Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Who's Helping Who?

Everything we need to survive in life we learn in it kindergarten. Don't talk to strangers. Always say please when you want something and thank you when you get it. When someone pushes you, don't push back. It's better to give than to receive. Play nice. Always give a helping hand.

And so we set off into our lives with those principles in mind.

We see poor, unfortunate souls on the street and we pride ourselves when we give our spare change into the outstretched hands. We feel mighty pleased with ourselves whenever we donate a large sum to charity. We go into orphanages and think we have done them a big favour when we give an old discarded plaything of ours to them. We think it's such a big thing whenever we spend 2 hours of our precious time investing in the lives of others. We think we've contributed something enormous to the world by being helping them. Feeling magnanimous, we stride into the world safe in the knowledge that we've done our charitable bit for the year.

Yet very seldom, many of us 'good ones' missed the whole point of serving those who need it. We try to hide behind the thin veneer of self-righteousness and say that, "Oh, I'm such a charitable soul, helping those who are in need. Aren't I a saint?" Even I admit that I feel like that sometimes. But then again, serving isn't about me, it's about them. So why are we placing the importance on our own selfish selves instead of them?

We think we're serving them but in actual reality, they're serving us. How, you ask?

While you think YOU are the one spending your time and efforts on them, THEY are the ones who even gave you the opportunity to serve.

They are the ones teaching you patience, not the other way round. They are the ones reminding you of the basic things you've learned since young. They are the ones who show you that life does not revolve around you. You may have showered them with material gains but they have given you what money can never buy - the chance for you to build your character. Funny how then we all just go off being smug when they're the ones who've gave you so much more than what you gave them.

When it boils down to it, all that's left is our pride. Our crippling inability to admit that they're more important than us. But if we can crush that pride and focus on the people instead of just one person, our own selves, that's what serving the community really is. And boy oh boy, can you imagine what would happened if we took the opportunity to learn from them instead of just being high and mighty?

One word - wow.

Dedicated to all my dear friends from the Children At Risk (CAR) project. You've reminded me time and time again that it's never about me, it's about serving God through you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling of this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

Out of all the poems I've read so far, this is undoubtedly my favourite. I'm sure many of you would recognise this (Form 4 Selected Poems and Short Stories) and if you don't, well now you do. Studying this during English Literature, I just took notes and I didn't really give any deep thought to this prose other than the fact that I liked the meaning behind it. However, I've given it much thought over the week as I was reflecting my whole year of learning in school.

In life, we are often bombarded with decisions day after day. It's the nasty part about growing up. To be honest, I don't like making decisions. It could be because if mistakes happened, it would be all my fault. It's always easier to pin the blame on someone else, isn't it? But as we mature, we have no choice but to face those paths and CHOOSE.

Choosing mindless things (bananas or oranges?) aren't the decisions which cause us the headaches. It's those decisions where risks are involved and your livelihood is at stake which keeps us up awake till the wee hours of the morning. And the worst thing is when the decision is made, you're left wondering whether you'll regret it sometime later. Two such incidents were ones which cause me the exact same dilemma this year. One ended on a high note, one, not so high. The first of course was the Taylor's Debate. I admit that I was reluctant to join as I know that being in the debate team requires lots of sacrifice and yes, I was afraid my studies would suffer. I remember clearly asking my mum whether I should go for it and she said, "It's up to you, it's your decision". It was a risk, definitely but one I have prayed about and having the peace to undertake it, took it. Another such one was the prefect campaigning. I have written about it in my older post and hence shall not waste time elaborating here.

We cannot deny that some decisions are just tough, especially those to do with our moral conscience. I liked what the poet did, in that he took the one less traveled by. Few people have the guts to do such a thing as what a risk it would bring. Making a stand, declaring what you believe in, exposing yourself to ridicule and mockery.... I salute you who chose it. I try my best, with God as my strength to do it and though at times I fail, I get up and try again. Because I know that what is right may not be popular and what is popular may not be right.

And what I love best about this poem is that there is no sense of regret. Sure, we might wonder what would have happened should we choose the other path but ultimately, the decision is made. Don't waste time focusing on what could have been done, focus on what has been done and take it from there. So no, I do not regret a single thing and if I were to live out my year again, I'd do the same thing.

Ask yourself, would you?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Encouragement: Luxury or Necessity?

I'm sure we all have those moments where random ideas pop into our minds all of a sudden. Well, I had mine during dinnertime with my family. While chomping down on broccoli (must be brain food), I recalled an excerpt I read somewhere sometime ago. So I hunted down the book and voila, I found my muse.

For those of you who are interested in war history (yes boy, I'm talking about you), you would know that the Korean War produced the worst Prisoner of War (POW) stories of any war in U.S history. The death rate of American POW's was alarmingly high. Interestingly, the war camp conditions weren't especially cruel. In fact, the detainees endured relatively minor amounts of physical torture. It didn't add up, and Dr. William E. Mayer set our to discover why. His study yielded some surprising results: the men were dying because they had simply lost the will to live. The North Koreans had discovered the ultimate weapon of war: withholding all emotional support from others. No word of encouragement was ever spoken.

Soldiers only received negative letters from home, such as news of a family member's death or overdue bill notifications. Any positive notes were withheld. their captors rewarded them for snitching on one another and even required the men to confess their deepest faults before the entire group. Any sense of encouragement or hope was completely turned away. The effects was devastating. Not only did the prisoners stop caring about one another, they stopped caring about themselves. It was not uncommon to see a prisoner go off into a corner, sit alone, and wait to die.*

Imagine that, being cut of from any encouragement, stranded without love. While we might feel for those soldiers, ask yourself, are you as guilty for being stingy with your words of encouragement?

See, I realise that many of us take encouragement as a luxury rather than a necessity. As the famous saying goes, no man is an island. We constantly need the affirmation from people around us in order to function. Yet, we think we can get by just as well without it. What's worst, we think everyone else can get by without it as well. Our mindset tends to be this: As long as I'm not saying anything negative to him, it's fine. Great, no wonder we feel down in the dumps all the time. Just saying, "Well done! That's was great! You were awesome!" feels like soap in our mouths - foreign and nasty. And because of that, for whatever our reasons are, we do not give those words to someone who needs it.

We are all guilty as charged for not building one another up. Rather, we act as vultures circling a dying creature, waiting to tear it to pieces. And to be honest, that includes me. Too many times I've missed the opportunity to tell someone that they're doing a wonderful job. But now that we know just how much a kind word means to us, what do we do? Brush it aside again? Pretend that you never read this? Well, I for one am not going to. Just as it really makes my day when someone encourages me, I'll do the same for someone else. After all God has blessed me to be a blessing.

So quickly, go pick up the phone and give someone that overdue encouragement. You never know just how much that person needs it until you give it.

*This passage was taken from Habitudes Book 2# by Tim Elmore

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mind Those P's and Q's (Part 2)

Now, I’m not trying to follow the crowd and start posting up results of personality quizzes just to fill up the empty spaces in my blog. It was just something to get the ball rolling (and my muses stirred up).

While I was just going around the net, I stumbled across this personality test, where all you need to do was to type in your name and apparently, they’ll decipher it in less than 10 seconds (more if your computer, like yours truly is crawling at snail pace). Naturally, I am curious as to what would appear on screen and I got this whole long essay which can be viewed in the previous post. As to how true it is, I leave it for you to decide as I’m not here to write about how accurate it is or otherwise.

Personality quizzes bombard us at every corner we turn these days. Open magazines and the titles scream, ‘FIND OUT WHAT IS YOUR SHOPPING PATTERN!’ or ‘WHAT KIND OF FRIEND ARE YOU’ or even ‘WHAT CHEWING GUM SUITS YOUR PERSONALITY’! Well, to be perfectly honest, it does appeal to me. And whether we admit it or not, most of us like to take these personality tests. It tickles us to see just how off base the results are or gape at how true it is. But then I wonder, what draws us to these quizzes? After all, they’re just options and unless you take reputable ones (such as DISC) chances are you’ve been duped into thinking that is your true personality when it isn’t. I believe the answer is rather straightforward.

The search for self identity.

Yes, we all want to know who we really are and what we are really like. After all, we want something that can identify ourselves in this world. We hope that there will be a trait so concrete that will stand firm in such a shaky world. Ask yourself, what would you answer if you were questioned who you really are? Though it seems like a very simple question, many are not able to answer. They rattle off their name, age, class (if you’re talking about school settings) and some idiosyncrasies (like I how I can’t stand McD but I go crazy over the smell of petrol). But as I think about it, none of it is truly concrete, isn’t it?

Take for example, music. Music is one of my passions and I do find it one of those traits that define who I am. Yet, if I were to lose my hands thus unable to play anything, would I still be the same Tze Quan? What if my name was something else, like Abigail or Clarice? Would I be the same person? What if everything I defined myself by was stripped away one by one, would I still be me? As I quote from Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha, if you no longer have leaves, or bark, or roots, can you go on calling yourself a tree?

It was rather frightening when I first thought of it as everything I listed down under Tze Quan could just be removed in a split second. Disconcerting, yes but a shake to myself as well. What was the one thing I could count on that would still remain despite trials and tribulations, despite whatever circumstances I will face, despite life? I don’t want to sit on my deathbed many years down the road contemplating who I have become, whether I have become anything at all. It’d be such a waste, wouldn’t it to fritter my whole life away on something so impermanent that a puff of wind will blow it away.

And then it finally stuck me. Everything I had listed down was physical and we all know the physical never lasts. Just as when we die, we return to the dust we were made from, it’s the same with everything earthly we define ourselves by. So then, after all is said and done, what can I say I am, without fear that it’ll be taken away from me, without shame that it will change anytime?

Simple. I am a child of God. And nobody, not a single one can take that away from me.

I know some of those reading this may think that you’re too young to make any kind of life reflections but, you’re never too young to start thinking about who you really are. After all, if you find out early, what will you have to lose? Nothing is lost, but everything to gain.

And that’s why I say, I am who I am, because of who God is.

Mind Those P's and Q's (Part 1)

Mind those Personality Quizzes, I mean. Anyway, while I work on Part 2, feel free to comment on how accurate and precise the following results of a personality quiz I took recently.

What Tuen Tze Quan Means
You are a seeker. You often find yourself restless - and you have a lot of questions about life.
You tend to travel often, to fairly random locations. You're most comfortable when you're far away from home.
You are quite passionate and easily tempted. Your impulses sometimes get you into trouble.

You are a very lucky person. Things just always seem to go your way.
And because you're so lucky, you don't really have a lot of worries. You just hope for the best in life.
You're sometimes a little guilty of being greedy. Spread your luck around a little to people who need it.

You are friendly, charming, and warm. You get along with almost everyone.
You work hard not to rock the boat. Your easy going attitude brings people together.
At times, you can be a little flaky and irresponsible. But for the important things, you pull it together.

You are very intuitive and wise. You understand the world better than most people.
You also have a very active imagination. You often get carried away with your thoughts.
You are prone to a little paranoia and jealousy. You sometimes go overboard in interpreting signals.

You are incredibly wise and perceptive. You have a lot of life experience.
You are a natural peacemaker, and you are especially good at helping others get along.
But keeping the peace in your own life is not easy. You see things very differently, and it's hard to get you to budge.

People see you as a complete enigma, and only you truly understand who you are.
You spend most of your time introspecting and seeking truth.
You're a very interesting person... but not many people know you enough to realize it.

You are usually the best at everything ... you strive for perfection.
You are confident, authoritative, and aggressive.
You have the classic “Type A” personality.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Happiness is a Choice

Happiness is a choice. Its mild profundity makes me wonder whether this phrase was taken from a fortune cookie. In this present age, it often seems that people are getting unhappier and unhappier. How do I know? Well, look at the rising number of psychiatrists. What makes us happy? When we are happy for the moment, can we stay happy? Is it a choice I make, or is it a decision life made for me?

It's very interesting how some people go through life as if they have no care in the world. At the same time, they are those who act as if the world's ending tomorrow. Maybe it's a gift, like a talent to be happy. After all, how can these people be so sickeningly cheerful when there's nothing to be happy about? Let me tell you that nothing gives me happiness except the weather (and even then, I wouldn't bet on it). Call me a pessimist but I would like to believe I'm realistic. Why try when we're bound to fail? Sometimes, I feel so exhausted with life that I don't know what makes me happy anymore. Then I wonder, could it be that I MADE myself unhappy?

You see, I never really understood why people place such importance on feeling happy. After all, the job gets done whether the mouth is upside down or right side up. Some chase it, crave it, write books about it (last I check, there is now Happiness for Dummies). They go around thinking, If I had a million dollars, was married to Brad Pitt, had 10 children and STILL look like a pencil, I'd be happy. To that I say - good luck. An economist once said that the formula of happiness is simple. Happiness is reality divided by expectations. To improve happiness, either improve your reality or lower your expectations. I sincerely wished it was that easy to get a solution to happiness. It's funny how I've been trying it out but find no increase in happiness.

So, how do we go about getting our daily dose of happiness? Some pig out (which is very valid as some types of food provides endorphins, a natural high). Some try smiling, looking for something good to focus on, looking for the silver lining so to speak. And that's when it hit me. Happiness is not something you can earn neither is it something life owes you. Life owes me nothing as I came with nothing, I return with nothing. I always thought that there was something wrong with my life if I had nothing to be happy about. I had gotten the short straw, I never had this, never had that. I thought that to be happy, I must change my life. I always thought that I had no role to play in the circumstances surrounding me. Well, guess what?

To be happy, I have to change myself.

Not my life, but how I view it. Remember what I said about how a job gets done whether I smile about it or not? While it's true that it does get done, where does it leave the doer? My dad always said that like it or not, life's not fair. It's up to you how you want to view it. It's my choice to either look at the big picture, or focus on the small minor parts. I recall one story I read a few years back. There was a professor who pulled up a piece of paper and stuck it on the board. He then took a black marker pen and placed a small dot on it. He turned around and asked, "What do you see?" All his students readily replied that there was a dot. When he pressed them to look carefully, they remained adamant and said the same thing. Finally, he took it down and said, "It's funny how all of you mentioned the dot and not the paper. You all saw it, but none of you decided that it was more important that the dot". I guessed that was my perspective too.

Don't magnify the problem, magnify life. If we really open our eyes, we can see that there is so much more which awaits us. All this while we've been content to stay under a rock, silently cursing our darkness but yet not willing to step out. God has granted us the will to choose our lives. Happiness, or joy rather is a gift from Him to mankind. It is up to us to receive it with open arms. I wonder then, why have I refused it for so long? Why have I not realised that I have the power to change my life. I can change my outlook and not wake up from the wrong side of bed - and be happy as a reward. I won't laugh scornfully when reading Daddy Long Legs. The part where Judy Abbott says that even if her husband and twelve kids were swallowed in a earthquake, she would bob up smilingly the next day to make a new set.

I know that life can never be perfect, after all, it's life. We can choose to be unhappy about so many things, things which in our opinion should have made us happy. A lady whose daily routine of eating chocolate ice cream was disrupted by the closing of the shop should count her blessings that her blood sugar level will remain normal that day. A student who failed his exam should be thankful that he did not resort to cheating to pass. A person who grumbles about the way the country is being run should look up and say a prayer that he has a country to complain about. It's all a matter of perspective. I used to say that the glass is half empty but now, it seems more pleasing to say it's half full. Both are true, but one makes life more bearable, enjoyable even. Now I know what Isaac Asimov, a famous philosopher said that the surest way to be unhappy in life is to keep deflating it with a sigh.

To be happy, I have to change myself.

Because happiness... is a choice.

Note: While the author may not be happy all the time as feeling happy is just that, an emotion, she certainly feels joyful ALL THE TIME. Joy is the quiet assurance that God will take care even in the midst of the most troubling circumstances. And trust her, happiness does not last, but joy does.