Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Self-worth: Is Life Unfair?


I have this one problem. I am insecure with myself. Why do some people have perfect lives? They have a loving family, wealth, intelligence, etc. I sometimes envy them. I know it's wrong, but it's hard to control.

Please help.

Thank you.


Waalaikumussalam warahmatullah.

Thank you for your email and for your honesty.

About your situation, I kindly ask that you reconsider your thinking that other people's lives are really perfect. Is it really? I would challenge that mindset by telling myself that if a perfect life does exist, then our Prophet Muhammad should have the most perfect of lives.

But he didn't have a perfect life, did he?

Our Prophet's life was full of tests and challenges, yet he was and still is the closest person to Allah. That is a lesson for us all: no lives are perfect. It might seem perfect in our eyes, but trust me they too are being tested by Allah. Perhaps their tests are different than ours, but they are being tested.

I guess that is my recommendation to you: study the life of our Prophet. You will find that there is no such thing as perfection as long as we are living in this world. That is how this life should be; it is a phase where we are tested and we each have different set of tests.

It is true that other people have what we don't (a nice family, a good job, good health, good exam results, etc) but that doesn't mean that they have everything. They might not have something that we do have.

Perhaps it is time we focus more on what we do have, rather than what we don't.

I hope that helps.

May Allah grant you what is best for you. Ameen.

Friday, June 26, 2015

I Don't Know

Have you ever been asked about something, a topic that people assumed you know, for example: a question about the subject you are majoring in, a question during a group discussion, a question about your family, or a question about your faith, but you don’t know the answer?

In those situations and many more situations like them that you can possible think of, it might be difficult to simply say, “I don’t know”. Saying “I don’t know” hurts the pride and it makes us feel stupid, perhaps a bit guilty for not knowing what to say or not knowing how to say it.

But realistically speaking, if I don’t know something, then what are the options?

Option No. 1: Well, I could say “I don’t know” but that’s not good for my image. People might make fun of me and I might get humiliated.

Option No. 2: I could make up an answer and make sure that it sounds brilliant so that people will be impressed and then, they will finally like me.

Option No. 2 sounds appetizing but I know better not to do that (even though I want to). I should just say "I don't know". Saying “I don’t know” when we don’t know something shows honesty and integrity, and yes, honesty and integrity can sometimes hurt our ego. In fact, a lot of the time it would hurt the ego.

If we made up an answer in order to sound smart, yeah we might get a few people nodding to us and thinking how smart we are. But essentially, we are lying to them. Most importantly, we are lying to ourselves.

It shows that we don’t have the courage to admit to ourselves that we don’t know something. We don’t have the strength to be able to lower ourselves in humility and face the reality of our ignorance. Instead, we choose to cover the reality with a fantasy that we know everything.

We would rather enjoy living in a lie than to deal with the pain of living in the truth. But the truth is still going to stare at you in the face, even when you choose to look somewhere else. The truth is, we don’t know everything, and it is okay not to know everything.

Not knowing and admitting that you don't know is the essential part of learning. If you walk around thinking and believing that you already know everything there is to know, then you wouldn’t be open to learning new things.

We can’t be that arrogant. We shouldn’t be that arrogant. If you think about it positively, not knowing something can be a good thing. When you found out that you don’t know something, that is actually an opportunity for you to learn something new and to upgrade your understanding, even in the subject you specialize in.

I get asked by Muslims a few times about how to answer questions about Islam when you don’t know the answer. The way they asked me that question was in such a way that they feel like they have to, they need to provide an answer to people to ask them about Islam, even in situations where they don’t know the answer.

As Muslims, yes, we should be the ones who know and understand our religion better than anyone else. We should, but just because we should know everything doesn’t necessarily mean that we actually do know everything.

When somebody asked us a question about Islam and we don’t know the answer, the best answer to give is “I don’t know.” Because that is the truth, and I know that there are people who wouldn’t accept that answer from us because they expect us to know everything about Islam.

We can't blame them, because we too might expect similar things from them. If they are Christians, we might expect that they know everything about Christianity. If they are Hindus, we might expect that they know everything about Hinduism. If they are atheists, we might expect that they know everything about science and reason.

But expectation and reality often times don’t overlap. The reality is, we Muslims don’t necessarily know everything about Islam and that is not a reason to be ashamed of.

That is a reason to be humble, and to continue life with the mentality that there is always something new to learn.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Skinny, but Fat

Soon after I got married, my wife and I decided to add a routine of regular blood checkups into our lives, to keep track of our height, weight, sugar level, cholesterol level, blood pressure, and other stuff.

I’ve never done regular blood checkups. I’ve never thought of it as something I need. I thought that as long as I stay physically fit in my appearance, then I must be doing okay internally.

So we the checkup. Alhamdulillah, my wife is healthy; everything checks out. I, on the other hand, was a bit afraid that my sugar level is going to be high. I have a medical history of diabetes in my family so that kind of puts me at risk. I know, my family is very sweet.

Alhamdulillah, my sugar level is A-okay! But, my cholesterol level was off the chart. The doctor was surprised because I am still young and I am not physically fat. But my cholesterol level suggested that I am 70 and that I am physically obese.

The normal cholesterol level is between the 4-point to 5-point range (correct me if I'm wrong). But my cholesterol level at the time was 7.9!

The way I understand it, cholesterol level is influenced by mainly two things: physical exercise and physical consumption i.e. your diet. These are the two big factors. The way you look on the outside is not so strong as a factor, as evident by my case.

So really, the point here is to not make conclusions about the inner reality, the inner health by what you can observe on the outside. External appearances apparently don’t tell you much about what goes on inside.

We have to think of our physical health internally and externally, by managing our lifestyle in terms of physical exercise and physical consumption. Then, I realized that this rule doesn’t just apply to physical health. It applies to all aspects of health: emotional health, intellectual health, and spiritual health.

The “cholesterol level” for our emotions, our intellect, and our spirituality might be off the chart if we don’t care enough to manage our exercise and our consumption. Cholesterol has two types: the good cholesterol and the bad cholesterol; positive and negative.

Physically, are we consuming a balanced diet? More good cholesterol or more bad cholesterol? Everything in moderation? Are we exercising to keep our body fit? Maybe you are externally fit, but you are one step away from a heart attack.

Emotionally, are we consuming more positivity or more negativity? Have we exercise our emotions in such a way that they remain healthy and balanced? Are we in control of our emotions or are our emotions in control of us? Maybe you are smiling on the outside, but on the inside you have all these bad thoughts about other people.

Intellectually, what are we consuming? What are we reading? Are we exercising our brain to think deeper and deeper thoughts? Are we too intellectually obese to even think because we don’t exercise the brain? Maybe you look smart on the outside, but you can’t even think deeply because it is too heavy for you.

Spiritually, are we consuming more and more knowledge and understanding about our faith? What kind of knowledge: the beneficial kind or otherwise? Are we exercising our spirituality in our intentions and in our actions? Are we putting more and more spiritual weight on ourselves, to strengthen that spiritual muscles, or are we sitting dormant and not improving? Maybe you look religious on the inside, but on the inside you are full of negativity.

The inner health is more than just physical, and we can’t know the state of a person’s overall health just by looking on the outside.

So if you are skinny, don’t be too quick to celebrate. Because you might be fat on the inside.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Internet is Public

The internet is a public place. Anything and everything you post online will become available to anyone and everyone who has even the slowest of all internet speeds.

You might be thinking, “Well, it’s a good thing that we have privacy settings. It is also a good thing that I only post things on the internet to my family and friends.” *thumbs up* *ting sound*

Allow me to demonstrate how that is not the case in reality by giving you a few real life examples.

Example number one, one of my friends made his Facebook account private and he limited his Facebook friends to about 200 friends or so. Which if you think about it, in current standards, that is only a handful of friends. Not even a handful, it’s just a pinch.

The reason why he wanted to make his Facebook so private is because he wanted to limit his Facebook postings to just family and friends. Nobody else. It’s private. He even told people that all his postings are private, so that they don’t share them around.

But, as you might have guessed, things did not go as planned. Apparently some people screencaptured his Facebook postings and share them with the rest of the world on Whatsapp. You and I both know how fast things spread around Whatsapp, right?

It's not his fault. He didn't post anything inappropriate or anything. He is just uncomfortable sharing those things with the world.

But the thing about the internet is that, even with the most tight of all privacy settings, there is still a probability that things could leak out and spread all around.

My friend was upset and I think he ended up deleting his personal Facebook account altogether, which I think is a brilliant decision if you want privacy. Because privacy on the internet is just a facade.

Another example, one fine day I was strolling along my Facebook timeline. Suddenly I came across a post shared to me by a friend of mine. The Facebook post was from a person who is not a public figure, whom I have never met in my life, whom I have no relations with, and whom I have not even seen on the “People You May Know” sidebar.

I can safely say that this person is way outside of my circle of friendship. But, somehow, the thing that she posted landed on my timeline and reached me. I’m sure that she has no idea who I am and that she has no idea that I was reading her Facebook post.

Another example, a 6th grade teacher (or Standard Six, if you're in Malaysia) from USA wanted to teach her students not to post inappropriate things on social media because those things could spread everywhere.

To make her point, she posted this picture of a letter she wrote wanting people to share it and tell her where they're coming from so that she could prove to her students how far things can spread online. That picture arrived on my Facebook timeline. Me, a guy from Malaysia.

I don't know her, she doesn't know me. What she posted traveled further than she expected.

Another thing about the internet is that the things that you post online, most likely will stay there forever. The internet has this thing called a “cache”. The internet's cache stores data, your data, on the internet and it will still be there even after you’ve deleted it.

For example, I’ve deleted a few of my pictures from the internet. Not because there’s anything inappropriate, just because I don’t want it to be on the internet anymore. But I can still find those pictures on Google Images.

The internet is the opposite of Elsa. It will not let it go.

So you have to really think about what you post online because it will become your permanent footsteps on the internet soil.

Family and friends can see what you posts. Strangers can see them. Children can see them. Your children or even your grandchildren can see them, even after you have passed away.

That is a scary thought, but it is also a wonderful thought if you think about it. If you made it a point to always post about something positive and beneficial for yourself and for others, it will be your legacy. You will be leave a sweet memory for people to remember you by.

But it’s a matter of personal choice. You choose what to post online.

You choose how you want people to remember you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Becoming a Better Person

We don’t want to be the same person before and after. We want to improve. There must be something in our lives that we need to remove, or add, or modify in order to become a better person.

But becoming a better person is a pretty huge and vague goal to achieve. As such, we can’t really tell for sure if we have become a better person or not. So, we need to set a more specific and a more reasonable set of goals.

Once we have achieved those goals, then we can safely say that we have improved to become a better person. But setting goals is pretty tricky because it largely involves managing our expectations.

We can’t set too high of an expectation for ourselves, that might cause us to get burnt out and it might even discourage us even further. We can’t set too low of an expectation either, just to play it safe or whatever. We can’t improve without challenges.

So it can’t be too easy, but at the same time it can’t be too difficult. It’s about balance and setting reasonable goals for ourselves. What is considered reasonable depends on the individual. We can’t expect everyone to be like us.

We all have our own individual challenges and we are all at different levels in our faith. What you might consider to be a reasonable goal might be a difficult goal for me. So whatever is reasonable according to the individual is good enough.

So long as we are improving ourselves in some way.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Moving On

If you have never made a mistake, then you are either an angel or you are dead.

Making mistakes is what makes us human. It is in the fabric of our humanity. It is our inherent weakness, but it is also our inherent strength…if, we choose to learn from our mistakes and from the mistakes of others.

If you want to call something a mistake, you should call not learning from mistakes as a mistake. If you have not gained anything from that experience, then that is a mistake.

Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn, if we are willing to learn from them. The difference between a successful person and a non-successful person is not that the successful one didn’t make any mistakes.

The difference is that the successful person has the courage to embrace mistakes, to learn from them, and to apply what they learned. In order for us to learn from mistakes, we have to first provide some room for mistakes to happen.

That doesn’t mean that we intentionally make mistakes, and then we use the “Oh, I’m only human” line as an excuse. We should take responsibility for our actions. If we know better, then we should do better.

Providing room for mistakes means that we provide an environment where when people make mistakes, they are given opportunities to learn from their mistakes. An environment where they are not being condemned for making mistakes, but they are given guidance to go back on the right track.

This is the kind of environment that allows for and encourages personal growth.

We should give people opportunities to repent, to make amends, and to set things right. But often times we don’t allow for that growth to happen. Often times we stunt that growth. When people make mistakes, we imprison them in their mistakes and we label them by their mistakes.

How do we expect them to move on with their lives if we keep reminding them of their past?

If you made a mistake, then you should learn from that mistake. Repent and move on. If that mistake involves another person, then go apologize, give them their due right, and make peace. Dust yourself off and move on.

If the past comes back to haunt you, it would be a painful reminder. But the past is a reminder of who you were, not who you are. Despite what you did in the past, you can still change your future, depending upon what you do in the present.

The present; the here and now. What you do right here and right now will determine who you are. You are currently writing or re-writing your own story. You are the author of your own story and the story is not over yet, because you’re still breathing.

Allah gave you the power to choose however way you want to live your life, from this point on.

Choose wisely, and the future can still be bright.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Community: Is It Our Fault That Muslims Are Leaving Islam?


I have a question about the growth of apostasy. Is it because of the influence of western lifestyle that made them question Islam? As I have observed, the westerners like to question and like to search for answers.

But even then, many people are reverting to Islam in the west so it can't be because of western lifestyle that many others are leaving Islam.

It made me wonder: is it our fault? Do we make them dislike Islam and leave Islam altogether?

If so, what can we do?


Salam wbt.

Thank you for your question.

As you pointed out, there are people who leave Islam. But at the same time, there are people who embrace Islam. We shouldn't overlook the latter. Sometimes, you could see that the reason for people leaving Islam is similar to the reason for people embracing Islam: they have questions and they found the answers.

Whether the answers are correct or not, that is an area of individual choice. What I mean by that is that a person will decide what he or she believes to be true or false. We can guide and teach, but at the end of the day, it is a personal choice.

We can't force people to believe in what we ourselves believe in.

This is not an argument for relative truth. I believe there is an absolute truth. But that absolute truth cannot and should not be shoved down people's throats. It is their right to decide whether or not to accept it. There is a saying that goes, "You can guide a horse to water, but you can't make the horse drink it." This saying encapsulates well what our job really is.

More often than not, people are leaving Islam not because of Islam, but because of Muslims, specifically in how we treat others. We, the Muslims, are not clear about what Allah expects of us. We are not clear about what our job is in dakwah.

Our job is to use the best means possible to guide people to Islam. The question of whether or not they receive that guidance is beyond our domain of control. We believe that bestowing guidance is Allah's domain. What is within our domain of control is ourselves.

When the issue of apostasy arises, it should point towards our actions and not theirs. This is not to suggest that they are absolutely free of faults. But this is pointing to the fact that we can only change ourselves in the effort that it will change the situation, because we can only control ourselves.

More problem happens when we start to control others, when in reality, we can't control them. It is impossible. We are stepping into the Divine territory, because only Allah has the power to control all. We, the slaves, have only the power to control ourselves. Rightfully so, that is all that Allah asks of us.

Having said that, it doesn't mean that we leave them be and we only focus on ourselves. No. We don't focus on ourselves, keep it to ourselves, remain dormant, and hope that other people will change. We are taught to rely on Allah (tawakkal) only after we have done our efforts, the best that we can.

So dakwah must go on, but not in a way that forces our belief unto others. That is not dakwah. Dakwah is an invitation to Islam, not an enforcement into Islam. The word "dakwah" itself, in it's original Arabic language, points to the fact that dakwah is a peaceful invitation to Islam.

Hence, that is our job.

The growing number of apostasy cases is a call for communal self-reflection. We should reflect on our collective shortcomings in the area of dakwah. We should take heed, apply the necessary improvements on ourselves, and continue the dakwah with a better approach - an approach closer to the Sunnah (Way) of our Prophet.

To begin, we have to first build a stronger sense of self. We have to remove the insecurity inside of us, such that we become overly and inappropriately defensive when people criticize our religion. We have to face the facts: we don't live in a bubble anymore.

The "sweeping under the rug" technique doesn't work anymore, in an age where information is everywhere and it is literally in the palm of our hands and our children's hands. People will have doubts. People will have questions. We shouldn't shunt them and think that it will solve the problem. Instead, we should deal with them and work our way towards the best solution.

The best solution, in my opinion, is proper education. We should first educate ourselves in order to build a strong foundation of our core belief and of our core identity, and then we should educate others, particularly starting with those who are closest to us - our family members.

We have to face reality as it is, and equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge base, sound understanding of text and context, and essential skill sets to face criticisms head on maturely, respectfully, professionally, and without losing our cool.

When issues arise, we should be quick to reflect deeply in ourselves and to see what can be improved in our ways. We shouldn't be too quick to blame the others. Even if we can rightfully blame others, at the end of the day, we can only control ourselves - what we say, what we do, what we think, and what we believe.

We should not be too quick to blame the west on everything. I have witnessed Islam booming healthily and strongly in the west, among westerners. So, I don't think the west is the real cause of apostasy. Some parts of the western culture might be a contributing factor, but to immediately assume it is the cause is a bit immature.

So yes, there are a number of evidence to suggest that it is our fault. There are a number of evidence to suggest that it is their fault too, but we should not fixate on that because moving forward, we can only control ourselves.

We should rethink, reconsider, and recalculate our efforts using the same guiding principles stated in the Quran and the Sunnah, to find better ways to invite people to Islam in this day and age. We shouldn't take the law into our own hands and start policing people.

At the end of the day, we can only control ourselves - what we say, what we do, what we think, and what we believe. That, like it or not, informs others of our religion. We are the ones painting a picture of Islam for all to see.

The Islam that the Prophet propagated was magnetic in that it attracted people towards it. Even the enemies of Prophet Muhammad acknowledged the Prophet's integrity and to a certain degree, realized that Islam is the truth.

In our dakwah to people, are we magnetic? Are we attracting people, or are we chasing them away?

"So by mercy from Allah , [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him]."

(Surah Ali Imran: 159)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Parents: So Close, Yet So Far

I don't know which one is worse: having no parents or having disconnected parents.

There are a few emails in my inbox where people are expressing their distress over the fact that they don't feel the presence of their parents in their lives, even though they live with their parents under the same roof.

Here is a snippet of one of the emails:

"...most of the times I don't feel his [my father's] presence. Sometimes I feel like I don't have a father. I do everything on my own. He never ask anything about my health or my needs, but if he has anything to complain about me and my brother, he would say it to our mother, but not directly to us. I don't speak to him except for important things because I could sense the way he looks at me that he doesn't like me. I don't like to stay here anymore, to stay with him. I get depressed."

So close, yet so far.

There seems to be a lack of connection. Problem arises when they find themselves in a situation where they "have to" talk with their parents, especially when they want to get married. Sure, it is easy to say that they could get married without the parents knowing anything about it, but more often than not, it will cause more harm than good.

So how do you talk with people you don't normally talk to? I can imagine the awkwardness and to some extent, the pain. There is a type of emotional and psychological pain experienced by the children when they can't talk to their parents about matters so important, like marriage.

Talking about marriage with your parents shouldn't be an experience you dread. Sure, it is normal to feel nervous about it. But I think it is abnormal to feel afraid up to a point where you think to yourself, "My dad is going to kill me if I said this."

Really dads? You are going to "kill" your children because they want to get married? I would imagine (I hope) all the dads out there will unanimously say "No", but the fact that your children are thinking that way suggests something is not right with how you portray your image to your children.

This is a lengthy topic, but I really need to get it off my chest for now. It is bothering me, and I want other people to realise this problem exist. To what extent? I have no idea. But the fact that it does exist, should concern us all about the current state of our own family.

Ask yourself, "How's your relationship with your parents? Can you discuss about serious matters?"

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Burden of Debts

"O you who have believed, when you contract a debt for a specified term, write it down. And let a scribe write [it] between you in justice. Let no scribe refuse to write as Allah has taught him. So let him write and let the one who has the obligation dictate. And let him fear Allah , his Lord, and not leave anything out of it. But if the one who has the obligation is of limited understanding or weak or unable to dictate himself, then let his guardian dictate in justice. And bring to witness two witnesses from among your men. And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses - so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her. And let not the witnesses refuse when they are called upon. And do not be [too] weary to write it, whether it is small or large, for its [specified] term. That is more just in the sight of Allah and stronger as evidence and more likely to prevent doubt between you, except when it is an immediate transaction which you conduct among yourselves. For [then] there is no blame upon you if you do not write it. And take witnesses when you conclude a contract. Let no scribe be harmed or any witness. For if you do so, indeed, it is [grave] disobedience in you. And fear Allah . And Allah teaches you. And Allah is Knowing of all things."

(Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 282)

This is amazing. I was reading my page of the day when I realized that the page was actually one long verse of the Quran. What is more amazing is that the subject matter within that verse is about debt and some of the rules regarding debt.

It is detailed out, particularly emphasising on the fact that you have to write the debt down and appoint witnesses. Sidenote: perhaps a trained scholar could explain the application of this rule in today's time.

Point is, my reading of this verse indicates to me that Allah puts so much emphasis in the payment of debt, such that the command to write it down is being emphasised, like a binding contract obligated upon you to fulfill.

This further points to the reality of how heavy is the responsibility of paying our debts and, indirectly, suggesting why we shouldn't engage in debt if we can avoid it (considering the fact that the responsibility is heavy).

I've always been so afraid of debts, especially with banks. If I decided to borrow money, I'd rather borrow money from a person close to me rather than with a bank and I would do my very best to pay the person as soon as I can.

Personally, I think it is better to be poor than to be burdened with debts. Though I am poor, at least I fully own everything I have.

Related posts:

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

People, Labels, and Intellectual Racism

Liberal, Progressive, Moderate, Secular, Fundamental, Traditional, Modern, Conservative, etc.

Have you ever heard of any of them? They are all labels, just labels.

But apparently, many people are so focused on these labels up to a point where they would immediately draw conclusions about the labelled people without due consideration on individual uniqueness and context, engaging in a type of "if you are not with me, then you are against me" type of mentality.

Personally, I care less about the labels and I care more about what they mean. Specifically, I care about what individuals mean when they mention a label because we might be talking about the same label but we mean different things.

For example, when a person says that he/she doesn't believe in God, the first question to ask is not "Why don't you believe in God?" The first question to ask is, "What do you mean when you say God?"

It might sound ridiculous to ask that question since the word "God" is common and everybody knows it. However, just because everybody knows it, doesn't mean that they all think of the same thing. Perhaps my conception of God, the Islamic conception of God, is different from yours.

If you say that you don't believe in a certain conception of God that I myself don't believe in, then I would agree with you. If when you say, "I don't believe in God", what you really mean is, "I don't believe in the conception of God promoted by Christianity", then I would agree with you.

It is important to consider what each label means to the individual in question, in the context of the situation, and to draw our individual conclusion based upon it - not based upon the label itself.

Try to analyze situations not based on superficial qualities like labels, because that will simplify what is in reality, a complicated issue. We use the filter of Quran and Sunnah not on labels, but on the reality behind those labels in the context in which they are used - we look at what they mean.

For example, if someone claims to be liberal and it is by his/her liberal belief that women should not be oppressed. Then, Islam has no problem with that. What does female oppression mean? That can be discussed deeper, but the basic premise is agreed upon. No question about that.

By grouping everything (and everyone) in one label, we are essentially resorting to a type of a mental shortcut. Just go straight to the conclusion without bothering to check and consider the content of the argument.

It is a type of laziness to be engaged in this practice; too lazy to think.

It is also a type of injustice, where we immediately push aside a person's thoughts and opinions on the basis of the label he/she may (or may not) represent, not on the basis of the merit behind his/her arguments and argumentation style.

Like racism. People with a racist tendency push aside other people's thoughts and opinions (and by extension, the people themselves) on the basis of their skin colour. In this case, it is not the people's skin colour but it is the people's label (or the label that we placed upon them).

As if a tiny subset of racism is slowly emerging - an intellectual racism.

Let us not see people as walking labels, because we are too intellectually obese to walk a mile in their shoes. Let us not resort to shortcuts with these labels, thinking that we will have them all figured out when we place those labels upon them.

See people as people, as unique individuals with thoughts and opinions which we might disagree or agree with. But to know which is which, we have to first listen to them and not let our mental chatter of labels drown out their voices.

We can disagree with one thing that a person says, but it doesn't mean that we disagree with everything that the person says.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Focus on the Solution

Hank Green, from the vlogbrothers channel on Youtube, said something interesting in one of his latest videos. He said, “It is more fun to complain than to appreciate.” And I agree. I think there is truth in that statement.

It is true. It is more fun to complain. We feel better after we complain. It is like venting out all your frustrations. It is therapeutic for the self. It is satisfying for the ego. But is that it? Is that all that we aim to achieve? Satisfying our ego?

What about the problem? Do we ever think about how to solve the problem and making the situation better? Complaining is not always bad, but in many cases it is. Especially when no alternative effort towards a solution is being given.

When is complaining a bad thing? When is complaining a good thing? It depends on the goal. Are we seeking to make the situation better or are we seeking to satisfy our ego? Because those two things don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

It is possible that the best course of action and the best method to make the situation better will go against the ego. It will go against what we want and it won’t make us feel better. But it does make the situation better.

So what is the focus? The situation, which includes ourselves and others? Or the ego, which only includes ourselves.

We have to move towards a different kind of approach. When an issue or a problem arises, we have to start thinking beyond ourselves and focusing on making the situation better.

If you have a problem with a friend or a spouse, talk it out with that person. Don’t post it on Facebook. That’s not going to make the situation better. It might make you feel better. But it won’t make the situation better.

If you have a problem with your boss and you have been treated unjustly, reach out to the relevant authoritative body to lodge an official complaint, because those people have the power to do something about it.

If you have a problem with an institution, call up the institution and give them a constructive criticism.

If you have an issue with the government that affects everyone, try to organize a peaceful and intellectual discussion or a dialogue with the government about that issue so that the people can listen from both sides, educate themselves about it, and make a well-informed decision.

The point is, focus on the solution.

Focus on making the situation better. Avoid just simply making ourselves feel better because we are doing something. There are situations where doing something doesn’t improve the situation.

If you can’t make the situation better, don’t make it worse.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Be Honest With Our Leaders

When I was in secondary school, once in a while we would receive a visit from a representative of the local education ministry. We call him "nazir". He would visit our school (and other schools) to see how we were doing. I would imagine that he would report back to someone higher up, to know the current status of our education.

I believe this is a good practice, since we need this constant revisiting of our system to see if it really does what it claims to do i.e. to educate the students. If there are shortcomings along the way, we can fix them as we go. This is better than implementing a system without any follow up.

However, that is only true if the nazir could observe the true reality of the schools he visited, and not the constructed reality showcases to him in order to impress him and the individuals he work for. I remember that whenever we would have a nazir visiting, prior to his visit we would be informed of it and all of a sudden the whole school went into this frenzy of tidying ourselves up.

One of the things that the nazir will do is he will check our practice books and see our works and progress. The thing is, we would handpicked which books to give to him. We wouldn't choose the "last kid" in the class, get his book, and give to the nazir. Why? I would imagine the reason would be to safeguard our school's image.

I understand the desire to save face, but isn't that detrimental in the long run? If the nazir doesn't see the true face of the current education system, then he will hold on to a false belief that everything is fine. It gets worse, because he will then pass on this false belief to his superiors who will then continue to believe that there is little to no problem with the education system, when in fact the reality might be very different.

Hence, the people up stairs might decide to continue with the current practice, oblivious to the fact that there are flaws in it because the people whose job are to tell them about the flaws, well, are not doing their job.

Who is the victim in the end? It is the students, because they have to live in this system and endure it, rather than enjoy it.

But we do have sessions where we listen to the complaints from the teachers, right?

Well, ask the teachers about how many of their complaints are actually heard. Among those who are heard, how many are being fixed? Is the complaint-listening session a formality stunt, to shut people up and tell them that "we are doing something about it"? Or is it sincerely an effort to do something about it?

These are questions which I don't have the answers to. But in the meantime, I will keep an open mind and a positive thought about what is being done.

What I illustrated above is a mere example of a much deeper issue. When we are not honest with our leaders, they don't get the necessary feedback they needed to improve their ways. When we are too busy sugarcoating the actual situation and too busy bootlicking them so that they like us, they might become complacent with themselves.

Remember, these leaders are the ones who will determine the direction of the system we all live in. So they need to know from us, with all due respect, the actual reality. If they are kept in the dark about the actual reality of the situation down here, they might be falsely celebrating the success of their plans, up there.

When in fact, there is nothing to celebrate.