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Showing posts from 2014

The ABCs of Living Beyond the Possession of Things

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“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” - Mahatma Gandhi.

In an internet article, The Fallen Stars: Regret or Relief?, co-authors Tan Wei Yuan and Loh Chuan Junn posed the sobering questions, “Why do celebrities choose to end their lives when it seems like they have everything in their grasp?”

They highlighted a number of young performing artistes who have chosen to make their own lives. In chronological order, these include:
Marilyn Monroe (1926 – 1962) Age: 36 Kurt Cobain (1967 – 1994): Age: 27 Leslie Cheung (1956 – 2003) Age: 47 Heath Ledger (1979 – 2008) Age: 29 Ai Iijima (1972 – 2008) Age: 36 Choi Jin-sil (1968 – 2008) Age: 40 Jang Ja Yun (1982 – 2009) Age: 27 Park Yong Ha (1977 – 2010) Age: 33 
Each and every one of them possessed looks and talents worth dying for! All were extremely successful in every material sense. Yet not of all of them lived past 47 years of age for all committed suicide in the prime of their respective performing car…

A Purposeful Life

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Last Saturday, I attended a Thanksgiving Service to honour the work of my college mate, the Rev Dr. Kang Ho Soon. After serving continuously as a pastor for 42 years, he is due for retirement. The sanctuary was filled with more than a thousand family members, colleagues and friends, including members of the Inter-Religious Organization in their religious garbs. It speaks volumes for the man who was all things to all people who, moving forward, seeks only to be there for all and sundry who need a pair of listening ears.


In sharing his vision for life, he quoted Robert Byrne, who reputed to have said, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” The idea that life should or ought to have a purpose resonates with many. In 2002, Pastor Rick Warren wrote a devotional book The Purpose Driven Life. The book resonated with so many that it stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list a very long time. It also topped the Wall Street Journal and the Publishers Weekly best-selle…

Lessons from Ants

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“And real talk, like, seeing these ants and studying them and respecting them, it’s like, man, they’re in their own community too. They’re trying to survive. They love. They fight. They’re telling themselves something. We can’t understand, but one day we will.” Brandon McCartney 

“Go to the ants, you sluggard, learn how to be wise.” A Proverb.

A well-known proverb commends the ants for their prudence, cooperation and industry. These social characteristics of ants are often used in fables and children’s stories as in Aesop’s The Ant and the Grasshopper. No less than Mark Twain wrote about them in his A Tramp Abroad. 

The social nature of ants has also led other famous literati to use them as a commentary on the relationship between society and the individual. Among this genre are American poet Robert Frost’s Departmental and novelist T H White’s The Once and Future King.

More recently, computer-animated cartoons and 3D movies feature these fascinating insects in very entertaining an…

Humour : A Saving Grace

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"A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing." - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Recently, I texted a friend to forward an email address to me. She promptly replied that her PC crashed. “I am sorry,” I responded, tongue-in-cheek. “I hope you are not hurt!” In a jiffy, she replied, “You misunderstood me; there is no physical crash. I mean to say that I cannot email you because the system is not functioning.”

Some of us are very intense. We take everything rather too seriously and we often miss a jocular moment. We can be very hard on ourselves and we go about life with a perpetual frown as we struggle along with an albatross around our neck.

The good book says, “Laughter is good medicine.” In fact, there is enough evidence to suggest that to bolster immunity, relieve stress, and alleviate pain, we need to laugh a little. As Laura Wilder says, "A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than …

The Examined Life

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I am privileged to chair an ethics committee of a hospital and it reinforced in me that in order to determine what is or is not ethical we do have to do some critical thinking. In watching TV documentaries about animals, I am constantly made aware that there are certain intrinsic similarities between humans and the rest of living things. A good example is found in the way motherly instincts are expressed in both worlds. That said, however, there are many behavioural differences that transcend the power of instincts. I can’t imagine a pack of hungry lions deciding not to attack a stray buffalo simply because they feel sorry for the off-springs of its prospective prey.

In our effort to think ethically, I am reminded of the statement “The unexamined life is not worth living.”


The claim that an unexamined life is not worth living, often attributed to Socrates, a critical philosopher of the 5th Century, is subject to many varied interpretations. Whatever the interpretation, it assumes th…

Facebook as a Platform for Positive Messaging

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When Cheryl Faith Wee of the Sunday Times interviewed me in February this year to celebrate Facebook’s 10th anniversary, I had to admit that my posts were erratic, though I had opened an account since 2008. Since then, I had rediscovered the Facebook as a platform for positive messaging. I am now a much more avid user of the social network and am quite enjoying it.

My renewed interest in active participation coincided with my discovery of the PhotoGrid Apps. By putting together a number of photos into a single frame with some variations, I found that I could make my Facebook posts a lot more visually interesting. I also found that my text becomes more interesting when I have something positive to say.

In the months since the interview, I have increased the number of Facebook friends though I am still rather selective. In February the highest number of likes was 49 and that has increased several fold to some 200 in some of my posts. I thought it is instructive to find out what mad…

The Kampung Spirit and Racial Harmony

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I grew up in a kampung in the 50s when I started school. In our community we had Chinese, Malays and Indians for neighbours. We had no running water and our homes were lighted up by a common generator. Kerosene lamps were quite common. We shared a common kitchen for several households, a common well and common toilet facilities. We were a ‘commonwealth’ for we share some common wealth of simple necessities of life.

One of our neighbours was a Malay teacher. He was single and he lived alone. I used to visit him and he taught me Malay and Jawi. I learned to write Jawi script which is constructed from right to left. It was much later in life that I learnt Hebrew and Arabic at college level, and realized how these languages are inter-related.

My Malay neighbour was very kind to me. Not only did he teach me bahasa he also taught me Malay folk songs and stories, some of which I still remember. Songs like Chan Mali Chan and Ikan Kekek still ring in my ears. My favourite stories …

My Grandson, Our Intern

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Today, Lucas, my grandson started his internship with the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). I am very glad that he chose to come all the way from Canada to intern here. And it leads me to reflect on the notion of internship.

Internship is an effective programme for anyone interested in learning hands-on what a particular job entails. It can be a temporary position with an emphasis on on-the-job training, similar to an apprenticeship. For people who are not sure about what they want to do, and it serves as a trial. It can also be for students who are looking at the prospect of entering a course of study in a particular discipline and wants to know what it is like to be in that industry. Or it can be a time for students to be exposed to the working world in a realistic environment.

From the employers’ perspective, internship can provide them with cheap or free labour for low-level tasks. Stereotypically, interns had been treated no better than “tea and office boys” in the past. …

Try a little kindness for a safer workplace

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There have been much emphasis and focus on the importance of safety in the workplace. A safe working environment not only protects employees, but also increases productivity when workers are happy and healthy. A strong WHS culture means that there is lower frequency of accidents and injuries, reducing interruptions, which allows the company to complete their projects on time. Research from The Academy of Management Perspectives has shown that employee well-being has a significant impact on the performance and survival of organisations by affecting costs related to illness and healthcare, absenteeism, turnover and discretionary effort.

We are on the right track to a safer working environment in Singapore having introduced safety regulations, awards and training programmes in recent years. However, transformation of an organisation’s culture has to happen from the inside out rather than the outside in. Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Transforming…

Words, Words, Words…Watch Your Words

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Recently, my friend, a well-known socio-political commentator posted on her Facebook a verse from the good book. “My Dear brothers, take note of this: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” She added, “I really ought to remember this.”

Another friend asked, “Why only brothers?” I replied, “because 'brothers' is made up of Bro + Others”.

Jokes aside, it reminds me of Shakespeare, who was fascinated by the power and the frailty of words. This is so true with the spoken word. “Words are like wind”, he wrote. But we also know that it can breathe life into rousing oratory or kill the best of us with bitter curses.

Last night my friends brought my wife and me to a Teochew restaurant for dinner. While waiting for a table, I chanced upon this framed verses in Chinese. I was fascinated by the trove of Chinese wisdom in those words. 


Like my friend, I really ought to remember this. It will help me to be more gracious not only in deeds but also in t…

A time to be silent and a time to speak...

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The Nominated MP scheme was launched in 1990 to increase the number of non-government MPs to enable "alternative views to be expressed and dissenting voices to be heard.” Usually, candidates are nominated for their distinguished services in the fields of arts and letters, culture, the sciences, business, industry, the professions, social or community service, and the labour movement. Some have rendered distinguished public service or who have brought honour to Singapore. The Constitution provides for 9 such NMPs who will serve for two and a half years (half the term of a regular MP). They are not elected but are recommended by a Committee of MPs for appointment by the President.

About 10 years ago, I was approached by a senior friend to consider participating in the process for selection as a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP). At that time I declined because I did not think it was a good idea to be in Parliament without being elected by a constituency.

But when I was again…

All I needed to know about Kindness, I learned from my Mother

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“You look like Grandma,” exclaimed my niece. We were visiting mother’s niche at the columbarium. My sister and I and members of our family make it an annual ritual to do so around this time – between Easter and Mother’s Day.

Yes, I do look like my mother, and I hope I am as kind and gracious as she was. May I share with you some of the lessons on kindness and graciousness I learnt from her.

“Always be respectful – know your place,” I can hear her saying in Teochew. Recently, Prof Tommy Koh, who taught me Criminal Justice when I was a final year law student, introduced me at a university forum as his friend. I felt very complimented but I could never bring myself to call him by his first name. “Once a teacher, always a teacher,” my mother would say. My mother’s idea of respect is to address your senior respectfully, so “Prof Koh” he is and will always be to me.

My children are no longer children, of course. They are professionals in their chosen fields, and two of the three h…

Kindness in Literature

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Kindness is a virtue valued by almost all people across all generations and cultures. These days, when I read books of interest, be it novels or biographies, I almost always make a note of kindness that is mentioned in the works, and I find them rather instructive. Let me share some of my recent readings.

My friend’s daughter Laura Hillenbrand, an award-winning author, has written another blockbuster. Unbroken is a World War II story of survival, resilience and redemption. The mind, body and spirit of Olympian Louie Zamperini were tested to the extreme limits when he was a Japanese prisoner-of-war. In the midst of cruelties and atrocities, Louie found brief relief in one of the few happy encounters in the POW camps.

Kawamura was a new guard who slipped two pieces of hard candy into Louie’s hand. He then moved down the hall and gave two pieces to his fellow POW, Phil. “A friendship was born,” writes Hillenbrand.

“Kawamura brought a pencil and paper and began making drawings to i…

Olympian Acts of Kindness

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The 2014 Winter Olympics was held in Sochi, Russia, from 7–23 February 2014. A total of 98 events in 15 winter sport disciplines were held during the Games. I received several emails from a Canadian friend about acts of kindness that took place at the games.

In the men’s 1,000-metre race, Canada’s top long-track speed skater Denny Morrison had forfeited his chance to race in the finals when he failed during the qualifier. His younger and less experienced team-mate Gilmore Junio had qualified.

In a gracious and generous act of sportsmanship and team-spirit, Junio decided to yield his rightful place to Morrison. He said, “How Denny is skating now, I believe it’s in the best interest of the team if he races…” 

“This is an amazing gesture and I’m ready to make the most of this opportunity”, said Morrison, who promptly twitted publicly to thank his team mate.


In another event, the Canadian cross-country ski coach Justin Wadsworth, a three-time Olympian, was crestfallen as he wandered o…

The Power of Kindness

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On Saturday March 15, a small group of avid readers will gather at the Central Public Library from 3-6 pm*.

Sharing a common love for books, they will read parts of The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci. Ferrucci is an Italian psychotherapist and philosopher whose highly-acclaimed book delves into the profound benefits of leading lives of compassion. The Dalai Lama endorses it as “a book after my own heart” in the preface.


The book makes the striking argument that kindness is actually at the heart of all the values we hold dear, including honesty, warmth, forgiveness, contact, sense of belonging, trust, mindfulness, empathy, humility, patience, generosity, respect, flexibility, memory, gratitude, service, and joy.

As it happens, the idea of empathy has certainly been grabbing some news headlines recently. Ferrucci defined empathy as “the expansion of consciousness” and has very definite views about the importance of having it. “Empathy”, he writes, “is an ingredient of the emoti…