Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ownership and individualism

I figured Michelle Chong's article really hit a nerve with people on the internet who either fall into the "we lost our sense of pride in our work because" and "yah lor...these days people are..."

Have we lost our way?

We look toward the very earnest service staff in Japan, and admire how warm service is in other countries. We envy German engineering when they devote their entire lives to their trade, and see how the Nordics take their democracy very seriously.

Yet as we admire, we don't band together and do something and change our current predicament. Some might argue it's the nanny state, or the history of the government not listening to its people. We may even go so far to say we have been denied rights. All these gives us a sense of weariness that no matter how much we fight, we can never escape the gilded cage of a perceived wayang political system amidst the forest of bopian citizenry. A veneer covers our eyes, we become focused on ourselves - the big I, Me, Myself takes over. We turn to consumerism, entertainment, gossip and mindless play to distract from the sad reality that beyond the Pleasure Machine, we have very little control over our lives. Working hard insofar as it rewards our pockets and wardrobes, as long as the customer pays we don't really need to care what he/she does afterwards.

It's sad, and my personal dystopia, where people have blinkers to high that they don't realise that we are all suffering together, inspite of our selfishness, and equal powelessness against the forces of fate and state.

I think we need to step aside from the humdrum and really consider the legacy we want to leave behind. Whatever that goes out in your name, are you going to make a difference in someone's life? Will my proposal make someone's life easier, will this email or memo sent make someone smile or generate further discussions that can mutually reinforcing.  It does not mean that you be "nice and polite" all the time, but people resonate with you when you care a lot about how your contributions affect others. It can be a role as a parent, sibling, friend or otherwise.

Artists inherently feel this, because the trade is performative in nature, the strive for perfection drives artists to put their best foot forward towards the light all the time. I think we should all think like artists, and treat your boardroom like an audience. We have that sense of responsibility to whoever we interact with, that we owe it to everyone's limited time and attention, to put our best work forward. You can be broke, hungry, frustrated, you can even feel a little selfish today. We all err from time to time - yet I pray we never become individualistic.

It might sound idealistic, but the Singapore I love is the hardworking hawker who is proud about his signature carrot cake, the plumber who comes in eager to solve the problem in your toilet despite his inexperience, or the MacDonald staff sneaks a couple more curry sauce for the ravenous secondary school kid with chicken nuggets for lunch.

I hope we retain the sense if responsibility towards one another, and despite the macro and micro challenges, we put aside our selfish interests, realise we are all suffering and invest a little enpathy for people other than your paycheck.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The embarassment of regret

It's graduation season, and everyone's cheering that they made it, parents heaving huge sighs of relief that their money hadn't gone to waste and proud professors on stage nodding politely to the next generation of learned with the flame of education passed on.

It might seem the most inappropriate time to discuss....regret?

Yet 5 years (has it been THAT LONG?!) since I wore my first mortarboard, I sat in the audience of robed graduates asking myself, was this all a huge mistake?

This post is not to discuss the things "I would have done differently" nor a romantic reminisce of better times back in the day that I'd wish I'd done differently. This is rather, a post to discuss the embarassment of voicing one's regret.

I have a close friend tell me, that s/he regretted taking geography because s/he felt that history was his/her real passion. I have another friend tell me, I regret going to NUS even, when their hopes and dreams were in a technical college in Germany. Of course, life presents us with crossroads and decisions, often made with partial information available to us. We lool back in regret and we feel embarassed to talk about that.

I think that's not healthy. It invokes self-blame, sometimes justified, many times not. Not that by avoiding self-blame is a measure to encourage arrogance beyond belief. However, it is the simple acknowledgement to one's limits.

While some of us regret signing to a bond, to be working in a profession we otherwise realised we're not suited for, we can either blame ourselves for being "weak" and taking the easier comfortable route, or take this as a learning curve to finally understand that there is nothing to be afraid out there in the world and that opportunities will come to you if you're open to them.

Consequences of self-blame is to take on something you regret doing, and then doing it all over again in a different place because of the reluctance to learn and step our of your boundaries. Over time, it manifests into divulgment of blame - everyone sucks - rather than a reflection and reinforcement that old habits yield the same result.

Having the moral courage to shed embarasment and admit to yourself (in secret, in a cellar, whatever), you were wrong by choice or by circumstance, and find another way out of this maze, is the first step of taking back control and mature as a person. I don't personally think it is wrong to regret because re-gret is also re-flection. I try to be encouraging or stern in pushing those that come to me voicing their regret, in the direction that empowers their life rather than feed the monster of self-blame. I try not to judge, being human and all, and it is important that we start recognising regret as not a dirty secret, but one that we should openly come to terms with.

As we celebrate the start of a new journey, be it marriage, career or education, regret and reflect while you wait on the aisle or in the auditorium and as you step up on the stage or platform, or look through your photographs, ask yourself, "what is my biggest regret, how can I choose differently moving forward?"