Me, my song, my destiny

Bout 10 yrs ago, I was just a chao ah beng with lots of pride, pretty confident and without a future very bright. I did things my way, never stop challenging norms, dogmas and policies. Maybe it made some a little angry.

People seldom like me at first look, but as time goes by, they understood me and the actions I took. If you judge me at first sight, never knew who I really am you might. I don’t us to be in the same zone, all I need is to have a space of my own. No need adoration or agreement. All I need is basic respect, courtesy and not resentment. The same I show from CEOs to cleaners, MPs to laymen.

We all have our own ideologies.
To me, they did no harm to me, so I’ll let them be. There is no need for me to be moralistic and judge anyone, as it aint my job or duty, then I wouldn’t care he’s whose son.

The world would be so much better if we can just show a little KINDNESS. Who am I to say my way of life is correct in all these madness? Even if I disagree, I’ll approach to convince and debate lightly, not to force my ideology upon thee.

Today, it’s still the same old me, with the same defiance, same pride and same melody. And again, I am facing the same problem, even as I try to be sincere and solemn. It’s a trade off I am willing to make as I don’t define value by popularity, even as I wouldn’t give popularity a tick.

A teacher once told me, put away my pride and ego, focus on learning. While I yearning, the same pride kept me striving.

It’s my characteristic and part of me. We all have our character, don’t we? I just need more love and understanding. But it’s okay if you don’t show it to me readily.

I tell myself, if I can transform from an unruly delinquent to someone like this, then I can achieve ANYTHING. The same applies across the seven seas. So NEVER look down on anyone, everywhere under the sun. If I was condemned in the past, I wouldn’t be as contributive now and might give up really fast.

Whatever it is, this is me, my song and my destiny, and I make no apology!

Is a robust society ever made up of a single kind of human?

If we want to have a strong society, we need to be able to accept differences. We need to have a space for debate, for civil discourse and conflicts. But at the end of the day, to decide on one direction and for those who disagrees, to concede defeat unless it is strongly against good values and ethics then follow what was decided for the greater good. To allow individual views and preferences to have the room and space to be exposed. But on the other hand, we need to be able to put aside our personal differences to work towards a single goal. We should be united in our purpose, not in the way we speak or dress. Not in the way we behave or talk. And not by avoiding conflict or debates because that’s the only way we can pit one idea against another.

Group think Is a very scary thing. How would the Nazis be brainwashed into the holocaust when it is so obvious that it is a wrong thing now? How do the bystander effect occur when it is clear that someone must help? Humans like birds, flock with the same feather. We gather close to those who are like us because it makes us feel accepted. It make us feel normal. In US, there are millions who believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. In Singapore, we only need 3 million to decide the lives of the entire country. The next time you find yourself in the majority, think again and be very careful. You can champion your beliefs and ideology, but make sure it is founded on good values and logic, not emotions, pressure to conform, preferences and norms. Norms are scary things as well. In some countries, spitting and urinating everywhere is a norm. Should we do as Romans do?

Recent news have highlighted on our social stratification. Our society is divided between the rich and the poor. Do you make an effort to mix with someone who is different from you? Do you really believe in diversity, live and breathe it instead of preaching it because it is the right thing to do. Are you afraid of being different from your social group? Shows tells us that it is usually the rich who oppress the poor, but it can also be the other way round. It can also be the poor against the poor and all the other combinations available. When we deny someone entry to our social group or to draw a line between us and them, it is already exclusion. Our in group mentality protects our exclusivity. It makes us feel less special. It dilutes our group identity. So we naturally guard against that. It helps us create stereotypes, because it is so easily to classify people based on that, but we forget that each of us is a being itself.

We can all be different, but united to make things happen. This is what made Singapore happen. This is the Singapore story! That a group of people from all over the world, determined to make things happen, led by a group of capable people and we made this place to become one of the most livable in the world. If we were afraid to stand out from the crowd, if we were afraid to be different, Singapore wouldn’t exist. Diversity today is more than skin colour. It is mannerism, class, ideology and beliefs.

So be yourself. Speak up for you think what is right but open to differences. Compete with one another. Have the courage to be different. Accept others for who they are. At the end of the day, focus on what we have to do and get it done.

Diversity Poem

My little poem on diversity

To the minority who were brave to stand up for what is right and a good friend of mine. You know who you are.

~~

Before humans have clothes, we distinguish by our shadings.
Now that we are clothed, we judge based on our dressing.

I used to say that tattoo’s a means to reveal those who can’t look beyond the skin.
As I have discovered, there are many ways to achieve the same purpose of ink.

Why do we have to look the same to be a family?
When we say we truly embrace diversity?

If you are curious, come and talk straightly.
You may not do the same but you wouldn’t disagree.

You are you, and I am me.
I don’t have to be you and you don’t have to be me.

Cast away all the talk behind.
Live and let live, keep our common purpose in mind! =)

It depends… (title given by CKJM)

So today I rode my scooter to work and it got me thinking. Many times, we classify ourselves into categories. We say that we hate cyclists, we hate motorcyclists or truck drivers depending on the situation. And I am sure you have heard more than once that people mentioned to you how irritating certain group of road users are. What’s interesting about me is that I ride a e-scooter, cycle a bicycle, drives a car, rides a motorbike and steers a boat. Of course I take a bus and the MRT as well.

What’s interesting about this is because I seemed to be stuck in between “worlds” throughout my life. I was from EM2 then opted into EM1. I was from Express then relegated to Normal Acadmic. I was a youth delinquent (stereotypically pai kia), then later became one of the undergraduates in a top university (stereotypically guai kia). Yet I am a diploma holder since I did not graduate (yet, I hope) from NTU. Then I was enlisted Obese, but became an IPPT Gold achiever with 6-pack. I was an Officer Cadet yet I am not an Officer. I crossed all the three tiers in National Service, the Specialists, the Officers and the Men. If there is any hard and fast rule for classifying people, I have seem to broke them all. I have friends who ranges from drug abusers, hardcore repeat offenders to people who are pursuing doctorate before 30. And my demeanour changes according to my mood, environment and most importantly, necessity. I can change from someone looking like a street thug to a politician debating with you why the recent budget is correct or wrong. And I am amused when people put labels on me, when they have just seen one side of me, claiming that I am too serious or too reckless, too causal or too formal depending on when I was seen. And it gets really funny sometimes because I have had people threatening me in a pub when they see me as a defenceless white collar or threatening to call the cops on me when I was wearing my singlet, flip-flops with my group of ah beng friends just hanging out. Neither works. Only goodwill, friendship and sincerity works with me. If you treat me like a gentleman with respect, I will return you the same deserving amount of respect and courtesy. I am not a single cell organism that you can judge on first look. I am part of the race which dominated earth due to our sophistication – the human race.

Many people build their identity by which group they belong to. And they exclude, cast stereotypical view on those who are different from them. The private university graduates vs the public university graduates. The graduates vs the scholars. The graduates vs the non graduates. The specialists and the officers. The rank and file vs those who came in via academic qualifications. There are so many ways we can chop and dice our society up. But to me, it is just plain stupid. And partly I think this stupidity is why we have a divided society. Oh, I am from RI. You are from a neighbourhood school. But there are so many reasons why one is in RI and another in neighbourhood school. So many reasons that outweighs one’s pure ability. Your birth place, your parents, your environment. If the same smart guy were born in a third world country, things would have been very different. You think your helper is lower class than you? Or less capable? It is just because you happen to be born here and your helper elsewhere. If the roles were switched, you might be the one getting scolded because you screwed up on using the rice cooker.

We seem to have a need to see ourselves as one group or the other. Our need to exclude certain people from our group so that we feel more special. But in fact, we are actually not so different. Many times we became part of the group because of chances. If I had been in another company during NS, maybe I wouldn’t enter OCS. If I had missed out on the 9th application to enter a local University, or if I didn’t drop out of OCS to meet my CO who wrote a recommendation, then maybe I wouldn’t be in NTU. As much as these associations or qualification affirms my abilities, I know deep down inside that there is still a factor of luck involved. Chances. Or God’s grace. And if you were to be born elsewhere, brought up in a different culture, maybe you will be the loud, uncouth, spitting on the floor and cutting queue individual. We overestimate our own abilities and character sometimes. Read Standford Prison Experiment or Determinism.

So it is kinda stupid to say that I am better because I was in OCS or that I am in NTU. And to put in another way round, that you are more “down to earth” hence you are a Specialist or more street smart because you are a diploma holder and not a degree holder. I think it is just rubbish. The fact is that if I have put you in another group, someone who justifies being in one group would probably do the same in another. There are some indications of your abilities according to your assocations. But it is an indication. Not a rule. And it just so happens that your abilities matches what the requirements are. If you were born in a world excessively noisy or bright, maybe the blind and deaf will have an edge over you.

So is there really a higher class being and a lower class? I think it all boils down to your state of being. There is a Chinese saying that a cat with high spirit is more dominant than a tiger, while a phoenix without feather is worse than a chicken. When we are at our best state and the wind behind our back, we feel like we can take down the world. With strong wind, even pigs can fly. I don’t know how do we measure a man. By his performance in adversity? Or by his conduct when in power? Abraham Lincoln said (as mentioned in my previous post) that nearly all men can take adversity. But if you want to see a man’s true character, give him power. There was a point in time in my life which I felt things were getting too smooth. And in the end I shot myself in the foot. The fall was harder than what I expected. And it brought me back to earth. Power may arrive when you are not ready. And may not come when you are. And power bestowed may not be obvious. I don’t know how do I measure a man. Is it true of what Lincoln said? That’s something I would ponder about.

Power

I am really supposed to be sleeping but I decided to write this despite that I am shag like hell. My new role is rather demanding, both physically and mentally so I am really adapting to the change. After all, it has been so many years since I last saw six distinct segments of my abdominal. But like what I have always believe – If I can do it once, I can do it again. And if I get to do it again, I can do it better. As much as I am proud of my achievements in the past, I am clearer than anyone that all these are history. And no one really gives a shit. Pardon my language.

Without further ado, I would like to spend this time to write a short article on power. Power to us seems like authority. Or position. But it is not. When we talk about the quote by Abraham Lincoln, that anyone can handle adversity. But if you want to see a person’s true character, give him/her power, we are not just talking about positions. At least in my interpretation.

Power to me means ability. It could be an ability to make someone happy or to make someone sad. To spoil one’s reputation or to speak up for someone. This power is not given to only people with authority. For example, when you are in a group and there is a social outcast. You have power in the group as a member. Do you use that power to be inclusive or exclusive? Do you use the weakest link to show that you are stronger or do you genuinely serve the weak?
It can even be a old staff vs new staff situation, even when the old staff might be lower in rank. You can use your political power in the office to make things difficult for the new one, because you believe that he/she is not deserving of the position, with or without a sound argument (we seldom mistrust our own judgement). And of course, you can be a senior staff with more influence in an organisation, forgetting that you were once someone new and junior, and be less friendly, more abusive or just couldn’t care less because you can. Or a coach who have gained so much knowledge that you forgot how it is like to be a learner since it has became so natural to you.

In this world, no one blames the tiger for eating the deer. I understand the natural order of things. So I don’t expect someone to show mercy to me when he/she have the power to do otherwise. But that is also why I respect those who exercise self control. Those who take a step back and be nice, even when they can be very nasty.

When you have power, a lot of morals are ignored. You become less sensitive to the needs of others. Why do you think that many cars do not give way to motorcyclists? And trucks do not give way to cars? And this is what I propose as what we mean by “having power show one’s true character”. To quote someone else, Lord Acton once said that power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. We may all think we are not like that. We are nice people. Right? But studies proved otherwise such as the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Have you been less sensitive to anyone lately because you were powerful? When was the last time you chose to use your power to protect than to abuse? Think about it. It may be more often than you realise it.

Till next time.

Yours truly.

On “The Commuter” movie and choices in life

Over the weekend, I went to watch a movie “The Commuter” by Liam Something. That guy who played all the badass character in the movie, like teaching Batman and stuff. So far, the movie by him all seemed to be pretty good, so despite knowing nothing about the show, we went ahead and got ourselves two tickets which cost a bomb.

 

*Spoiler Alert* – Do not read further if you haven’t watch the movie and plan to do so

 

So, as expected, he turns out to be the hero in the show. He had to choose to keep a huge sum of money and the lives of his family but killing a witness of a crime which could topple a huge regime of corrupted officers. He chose the “right” thing (the quotes because it may be right to society but not to his family which could have died. Values are not universal in case you haven’t realise.”). And to cut the long story short, there is a lot of talk about being noble. And this brings me to talk about what I have shared with a group of youths lately.

*What I am going to share may sound obvious, but I feel that there is actually a lot of wisdom in it if we think deeper about it and try to adopt it in our daily lives*

 

I shared with them at my closing conversation with them that in life, we all have choices. Whether it is about picking up the litter on the street, cleaning the toilet bowl that you stained when no one is watching or being nice to someone else who acts or thinks different from you by being inclusive, we all have a choice to do the better thing and the not so good thing. So my advice to them is to always try to be the better person that you can be. And it makes no difference if we are 15 or 50, 10 or 100 years old.

 

On hindsight, I realised that I have failed to share why we should do so? And my reply to that is simple: Because we are capable of it. For example, if I were to see a homeless on the street, I have many choices. On the ends of the extreme, I can choose to donate all my savings to him or I can ignore him (or maybe even kick him in the face if I am really bad). And between these two choices, there are many other options that I have in between. And what I propose, is to choose the best choice that you think you are capable of amongst these choices. And that essentially is “Being the better person that you can be”. It is okay to not be able to perform self-sacrificing actions at that point in time because it is not within you at that moment. But always try to be the better person that you can be. We must know that we have a choice, and it is not an obvious one. As long as we know that it is within the range of options we have, we can always work towards the better end. (To challenge things further, being on the extreme end isn’t all ideal as well since we have to balance different things in life, such as donating all your money will make your wife/husband very upset.)

 

Adopting this philosophy frames our perspective in a different way. It makes us look at those who have committed crimes or did something bad, that they are incapable of making a better decision or action at the point in time. And this will serve as the fuel to drive us to guide others along.

 

I am not sure how much of this connects with you, but I hope it does. Till next time.

“So this is what you do at work everyday?”

“Yes, everyday.”

 

Some thoughts on leadership and practising what you preach

Friends who know me for some time will know that I love to write. I love to share my thoughts online and hopefully generate some insightful debates with others. But lately, I have refrained from writing too much. There are two reasons for this, first being that the more you learn, the more you think that you don’t know anything. I don’t think I am in a position to teach anyone anything. What I can do, however, is to propose what I think, and if it serves you, then take it. It’s free. The second being that somehow I have always been cautioned from sharing too much. I was told it allows others to read me like an open book. I always thought that it would be nice to be open. After all, I would rather others know me so that they do not have to speculate what I am thinking, however, it seems that in this world, some are more treacherous than I thought. And of course, somehow, people always feel that when I write something, I am “forcing” my opinion. No, I am not. I am writing for people to disagree so that I can learn from it. Even if they agree, I still refine my views from time to time. We can only know which idea truly stands after contention. So for those who hate disagreements, I am afraid that there is something invaluable still, from all the sparks and friction.

 

Still, I am writing today. Because I believe that the good outweighs the bad.

 

I want to talk about two things today. First being leadership. I am always obsessed with leadership. I have no idea why. Good leaders compel me to follow. And I am always impressed by people who can lead well. The recent leadership philosophy that I adopt is like a rudder. For those who have sailed before, they will know what is a rudder. It is the piece of metal that is stuck under the ship that controls the direction. A good leader to me is like a rudder. Not seen nor heard most of the time, but they set the direction. To quote Lao Tze, an ancient Chinese philosophy and probably the founder of Taoism (if I am not mistaken), said:

A leader is best when people barely know she is there. Not so good when people respect and acclaim her. Worst when people despise her. When the job is done and her will fulfilled, they will say we did it ourselves. (I used “she” as the male is always used as a default; I like gender balance.)

I wonder why. But despite not knowing why, somehow, this philosophy sits well with me. In fact, I memorised this by heart.

I shared this with a senior and she said: But if they think that they did it themselves, but they really can’t, and they try it without you, then disaster may strike. I think there is some truth in that. My reply to her was that in that case then time will tell a good leader from a bad one. But of course, if it is related to lives then perhaps a leader may have to step forward when they try to do it themselves and it is known that they will fail. I have no further insights on this.

 

The second thing that I want to talk about is practising what you preach. Many times, you see people preaching certain values. For example, I often hear senior preaching about driving or riding safely, but they drink and drive. I hear teacher preaching about inclusivity to their students but they themselves outcast their colleagues. I hear schools preaching about every individual is teachable, yet they choose to let staff go. I understand that it is important to have ideologies. We may never achieve perfection but that should not stop us from preaching about it. But we should be aware that our actions should be consistent with our words, or at least be aware when it doesn’t. Many times, we are unable to see our own blind spots. And thinking about that, I feel jittery because God knows when did I disgust someone else when I preach about certain things when I have not achieved it myself. When have I complained about someone’s flaws when I have it on my own. My answer to that is the three mirrors – your friends, your foes and yourself, an imperfect but simplistic way of checking your blind spot. And that is why it is important to have open communication. And to have open communication, you have to build that trust, that you are willing to accept feedback and not hold grudges to the one delivering. And one has to take honesty as a gift. It is an expensive gift, not everyone can afford it. For me, I pray for nothing more but sincerity and honesty. But although I can promise you that I will listen and consider, I cannot promise you that I can change to your liking. Because ultimately, I have to make a choice on what kind of person I want to be. And perhaps change also takes time.

Last reflection to welcome 2018

As we approach 2018, I just want to say that I know that I have made some very worried during my absence, as I left no trace behind. As I catch up with these people and in our conversation, there is a mixture of emotions which I don’t know how to describe. I am just happy I am able to have them with me now that I have returned.

Life have presented me with many challenges. I would not quantify and compare since I am sure many others would have felt the same. We all face challenges before that sometimes make us feel stretched, beaten and down. Despite all, I am still thankful for the gift of life, for all the colours, its ups and downs. Even as it has its thorns, I am grateful to have the people, the experiences, the happiness and joy.

2017 is not more significant than other years, even as it presented its fair share of shocks and surprises. It is not more significant as there are other years which I have also faced significant changes. Yet, if you were to put all the years together, it is what makes me who I am today. Even as it is not more significant, like an additional brick that forms a building, it adds to the foundation of my identity and being. 2017 have made me slightly more mellow, wise and careful. It forces me back to the ground to rework on my fundamentals, to rework on my approach on life and to fine tune my views of the world. It also gave me the opportunity to redefine my personal relationship with others. Last but not least, it made me question what do I really want in life. What are my values and what do I seek. Where do the forces of life wants me to be and whom shall I become. I seem to have some small inspiration and direction but I doubt it would ever be the final answer. The gift of life is the opportunity for discovery.

As I approach 2018, I will focus this year on my personal proficiency and capabilities in my job and on serving the core beneficiary of my organisation. Society have given me a lot and it shall be society that I return. I will focus this year on service, proficiency and if I am really able to be of use, leadership, not of position but of influence, inspiration and service. I will also spend time to work on my character so that I can be a better me, by reflecting and listening. Last but not least, I will seek to be a pillar in my family. First to set up my core family, then my close family, then if possible, my extended family.

I shall end off this post with this: Every state of life is temporary. You can be rich or poor overnight depending on God’s grace. What really matters is how you act in between the transiting phases of life.

Happy 2018.