Wednesday, 15 February 2012

No apologies for my brutal honesty

I Should Tone It Down?

A few years ago, 2 of my ex-bosses met and I introduced them to each other. One of them said to the other, "You will need to get used to Jo's brutal honesty.". Family and friends close to me know me for the upfront and straight-forward character that defines me. Over the years, many have advised that I should "tone down" my personality. It's like asking me to get neutered. Recently, someone offered a helpful advice, requesting me to "tone it down" and tamper what I described for better want of words, "my exuberance". They might as well have asked Joel to get a sex change, or gotten David to remove his testicles.. with a fork.

I Demand Honesty

It took me a couple of days to mull over the advice, finally concluding that I am what I am, with no apologies. However, I owed it to myself and to the people around me who have to put up with my brutal honesty, to explain why rules of engagement with me must always be defined by complete transparency and openness.

A Lesson In Brutal Honesty

When I was 8 years old, in 1978, while being tutored by my Mandarin tutor at home, a gang of men barged into the home. Mum and I almost had a heart attack and they told us to be calmed as Dad was joining us soon. They bellowed that they were from the Internal Security Department (ISD) and proceeded to ransack our home while my tutor comforted my sobbing Mum and me.

When Dad finally arrived, accompanied by more ISD chaps, he was in handcuffs. Mom was sobbing uncontrollably by now and when I wanted to run to Dad, the men prevented me from doing so. I shouted at them, " This is not right. He is not a criminal. You only handcuff a criminal.". I was only 8 years old then. At that point, I thought I spoke more sense than all the adults in that house. No one could provide answers. So I had decided to take control of the situation in the only way I knew, to question what I thought was not right.

Dad was detained for a few months, without trial, under the Internal Security Act ( ISA). His crime? For being part of a civil rights society formed amongst a bunch of friends, committed to free speech and thought. - ( For more information about Function 8, see ).

During my weekly visits to Dad, beyond the blue gates at Thomson Road, I looked at the ISD chaps with disdain. And I will snarl at them, telling them to "take care of my father or else...". I abhorred the smirk on their smug faces that reminded me of clipboard-toting civil servants I see today. In particular, I can't stand the ones who leave me with a parking ticket that glaringly declares how much more fun their meaningless day was now that they had spoiled someone else's by issuing a fine just because my meeting couldn't finish in the time limit stated on that parking coupon.

A year after Dad's release, he was invited to a "friend's" home for a housewarming party. The minute I stepped into their home, and upon recognizing the host as the man who arrested my Dad, I told him, the host of that party, to go screw himself. I was 10 years old then. And I took control of the situation in the only way I knew. I had to be brutally honest. I couldn't be in the same room with my father's captors.

Standing By My Beliefs

I liked to think that over the years, I stood by what I believed in, and I will continue to stand up to what I feel is not right. I couldn't associate with anyone that thought otherwise. As I grew up, those that crossed my path, beyond the "brown-nosers" like the ISD chaps, were the sycophantic and hypocritical "bible-bashers" who knocked my head with prescribed notions of values.

I stood up to my ex-husband and our families. And sadly, I had to stand up to friends who chose to take his side.

I got married way too young and realized too soon that it was a mistake. Mum said that I had to " make the bed I slept in", insisting that true to her Catholic values,I had to be in it for life. I didnt. I chose to part ways as amicably as I could but in disappointment, Mum and Dad cut me off for a few years. That hurt for a long time. However, in brutal honesty, I told them that it was my life, I made a mistake, and it was my responsibility to clean it up, with or without them. That was how I took control of the situation, in the only way I knew how to.

Years of single parent-hood, and life without Mum and Dad, had honed that same conviction to stand up to what's not right. Thankfully, many years after, remarried and with Mum and Dad back in our lives, I have never stopped standing up for what I believed in.

Today, at work, at home and amongst friends, I am the same. Someone said to me this afternoon," Jo, we are looking to you to make lots of noise about this." To which I replied " happy to do it if you can convince me the noise I make wouldn't be empty and without substance." Yes, I have registered the horror on the faces around the table, but I couldn't walk away with the lie over my head that something will work when clearly, it hadn't convinced me so. And I hoped they appreciated the truth.

I am not in the habit of ruffling feathers and I am not a gun-wielding, hair-shaving lunatic activist either. But I take no prisoners when I believe in doing the right thing.

So, don't mind my brutal honesty. I won't apologise for it.

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