351. Armchair Revolutionaries

I have a deep and lingering suspicion that most of us are only under the illusion that we’re actually making a difference in the world we’re living in.

You’ve heard of armchair psychologists. The people who, when told that someone is depressed, tells them, “Just think happy thoughts. Can’t be that difficult. You’re just not trying hard enough.” Parading as a member of the community when they clearly have no place there, having not participated in any of the works associated.

That’s pretty much how I feel about all the chest-pounding going on in my Facebook newsfeed.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the phenomenon. Something controversial happens, and the denizens of the internet take to the message boards and Facebook feeds to provide the world with their golden opinion. Online protests are signed. Pages are created for people to “like”. Every once in a while, when people get angry enough, they take to the streets.

Myself, I’ve never been in a riot, and am glad. I hear that bad things happen to people involved in them. Protests, on the other hand, we’ve had a couple going on in Malaysia over the past couple of years: “Bersih”, to call for clean and fair election; and “Stop Lynas”, to, well, stop Lynas from being set up on Malaysian soil.

I wasn’t there for either one of them. But I found it astonishing how quickly everyone forgot it ever happened and just moved on with their lives. After the crowds were dispersed with tear gas and water cannons in “Bersih”, most of them went home for a shower and an early dinner. Some were taking group photos in McDonalds’. After petitioning outside the Lynas site, at evening, the protestors went home, and that was all. No closure.

If you ask me, no difference was made. For all the hype of “standing up for your country” and “doing the right thing”, nothing was done but the creation of a lot of energy and noise. It was like sports’ day, except without medals.

But everyone went home feeling all sorts of satisfied with themselves anyhow.

I’m not qualified to complain, of course, having not even been present at the protest itself, or having done anything substantial. And I’m not. It’s just a startling observation that perhaps… We’re more interested in feeling like we’ve made a difference than actually making a difference. We want to be a part of the revolution more than we want a revolution.

When the French got angry in the late 1700s, they stormed the castle and dragged their royals out into the streets. When he saw battle tanks rolling towards Tiananmen Square, “Tank Man” went and stood in front of the tanks until they had to physically remove him. When people got angry with the unequal distribution of wealth in our capitalist economies, they… camped outside banks in tents.

Well, yes. It made the news: “Bersih”, “Stop Lynas”, The Occupy Movement and all that. But after the headlines were done and the news for the next day rolled in, I’m willing to bet half the population has already pushed the matter to the back of their heads, choosing to focus on more important things like, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

I realize that this is an incredibly pessimistic thing to say, but more and more I’m becoming convinced that it’s true, seeing the volume of emotionally-charged speeches being made without any substantial actions backing those words up. It’s a lot of noise, again, like sports day – but without any medals being given out. Everyone still goes home with a swelling feeling of pride, though.

If there’s anything to be taken from this post, I guess it’s this: Don’t join in the change that you wish to see. Be the change that you wish to see. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Ship canned food over to the afflicted in the Gaza conflict. Send letters to the grieved families in the wake of the MH17 crash. Buy a homeless person lunch. Hug a colleague. Tell your family you love them.

In that way, you have already made a thousand times the difference standing in a crowded square can make.


347. The Passive-Aggressive Post

Don’t you just hate it when *some people* make a post, and it’s *so obviously* related to *someone* but they don’t even post that person’s name there?

(“I– I mean… What happened? Did your– Did your balls drop off, or something?”)

Get a grip on yourselves.

I suppose, in a way, there’s no escaping the hypocrisy in writing this post. On one hand, I’m speaking out against the trend of making passive-aggressive posts on social media sites; but on the other, I’m writing this post instead of confronting said individuals concerning their passive-aggressiveness.

But what the hell. I’m going to write it anyway.

There was a subject I took in my 3rd year at university called Human Resource Management. It’s a load of crap. But it was helpful to give official-sounding names to things like “employee motivation” and “remuneration and benefits”. One of the topics was “Conflict Resolution”, and in that section of the textbook, the author (as far as I remember; it could just as easily be one of the many terrible student presentations) talks about the differences between Eastern and Western conflict resolution methods.

(I cite the textbook and not my lecturer because, oh God, that lady was a thorn in my side for all the years I spent in university. A thorn with needles jutting out of it. And on fire. And secreting a potent venom. And dangerously acidic)

Without getting into the unfortunate discussions about what constitutes “Eastern countries” and “Western countries”, let’s get right into it. Apparently, most people living in Western countries feel that the most appropriate way to handle conflict is to confront it. Face it head on. Get your shit sorted out. While most people living in Eastern countries prefer to defer the responsibility on to someone else, or to avoid it completely.

Or, as I call it, the sweep-under-the-rug method.

While I hold the opinion that people – especially some living in Western countries – should be made to obtain licenses for speaking in public, I am also constantly irked at the behavior of the ones around me. There are far too many episodes to count, but in the end, it just boils down to this:

“I don’t like what that person did. Ugh! Don’t even talk to me about it!”

And then they go on to treat that person like shit – but the Asian way, which is to treat them as though they’re a bad smell in the room.

(I guess you could say it’s more like treating them like fart)

When people tell me things like that, my response, most of the time, is, “Don’t you think that’s a little unfair to them? They probably thought it was funny/in good taste/appropriate.”

Because it’s true. Most of us are not important enough to have a group of people dedicated to hating on us. Most of us, in fact, are actively trying to be the best person we can be, to make the best decisions that we can make – and we just end up tripping over each other sometimes. Just like you don’t go around intending to offend or insult people, people don’t usually go around doing that to you. Sometimes, it’s just poor choice of words. And sometimes, there are people who are just honestly deluded about what is socially acceptably behavior.

Here’s what I suggest: be fair, be kind, be direct. If you have a problem, say it out – but respectfully. “Man, that wasn’t cool” usually suffices. You’ll be surprised how much heartache it saves you when you let those around you know your boundaries. Then you’ll be able to identify the ones who offend you by mistake and the ones who really don’t care enough about you.

Give people the benefit of a doubt: they are usually kinder, more compassionate, and more prone to making very bad mistakes than you think. Remember the last time you made a really bad mistake, and how you hoped with all your heart that everyone would just let it slide?

It’s exactly that.

345. Digital Footprints

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short story in which someone attacked another person with a steering lock. It was gruesome and bloody and sickening – just the way I liked it.

Then earlier this week, a video went viral around the Malaysian digisphere, featuring a lady going batshit insane on an older man for putting a dent in her brand new Peugeot. In retaliation, on top of screaming bloody murder and hurling verbal abuse at the man, she took his steering lock and proceeded to bash his hood in.

I’m not sure about the life imitates art vs. art imitates life argument, but I can vouch for the fact that the two just accidentally plagiarizes one another from time to time.

(except in the non-fictional case, no one’s head got reduced to red gunk)

You can imagine how the internet reacted.

If there’s one thing we all must learn and learn quickly, it’s to never challenge the internet. They’re like medieval dragons, eating valiant knights for breakfast and turning empires into ashes and dust. Except unlike medieval dragons, the internet’s fury and power is largely crowdfunded. There is no way you can beat the sheer force of destruction that is the internet.

Just ask Barbara Streisand’s manager.

Within 24 hours, someone – or a group of people – had already identified the woman down to her name, her nickname, her workplace, and her home address by her car registration and the 1/5th of a company logo that was exposed on her t-shirt. People found her facebook account and hacked into it. People were harassing her in every way they knew how.

(it’s like a scene right out of Sherlock, just without the British accents)

If that isn’t enough to break a person, I don’t know what is.

She has since offered apologies: one in private, to the gentleman she heckled; and another in public, over a radio broadcast, for the appeasement of the internet.

(the only thing stopping the internet from achieving godhood, I think, is the lack of human sacrifices. No, I’m not asking you do offer a human sacrifice to the internet– What’s wrong with you?)

The startling thing – among all the other startling things that has happened in this one short episode – that got me was “Holy crap, are people also able to track me down via the internet?”

The first thought that came to my mind was my old blog, where I have published a novella’s worth of badly-formed thoughts and sentences. Safety and privacy concerns came second after that.

With some knowledge of how search engines work and some persistence, I imagine it would be possible to construct a timeline of one’s life via their digital footprint. Especially if you were born in the 90s, at the dawn of the internet.

It would be so easy for someone to find out who you are, where you live, who your closest friends are, what are the things that makes you tick, your hot buttons, your fears, your insecurities… Boy, that’s a lot of information just sitting there, waiting for someone to come and dig it up.

Would be a real shame if someone made some use out of it…

342. A Puzzle-Box Universe

Okay, look, I’m not proposing that we start a new religion here, unless you subscribe to the understanding of the word “religion” in the traditional sense, in which it means “worldview” or “a way of making sense of life, the universe, and everything”, then yes, I am. Otherwise, no, I’m not.

(and if you’re already confused, I suggest you wander off to some other parts of the internet which may be more entertaining and less provocative)

I think… a fundamental piece of the all-encompassing question we call “the meaning of life” is to discover something. Anything. Whether it’s that apples fall from trees because of gravity, or that humans are all liars, or that sizzling bacon is simultaneously proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy but is also a gigantic troll, I believe we’re all put here to figure something out about this world that we’re living in.

(to whoever discovered sizzling bacon: GOD BLESS YOU)

Earlier today, as I was writing a story titled Sufficiently Advanced Science, on a whim, I wrote this sentence:

…the world was God’s great puzzle for mankind to solve…

And it has been going round and round in my head all day since.

I scarce think that a God who created humankind with innate curiosity would also give us all the answers we’ll ever need. I also think that the world would be a much, much better place is we – as experts and teachers and parents and pastors – would admit that there are just some things in this world that we don’t understand, rather than try to cram circumstantial evidence into our narrow understanding of the universe through stretching and bending rhetoric.

What often troubles me are people who give the pretension of having all the answers, whether they be atheists or Christians. I can’t name any other group, because the aforementioned two are, by far and large, the majority among the voices calling for my attention day after day. On one side, there are Christians who insist that we’re getting disappointed because we’re just not reading the Bible correctly; and on the other, there are atheists who insist that God either does not exist, is dead, or is a total dick, evidenced by the numerous and long-lasting sufferings of mankind.

(if I had a dollar for every time someone told me “you need to read it in context”, in reference to a scripture, I’d be at least rich enough to not have to work for a couple of years. Oh, and please, do not tell me that human suffering is the consequence of man’s sins and that God is in absolute control in the same breath. It does not work that way)

Here’s what I believe: there’s a world out there – an entire universe – that is created by intelligent design. Let’s call the author God. And I believe God has put us all here to discover this world that he’s created, to live and breathe and take in all its beauty, to search and to explore and to discover all there is to discover. This universe is so large – even ever-expanding – that, in the words of Sir Elton John, “there’s more to see than can ever be seen; more to do, than can ever be done”.

And we each have but one responsibility, which is to discover the things we have been put here to discover. To craft and polish and perfect our piece of the jigsaw puzzle that will fit into the bigger picture.

There will be some who will tell you that their piece of the puzzle is all there is, and they will be lying. There will be some who fail to discover what they have to, and end up with a flawed, or unrefined, puzzle piece that does not fit. There will be some who will tell you that your piece of the puzzle is wrong. They may be right, or they may be wrong.

Here’s what I also believe: like any riddler, excited to see us figure out the answer, God gives us clues. Again, there will be some who misread the clues. There will be some who will perverse it. There will be some who will tell you the clues are fake. There will be some who will make up fake clues.

How do we do this? Where do we go from here? How do we know if we got our piece of the puzzle right?

It’s not a satisfying answer, but I think we’ll never know. Not until we’re dead and dust. Not until the end, when the final puzzle piece is put into place, and everything comes into order. This is what I think.

Some believe that the universe will end in a great collapse, or in a great tearing-apart. Not me. It’s probably wishful thinking, just like everything written above, but here’s what I think:

At the end of the life, the universe, and everything, there will be completion.

333. Off Day

Let’s just get this out of the way: I slept the entire afternoon away like a bloody pig.

(not that the pig was literally bloody. Can literally bloody pigs sleep?)

Today, I woke up with the realization that first, this will be the first off day I’ve had in a while (last weekend was spend editing my submissions; and weekdays, are, well, weekdays). And second, I’m 15 minutes late for practice.

I had 2 practices to attend in all, which took up about 3 hours, with a 5-minute cookie break at the 1.5 hour mark. When I was done with the both of them, it was already 1P.M., and time for lunch.

With 2 friends, I had lunch at an Indian place nearby. As Indian meals go, if you’re not stuffing yourself, you’re not doing it right. I had rice on top of a banana leaf with dry mutton curry and a fried chicken thigh on the side. The rice was drizzled generously with chicken curry (but without the chicken).

(I offer no apologies for my appetite when it comes to Indian meals. The last time I ate banana leaf rice, it lasted me till breakfast the next day)

Arriving home with a full stomach, I went into my room to sort myself out and see what I’ll busy myself with for the rest of the afternoon. Somehow it led to me lying on my bed with a growing realization that I’m falling asleep.

And that was the last thought I had before I received a phone call at 8P.M. from mom, asking if I’d like her to pack some dinner for me.

Off days are rare enough as they come. I pity the folks who are so wound up at work that they just can’t bring themselves down, preferring to do their work on weekends too. Myself, I like to draw a line – a big, thick one so nobody misses it – between work and life. As soon as I’ve met my daily quota of 8 hours at work, I’m already out the door. If a call comes in for work-related things on a weekend or on an off day, if I do pick it up, I’ll have it pushed to my earliest convenience, i.e. when I get back to work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no sloth: I get my work done quickly and efficiently (mostly because I want to get back to doing nothing as soon as I can, but that’s another story). But as much as I can, I’d like to get work out of the way so that I can get on with, you know, living.

After you receive your university degree, you will spend an average of 35 years working. If you don’t find time to live in between, you’ll realize that you’re 60 with no energy to do all the things you’ve wanted to do. Except maybe write. You’ll have plenty of energy and time to write when you’re 60.

And now for something completely different to end the post with: I’m presently craving for steak. Anyone has any suggestions for really good steaks in the Kuala Lumpur/Petaling Jaya area?

318. Haters Gonna Hate

If there are people in your life who devote their time to, in a manner of speaking, “hating” on you, you can rest assured that they have their priorities in the wrong places.

But woe to you if you, in turn, spend your time obsessing over these people.

I spent most of my life ignorant of the thoughts of others, and I was happy. I had enough things to worry about on my own, thank you very much; I don’t need your worries adding to mine!

But then sometime in 2007 or so, someone convinced me that it was a good idea to hop onto Facebook. It was pretty cool. Then someone convinced me that it’s also a great idea to get onto Twitter. That was also pretty cool. I drew the line at Google Plus, though. There are places where men are not meant to tread.

(the ladies’ washroom, for example)

As my digital horizons expanded, I began to become painfully aware of a certain trend of, well, hating on haters. Everywhere I turned, there just seems to be no escape from some flavor of “forget the haters” or “haters gonna hate”. While I don’t discount the existence of these haters, I’m just wondering… Why give them the attention?

I mean, it’s not like anyone says “Politicians gonna politic” or “Teachers gonna teach” or “Dictators gonna dictate”.

More than that, many of the denizens of the internet appear to be convinced that someway, somehow, they have attracted themselves some haters. The typical response to this seems to be either “Don’t hate me for who I am” or “Haters are just jealous, so you must be doing something right”.

Which, again, I don’t understand. Are they really narcissistic enough to believe that there are people who would take time out of their lives to bring them down? To quote Eleanor Roosevelt: You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

(and let me tell how just how seldom: next to never. Unless you’re standing right in front of them, or they have a crush on you)

I think… We see in others what we see in ourselves. Like mirrors, y’know? The cynic would not believe that the optimist is as happy-go-lucky as she appears to be, and the plucky fellow would not believe that the bile-filled old crone is incapable of cracking a smile. The ones who criticize others the most are the ones most worried about being criticized by others.

And if you see haters everywhere you go? Man, do I have news for you…

Ultimately, when we cast our gaze upon the world, it’s ourselves we see being reflected back at us. And because of how the world so wickedly shows you what you want to see yet never gives you what you want to have, you’ll see in other people exactly what you’re looking for. If you expect to see misogyny, prejudice, and hate, that’s what you’ll see.

I, for one, prefer to look for goodness, kindness, and all things beautiful.

You can’t stop the hate. But you can spread the love.

312. Clever Things To Say

The thing about work is that it never stops coming.

(now, if only we could say that about your wife. Zing!)

I really think that you can learn all there is to learn from a university degree program in 1 year; or, if you’re exceptionally dedicated, half that time. In terms of raw information, there just isn’t much to shout about. Sit me down for lunch and get me to talk about what I have learned from university, and I will be all out of things to talk about before the food arrives. Then again, that’s me. But I’m willing to bet that no one will be able to talk through the afternoon, no matter how studious.

It’s a theory of mine that most of the 40 subjects American colleges force you through are just there, you know, as filler. Only 5 of those courses really matter, like they actually contribute substantially to the career and future that you will have. The rest of the time, it’s just to make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth, especially after paying the price of a good car for it. I mean, really: do you need 14 weeks to learn “Effective Listening” or “Principles of News Reporting”? If you ask me, those weeks could be better spent on more entertaining, if not worthwhile, subjects. Things that will actually prove to be useful in real life.

So I propose that we take out the abominable course that is “Social Anthropology” and replace it with “Clever Retorts”.

(course code: STFU235)

Some Truths are truer than other truths. Here’s how it works:

truth: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Truth: if you can’t say something nice, say something clever but devastating.

And it’s this bigger Truth that we shall live by. The people out there in the world will not hesitate to cut you down with their words. If anything, learning Clever Retorts is verbal self-defense, so that when we’re wounded by lexical weapons, we’re at least prepared to launch a lingual counterattack.

(there’s a clever remark to be made here about comebacks, but that’s too vulgar even by my standards)

This course will cover a wide variety of snappy quips, referencing Shakespearean Text and Governmental Papers to study the evolution of clever retorts throughout the ages, and how one might apply these principles in their everyday life. Study and understand the mechanics behind the time-tried “Your Mom” wisecrack, as well as the versatile, age-old “Insult To Rocks” method of hurling injuries back into your opponent’s face. Discover the importance of stress, tone, rhythm, and timing to dish out maximum impact in minimal words, and learn about the scenarios in which actions do speak louder than words: where a punch to the face or a defiant flipped bird would encapsulate more meaning than words ever will.

And as a value-added bonus, take home this little tip on how to respond to people asking when will you be getting married:

“When your wife/husband gets a divorce.”

Happy learning!