A difference between empathy and forgiveness

The following is a Facebook post by Cheryl Marie Tay in response to an article by the general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, William Wan, in the Straits Times on 24 January, with regards to the Anton Casey saga. [You can read Mr Wan’s article here: “Where has all our empathy gone?“]

We publish Ms Tay’s note with her permission.

William Wan's article in the Straits Times
William Wan’s article in the Straits Times


Perhaps it’s my disdain for the standard of “journalism” ST is known for, or perhaps I’m just missing the empathy chip, but Mr. William Wan, please spare me your highfalutin calls for “empathy” for “the least deserving”, i.e. Anton Casey.

I didn’t say much on the issue because, well, he isn’t the first rich person to have such a condescending attitude towards those whose entire net worth is but a monthly salary for him. I’ve met locals and foreigners who think money alone makes them superior, so I wasn’t surprised. Also, I knew very well that an angry Internet mob would form in a matter of hours and rip him apart, and I was right.

But of course, trust ST to publish an article encouraging us to be “empathetic” towards him, and to take the opportunity to slip in pro-PAP lines such as “those who chastise the Government for groupthink also themselves fall prey to a groupthink mob mentality”.

When Amy Cheong made derogatory remarks about the Malay community, did anyone call for “empathy” for her? She was fired from her job, and fled to Australia to escape all the negative attention she was receiving. So what makes Anton Casey so special? His race? His nationality? His money? His so-called “status”? And let’s not forget Sun Xu, the infamous NUS “scholar” from China, who called Singaporeans “dogs”. Long before any disciplinary action was taken against him, Baey Yam Keng had the nerve to tell us to “reflect” upon ourselves.

To be absolutely clear, I don’t think such offences warrant a termination of employment, especially if the offender has done well at his job; I am merely highlighting the blatant double standards being practised.

I don’t condone mob mentality, and certainly find it unacceptable to drag someone’s personal life into the spotlight, or implicate his friends or family for HIS actions. However, that has nothing to do with empathy but everything to do with being a logical, sensible human being. Punish the perpetrator and his accomplices (if any), not his family or friends.

On a related note, people should be free to speak their minds, even if it means offending certain sections of society. And other people should be free to respond to them, so at least all cards are laid on the table, views are properly expressed, and we can all progress – collectively and as individuals. But in a country where issues such as class, race, nationality, immigration and the like are not talked about (enough) simply because they are “sensitive” issues, one can surely expect more incidents like this, where Singaporeans go all CSI and paparazzi on the offender and his family.

So instead of forming angry Internet mobs and burning down everything in your virtual path to revenge, or writing patronizing articles calling for “empathy” for the offender, how about trying to determine the underlying issues and root causes before passing judgment? Because if we can’t (be bothered to) understand the reasons behind a problem, how can we possibly deal with it or prevent / minimize the chances of its re-occurrence?

Also, I have nothing against rich people or their riches in general, but how can I, an average middle-class working Singaporean, possibly “empathize” with a rich expat who clearly thinks his material wealth places him above the rest of society? There is a difference between empathy and forgiveness, and I’m sure we will all put this behind us, sooner or later. But please, Mr. Wan – you should have looked up “empathy” in the dictionary before writing an article about it.

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A co-founder of The Online Citizen in December 2006, Andrew’s writings have been reproduced in other publications, including the Australian Housing Journal. He was nominated by Yahoo Singapore as one of Singapore's most influential media persons in 2011.