The Price of Civilisation

pocThis beautiful picture is here because it encapsulates the highlight of my weekend, but it is completely irrelevant to what I’m about to write about.

Today I finished a book called The Price of Civilisation by Jeffrey Sachs, one that my GP tutor had been recommending time and again for many lessons. A week ago, I finally decided to make my way to our very well-filled Shaw Foundation Library where the most amazing wonders can be found. I really think that we could be the most fortunate students in the world to have access to a beautiful library like this one from our age. There’s a limit to the experiences and life lessons we can learn ourselves, and the bulk of the rest, comes from listening and reading. So once in a while I like to pick up a (hopefully) good book, replace my media devices while I’m ont public transport with is, and immerse myself in a new experience I would otherwise have never imagined. 

The Price of Civilisation was a book that explored, from the perspective of an experienced economist, the mistakes that the America’s (and possibly many other nations’) economies have made over the years of developments, losing sight of the role that economy plays in our society and the focus that revenue should be placed upon to ensure the balance within society. It explores the ethics and virtues we have lost and the kind of lifestyle we are beginning to lead so frivolously as a result. In his book, he quoted President John F. Kennedy in his Peace Speech after the Cuban Missile Crisis, demanding that his audience “not be blind to our differences- but also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved… We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” This was insightful to me, as much as the words of Uruguay’s President, “We have sacrificed the old immaterial gods, and now we are occupying the temple of the Market-God. He organizes our economy, our politics, our habits, our lives, and even provides us with rates and credit cards and gives us the appearance of happiness.”

As we advance and get obsessed with numbers and statistics and the materials that give us short-term happiness and long-term lack of self-fulfillment; we are leaving behind the notion of advancing as a species, not as nations or states, countries or individuals, but as a species. We all share the same home, that we aren’t doing enough to protect, and we all face the same problems but we do little to solve them together. I’m not sure this is what we’d really like, but I suppose reflecting a little about this could be a start. 

Anyway to give us all some closure, the key takeaway from this read would be learning to be mindful. Mindful of oneself (who we are and what we try to make of ourselves), mindful of work (the balance we strike between work and leisure, and what exactly are we working for anyway?), mindful of knowledge (the exact details of the knowledge we are receiving, learning to grasp the complete picture and be inquisitive to do so), mindful of nature (the conservation of the world’s ecosystem), mindful of others (the exercise of compassion and cooperation), mindful of politics (the cultivation of public deliberation and shared values for collective action through political institutions), mindful of the future (the responsibility we have in the future) and mindful of the world (the acceptance of diversity) I’d probably talk more about mindfulness sometime else, but here’s to good reads in our lives! 

 

P/S If you do have books you’d like to share and recommend to others, please tell us at rgsrtradvocacy@gmail.com!

 

Hurt: The Knots in our Hearts

hurtBlessed to have two friends who care and love me enough to want me in the company of their support group, I have landed in their mini gathering after school on the fateful Thursday afternoon. This was an afternoon in the company of very kind and good people who shared not just faith and religion, but the same hope to give people the same support they feel and receive. 

But I’d like to talk about things the gathering made me think about more than the religion that was infused into the gathering. 

This session, we talked about hurt- about what hurts us, hurt us or may hurt us. And it was a discussion (very openly) about how we deal with this hurt. Someone once told me that as we grow up, we make friends and we invest in relationships, but the more we give, sometimes the harder we fall- at times, we get hurt. Each time someone or something hurts us, it’s as if we tie this knot in our hearts. It’s not exactly a knot of hatred or anger, but I’d say, one more of sadness and betrayal. The more years we get through in our lives, we tend to tie more, and more knots in our hearts. And if we don’t learn to untie these knots as we slowly move on, we grow up with an extremely extremely heavy heart. 

I don’t want to grow up with a heavy heart. 

But I’m still learning to untie these knots. To me, it’s a difficult thing to do because I experience (in this case, emotional) pain very deeply and I think it a lot- the more I think it, the longer it stays. And sometimes when I think of the most trivial of things that hurt me, especially when it hurt me unknowingly to the other person, I am angry that the hurt I experience feels so real, when the one who hurt is absolutely clueless. It leaves me puzzled and upset. I’m still learning to untie these knots. But to paint a silver lining just for a bit, in the recent years I’ve learned to stay away from those who have the slightest possibility of abusing the power they have to hurt me. I think that’s a start to figuring out these knots.  

Blessings on the Streets

kindnessisdeadThis morning the house is a little darker because it’s still drizzling outside, but on this fateful Sunday morning, the entire family is home, at least for that bit and I really appreciate that. Yesterday I was out on the streets at a kindness movement by my buddy ash, who has inspired myself and many others yet once again with this movement— Blessings on the Streets. 

Beginning the morning with ice breakers and mass games, the bonding was followed by a discussion round where we broke up into teams and thought of the exciting things we were going to do together that afternoon. Guidelines included ‘Think about the one who’s often overlooked in society.’ and ‘Think of who may need a listening ear.’ You know, we all know that these people exist, the ones whose days could easily be made better with a small act from a stranger and those whom we pass by every single day without a simple ‘thank you’. But we often choose what seems to be the easier option- to let that moment slide. 

After the meal of pizza and good food, we were officially transformed into #WorldChangeAgents ready to go out on the streets in our teams and strike conversations and make smiles! My team began with a trip to Cold Storage to stock up on packet drinks and sweets that didn’t cost us any more than $2 each. The fun began when we had separated and made conversations with people waiting at the bus stop till their buses came, and together we boarded the next crowded bus to give out sweets on them within one stop! We did other crazy things within the two hours– from clearing trays at the food courts, giving out drinks to security guards and cleaners, talking to people who were sitting alone at food courts and creating hi-5 chains in the middle of the road. The number of frowns we turned upside down were infinite, I lost count. 

I think this reminded me that kindness doesn’t take a second, it doesn’t take money nor skills nor talents. It just takes the heart– if we had the heart to make someone else’s day just that bit better by smiling at them or complimenting them and meaning it, or being a bit kinder than necessary to show the person you care and respect them; that’s all it takes. And it’s effortless. 

The picture above was taken with another group of Ngee Ann Polytechnic students who were doing their Final Year Project called ‘Revive Kindness’, on the streets to raise awareness on the Seed Kindness Fund by SKM, promoting kindness as a lifestyle at the same time. The coincidence of two kindness movements on the same streets on the same weekend, was more than encouraging; showing that we do care. We do care, but there’s a veil. 

The veil that stops us, it’s the fear of rejection. But really, getting rejected is less scary than we let our imagination convince ourselves it could be. And the day we all stop trying because we fear rejection, is the day we will really reach an epitome of unkindness and then kindness would possible really, be dead. 

 

Rethinking Generalisations

Tonight I watched this video about Rethinking Homelessness and it sort of reflects the way we generalise people’s identity because we are so afraid of vulnerability in relationships. We like to create impressions and understandings of people through vague, vague generalisations; even before we invest a substantial amount of time with them, because it’s easier. There’s less mystery and there’s less to be insecure about, you don’t have to be unsure about the person you’re talking to or how the person is taking in what you tell him/her because you think you know. Or at least, most of the time, we hope to. 

At this point, allow me to talk about some people I’ve wanted to share about for a while already. I’ve recently gotten to know a very special group of people that I hope I can call family the way I’ve found OM, Halogen and my orientation group a kind of family that provides support and develops understanding constantly. And they’ve reminded me to listen with my heart, without making assumptions, to get the more complete picture of a person.  

youthcorps We are the Washington Team of the Volunteer Youth Corps! We have a good range of kids to adults, the youngest and oldest are 11 years apart, we’ve got an outnumbered ratio of males to females. But that’s not what makes me love their company so much, what I really appreciate is the way we looked out for each other unconditionally and constantly, the selflessness in the servant leadership that was observed even in the more tiring times trekking at OBS for example; and the most beautiful part, to me, is that all of us put on the brightest smile with the thought of challenging ourselves and doing things better for others. 

The connection that I feel I share with this group is a kind that is in our hearts. It’s a feeling that we get, that can’t quite be described, but it can be felt. It’s felt when you see the way our eyes light up or when we experience conversations where listening with the heart is almost fully mastered. 

We spent the second weekend of July training together on two full days at SCAPE, and it was tiring, a complete brain drain at the end. But this is only the start to the numerous more trainings we will be put through and the test of time that will continue to challenge us. Thanks to them, I look forward to what’s to come. 

 

The Deed is Done

hfh2014

So finally the deed has been done, raising a little more than $3000, this experience has truly been a rollercoaster ride of thoughts, feelings and emotions altogether. I remember 2 years ago when I first considered this then crazy decision to be making, and 2 months ago when I found the conviction and belief (finally) to get my shit together and make my personal statement. 

Basking in the company of others who have decided the same, though possibly for different reasons, only made me feel proud to be part of this movement. The way I see it, we’re all part of this movement that speaks out to people and says ‘It’s really OK to be bald’. I don’t think it’s until you get through the act of shaving that you see completely if you truly believe in that. And I truly look forward to the months to come in our school, championing my stand and sharing my feelings— the advocacy continues. Shaving, I suppose was only the beginning, to months’ long run of attention and judgement that hopefully leads to meaningful conversations and thoughtful questions. Because it’s only when we go deeper in this way, are we really looking within

I expect less from the public: walking on the streets make me feel awkward as of now. I sense the stares and the million thoughts running through the minds of those who see me. I sense the trying hard not to look and the turning away so I wouldn’t feel like staring. The children give it away, they aren’t sensible enough to make those inferences nor try to ‘react normally’. They stare. I see them tugging at their parents trying to ask questions or sometimes, a fearful confusion why a girl in a skirt has the bald head of a guy. Sometimes the parents ignore, other times they whisper to their children while trying to avoid eye contact with me. I hope they whisper the right things. Because it’s what we teach the younger children that will decide the social stigma bald people face in the generations to come. 

The stigma is real, and so is the attention. 

But to me, attention and advocacy come hand in hand. Giving me attention or asking me questions out of curiosity is like handing me an imaginary mic into which I can say whatever I want as food for thought. And as uncomfortable as I am taking over the microphone, to share my deepest thoughts and feelings, if I am assured that they would be taken with an open mind for further consideration, I think I’d gladly use it.

hfh20144

Frizzyhaired’s Shaving

frizzyhaired shavingFour days to the day I shave and I can’t deny the tinge of fear— it’s not that I regret or that the motivations to my decision are wavering. Definitely not! It’s simply that the uncertainty in the idea of being bald brings me a sense of fear. I mean, I suppose it’s normal to feel terrified of the unknown.

And I’m writing about this tonight because I think a big part of why I want to be part of Hair for Hope 2014 is about advocacy. Beyond the fundraising efforts for now and the belief that will be strengthened more than ever, I would want to keep finding platforms to tell people about how I feel and what this experience is like. The idea is I think that the hype of this event can really be maximised as an avenue to voice thoughts and evoke interest in understanding the predicament of cancer patients (beyond their baldness) so that this issue on childhood cancer can be faced rather than chucked aside in the sidelines of reality into an ‘oblivion section’ we create for uncomfortable issues to comfortably reside. So here goes part one of my journey towards shaving for real:

Tonight I’m feeling afraid, of the judgement faced by the public with a bald girl on the streets and the stares from my peers as they figure out how much worse/better I look bald. And this I’m just getting started with this emotional rollercoaster this entire experience is going to bring me on. So I try to imagine myself bald to prepare myself mentally a little better, hopefully, but I can’t. And I think about how cancer patients don’t even have this choice to make or this mental preparation time, with being bald at the least of their concerns. With these thoughts, I consider replacing that fear with respect and inspiration.  

Being bald is a very superficial aspect of what childhood cancer patients go through, I do agree with that– amidst the physical and emotional trauma from the experience, being bald is possibly the least of their concerns. But I do think that in light of the empathy and desire to understand the multiple facets of what the patients go through, the bravery to take that first step and begin from this superficial level could just be a start for me. Honestly, I think the difficulty in the decision is little compared to the difficulty of me holding my head up high in the pressure of public judgement and other social stigma. And that really is a start. 

So thanks to all those who have shared my belief and seen value in this first step I’m taking this Friday. If you’d like to contribute to the Children’s Cancer Foundation’s work for these patients in whatever means and ways you’d like to, please do donate online at bit.ly/shermainehfh or find me physically to contribute through my pledge card! Also if you’d like to read more about my reasons you can find them on bit.ly/shermainehfh2014 or ask me personally, I do think we have to shift the focus of the event and our understanding of it towards the motivations that drive shavees! 

 

 

The Calling

the callingThis evening was spent with Sarah, my senior from 2 years ago when we started our friendship as part of this very lovely family that looked out for each other in our arduous journey towards OM Nationals and later World finals in 2012. Those were the glorious years.

And today we talked about the calling, you know the thing we’ve supposed to get by the time we are in JC that helps us decide which career talks to attend and which scholarships to apply for. It supposedly comes from the heart and it tells you, you know, it informs you of the best decision to make about the rest of your life. The calling is the one, if you’re religious, sent from a superior being, telling you your purpose and why you were even sent down to the surface of this Earth.

Oh how I wish it was a simple as it sounds, you know, for this calling to be something you just know and feel.

But clearly, it isn’t— it’s a mysterious thing. Different people probably experience it differently, we all adopt different perspectives towards how we should serve the society in this world and we all decide differently the career path we would like to walk towards whatever end goal or process we see ourselves leading in the course of our lives. The calling is intangible and it’s found in a long process, but no one really knows when that process starts or ends and how accurate this calling is. The thing is, when people refer to the calling like that, it makes you look out for it and it makes you question your heart’s desires or whatever you perceive this calling to be. But when we expect this calling, our search for it takes a turn to be forced, and unnatural. When the scholarship talks and the applications arrive, we would probably be scrambling to find that calling and even now, when the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ question pops up once in a while, it gets us accelerating our search and worrying about the lack of this calling.

So here’s how I see it— I’m pretty sure, we weren’t supposed to make a decision that lays everything in our lives out perfectly as a bed of roses and make the right choices in one try. I’m not saying don’t take this seriously, but I think it’d be a good thing to remind ourselves we’re all a process. Our life’s a process. This calling really depends on what a job and career means to you- is it a money-making journey to help you have enough cash to carry out the grand plan of your life? Or maybe it’s the support to the lifeline of a family you really want to start. And I suppose then you can consider the things you’ve enjoyed doing (you know, the heart side of things like what you love doing and what makes you excited- something you can imagine yourself doing for say, a couple more than 4 years more) And finally,  I’d say everyone was sent to the surface of this earth to be special. So I really think we can stop pretending to be something else we’re not just to fit in and be the same and fit into societal norm, whatever that is. Because if you’ve something different to offer to the people around you, you’ve got to do it, if not no one else will. And that’s more likely to be aligned with whatever your special calling may be.

And for now, while you wait for that call to come in whatever form it may take, just be yourself and live life consciously. That may help.

the calling2

On a side note, be at the MP3 experiment tomorrow!! Here are some thoughts I had upon going last year.