probably programmed to carry out. At least now, Kosh and I, we both are all too aware of our families' dysfunctions... and we trust that we'll be able to "call" ourselves on any negative behaviour or bias or whatever we may inadvertently practice towards/around our future kids. We can do our small bit in raising kids who are true citizens of the world.


  1. With the way you write and express yourself, I don't have any doubt that you'd make a fine mom to your future kids.

    I've known some people coming from dysfunctional families too, but they still ended up being a good parent to their children. :D

    Hmm..hope I made sense


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