OPINIONThinking Allowed

Believe in Yourself

The altercation between self-styled motivational expert Sharifah Zohra Jabeen Syed Shah Miskin and law student Ms K.S. Bawani in a local university, the University Utara Malaysia (UUM) has provided an interesting glimpse into Malaysian student life.

This was supposed to be a discourse between the panel of five experts and some 2300 students, but nothing constructive was gained when the moderator, Sharifah Zohra acted in a confrontational and aggressive manner simply because she felt offended by Bawani’s remarks.

The students listened to the panel from mid-morning until 2pm, then just two questions were asked. Two questions from a gathering of over two thousand students do not represent a high level of participation or interest. Perhaps, the topics were boring and failed to inspire questions. Perhaps, students had lost concentration and switched off.

If the tirade which Bawani was subjected to is normal practice for motivational speakers or lecturers, perhaps the parents of the students at the university should question this hostile approach.

We could learn from this talk and rebrand it as “How to de-motivate students and destroy their confidence.” Is it right for a moderator of a forum to grab the microphone from a student posing a question and tell her to “Shut-up!”? Is respect and common decency not to be accorded to students?

According to a relative studying at UUM, students who disagree with the manner in which Bawani was treated are afraid of speaking-out, lest they get into trouble with the authorities. Is our youth conditioned by a culture of fear? Are they prevented from exploring their minds? Are our students denied the opportunity to respond to challenging situations? Our youth should be allowed to ask searching and probing questions and find answers and explanations which are sound.

In a video of the episode, which has been released on the internet, Zohra was seen grabbing the microphone from Bawani before silencing her with a string of invective which lasted several minutes. The tirade was personal, insulting and off-topic.

Students may have felt intimidated by the personal nature of the abuse. Perhaps the other panellists were shocked into silence, because they did nothing to save Zohra from making a fool of herself.

They may have wanted others to see this nasty side of Zohra’s character. The final result was that it was Bawani who can hold her head up high with her dignity intact, whilst Zohra’s reputation has been torn to shreds. Zohra’s latest video-log shows that she is not contrite but despite her coquettish smile, seems to be secretly rather pleased that she is now “a celebrity”.

Bawani has beseeched the public to refrain from turning the incident into a racial issue. Several days later, Zohra released a statement and video alleging that the video of her berating Bawani had been spun to benefit members of the Opposition.

With such an accusation, is it any wonder that Zohra has incurred the wrath of the public? She displayed no remorse nor was she prepared to accept that she had acted with impropriety, and crossed the normal bounds of decency.

Different people are motivated in different ways, but comparing their needs to those of animals, or by ridiculing them in public, is demotivating. A manager, teacher or parent who employs such tactics will fail to inspire his charges, who will end up with low self-esteem.

The failure of Zohra to engage positively with the students in the hall, shows her incompetence and lack of training. She should have taken a back seat and encouraged others to take the lead. Her failure to consider other people’s opinions is a sign of her selfishness.

The question Bawani posed was about the provision of free education to Malaysian students. She was not after free education for herself but wanted it for all Malaysian students. She knew that nations which are less well developed than Malaysia were able to provide free education for their youth.

If Zohra was unable to answer this question, she should have said so and invited views from the floor, or the panel. If Zohra was not committed to giving fair treatment and understanding to students, how did she expect to gain the students’ trust? The command-and-control style she exhibited is highly damaging and does not inspire participation.

Cultural differences are important in most types of engagement but Zohra’s failure to show respect to students by belittling their beliefs, their opinions, their education and background means that her dictatorial style is demotivating and damaging to morale.

Her behaviour discouraged bonding and increased resentment among the students. This cannot be good for the future leaders of the country, some of whom could have been amongst the audience.

Mariam Mokhtar

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