Coffee Break: Speak and remove all doubt

This article first appeared in Capital, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 8, 2020 - June 14, 2020.
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Thanks to one “white” former beauty queen’s mea culpa, a comment that yours truly has not seen for some time cropped up more than once in the various chat groups: “Life is fair: She has looks but no brains.” The “beauty = no brains” comment was allowed to slide, since the greater foot-in-mouth here was the beauty’s remark that “black people should relax [because they] chose to be born as a coloured person in America”.

British-Malaysian Crazy Rich Asians actor Henry Golding was not the only one “infuriated” by what the former Miss Universe Malaysia had to say about the outcry that ensued from the killing of an unarmed African-American while in police custody in the US. At the time of writing, more than 120,000 have signed the petition on to remove her crown and title.

It remains to be seen whether her apology will douse the online fury, but netizens had already shown solidarity on #AllLivesMatter by speaking up.

Over in Wall Street, a different kind of rage also stemmed from what someone said. A US federal judge ruled last Tuesday that shareholders could sue Apple for losses resulting from CEO Tim Cook’s alleged concealment of falling demand. Cook had indicated strong iPhone demand in an analyst call on Nov 1, 2018, just days before the company told its largest manufacturers to curb production.

What was left unsaid did not escape the California-based judge who, in allowing the shareholders’ lawsuit to proceed, reportedly noted that Apple’s decision to stop reporting iPhone unit sales “plausibly suggests that [it expected] unit sales to decline”.

Back home, it would seem that criticism of what was left unsaid and undone rang loud and clear in at least one corner of Corporate Malaysia — and with a positive outcome.

The surprise award of spectrum to several telecommunications companies without a tender was rescinded last Wednesday, a day after the grant of licences made headlines and drew flak over the lack of due process as well as key details that could have had an impact on investment and stock prices.

Whatever one’s view on these unrelated incidents last week, they may well serve as a reflection of sorts on when to speak up and when it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

In theory, what should be said or left unsaid ought to be relatively clear when it comes to business — honesty and transparency are often the best course of action.

It is in matters that cannot be objectively measured that the line between what should be said and what should be left unsaid can perhaps be determined only by judging the gravity of the matter and how well one knows the counterparty. A classic conundrum is which of two persons important to you to save from drowning. Another is when a woman asks whether she looks fat in a particular dress, and you do not know whether she wants a compliment or an honest opinion.

We all know what the “right” (read “safe”) answer is, my companion declares — testing the boundaries of my patience by adding that the average woman would rather have beauty than brains because the average man can see better than he can think. The sheer size of the US$50 billion (RM213.3 billion) global cosmetic surgery market, US$500 billion global cosmetics market and US$2.5 trillion fashion retail industry is testament to that fact — before the world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beauty is still in the eye of the beholder in the post-lockdown world. Yet, we may have a different appreciation of beauty if we look beyond appearances.

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