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Lack of concern for others is a problem

By Zhu Yuan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-16 08:52

Lack of concern for others is a problemA 60-year-old Chinese woman was arrested for making too much noise in a New York park, after people complained that the dance group she was leading was disturbing the peace.

Some would defend her by saying that it is common for people to engage in such activities in parks or other public places in China, and they ask how can an activity that brings people together and keeps them fit disrupt other people's lives.

In this instance the law backed up the minority, as the interests of those who wanted a peaceful park were protected by the park's bylaws.

But should a group of 50 people who are enjoying dancing in a park to the accompaniment of loud music stop their activities if five other people in the park complain that they cannot bear the noise? Should the protests of a few who want to enjoy a quiet meal curb the boisterous enjoyment of a large group in a restaurant?

In accordance with the logic of those who consider it a cultural habit for Chinese people to talk at the top of their lungs, surely those who cannot bear the noise should just move somewhere else.

And this is often the case in China, no matter how reasonable or even justifiable their appeals are, the minority will often choose to give in to the majority, even though what the majority is doing infringes on the rights and interest of the minority.

It is a case of fabu zezhong, or the law fails where the violation is by many. With this mentality prevailing among most Chinese, the appeals of the minority for the majority to change their ways are hardly ever supported by the police.

There are at least three groups of dancers in the park where I often go for a morning walk. Their loud music does disturb the peaceful atmosphere, and I often have the urge to tell them to turn it down. However, I never do so, as I know the answer I'll get: "It's a public place and we have the freedom to do whatever we want. If you don't like the music, you can go away." Or else: "You're so picky, there's only you complaining."

I know that if I complain about the noise they are making, I will either be made the butt of jokes or else the target of verbal abuse by people made bold by their place in a herd.

As a result, those who want to enjoy a quiet meal in a restaurant or enjoy a serene place to exercise or read often fall to victim to the tyranny of the majority.

The majority often claim the moral high ground, simply because they have the weight of numbers, but they should bear in mind that they won't be part of the majority all the time.

Those who advocate the tyranny of the majority when they benefit from such tyranny are usually just as eager to assert their individual rights and interests when they are in the minority. Behind such double standards is their selfishness and lack of respect for the rights and interests of others.

In reality, it is easy for a majority of non-smokers to point an accusing finger at a minority who are smoking in a public venue where smoking is prohibited, but it is very difficult for a few non-smokers to protect their rights to be free from the harm of secondhand smoke when the majority of customers are smoking.

It is clear that the protection of the rights and interests of the minority is much more difficult, and therefore important, than catering to the needs of the majority. It may be too demanding for the many, who are used to speaking loudly or making noise in a public venue, to realize that they are exercising the tyranny of the majority over others. But it is necessary to make them aware that it is important to think of how other people feel when they do such things.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. zhuyuan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 08/16/2013 page8)

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