Wednesday, February 24, 2016

being minimal

For quite some time now I have been fascinated with the idea of being minimal. Minimalism, as how I defined it, is the philosophy of wanting less in order to focus more on what one needs. This idea can be applied in many ways, not just in terms of material acquisition.

Minimalism can also be applied to graphic design, for example. When you create a poster or a t-shirt or anything graphic related, you try to reduce the amount of decoration and information to its bare essentials, while still maintaining its artistic value.

I find this kind of graphic designing to be more fulfilling and efficient, since you are not being bombarded with unnecessary elements. It goes straight to the point. This is especially useful when you are trying to get the message across as fast as possible, which is very relevant given that we are moving faster and that our attention span is not that long.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about minimalism and how it improves the quality of my life and maybe your life as well. The idea of wanting less is appealing to me since I am currently living in a world of material abundance. This surrounding information overload trying to get me to care what they want me to care and buy what they want me to buy is a little bit stressful.

Starting from maybe a few years back, I began to discard my stuff and began to minimilize the things that I own. Whatever I don’t need, I would either donate, sell, or throw away, leaving behind only the things that I need and some of them the things that I want.

I don’t think having wants is against being minimal. What is against minimalism is that you drown your life with the things that you want and you become blindsided about what you actually need. Sometimes you might confuse the two; you might think that what you want is what you need when in reality, that is not the case.

This confusion is profitable for capitalism. When they managed to convince us that we need what we want and we need what we need, then everything becomes a need. They make money off of it. This isn’t to say that buying and selling is an evil activity. We believe that a good businessman is an honest occupation. But buying for the sake of buying and material “hoarding” is a bit of a problem.

The way I see it, the minimalist ideology tries to counteract this confusion by raising questions for us to ponder upon. These questions make us stop and think: the two things capitalism doesn’t like. When people stop, they prevent impulsivity. When people think, they make well calculated decisions based upon a holistic outlook of the situation. This will make us smarter consumers.

I like the idea of being minimal, partly because it makes the basics a priority. When we live in excess, there is a tendency to move towards accessories. There is nothing wrong with accessories, but there is something wrong with it when it pushes us away from the basics. It is like we are too worried about the spoilers on our car, but we don't think twice about the engine. A minimalist might ask, "Which one is more important?"

This idea doesn't apply exclusively towards material possessions alone. It can also be applied to our relationships, our careers, our mental health, our designs, our diet, our writing, our education, and our thinking - to name a few. But minimalism does pay specific emphasis on material things though, I guess since it's so physical and tangible. They are an obvious starting point if you want to begin a minimal life.

Yes, we need to buy stuff. This isn’t a call for total abandonment of worldly things. This is a call for wise decision making, wastefulness prevention, and seeking true happiness in the self and not in the things. When we try to fill the emotional and physical empty spaces with things, the empty spaces will never be filled.

Why? Because those spaces weren’t meant for things in the first place.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Evidence-Based Arguments

Last weekend I conducted a 4-hour seminar about English speaking at one of the local universities here. It was not my first time doing this, so I can safely assume how the students would participate (although I still reserve a space for the contrary to happen): students were mostly passive, didn't quite respond to my questions or requests.

It is one of those common things that university students do, but I didn't want to conform to this abnormal norm. So I tried my level best to encourage them to speak up and speak out, but continuously challenging their minds and emotions with questions and requests (e.g. asking them to fill up the front seats).

3 hours into the seminar, I wanted to start our last session: the discussion session. The basic idea is that I want them to use this opportunity to practice their English speaking. In the previous 3 hours, I tried to convey the message to them that it is not about getting it right all the time, but it is simply about trying and believing that you can at least try. That was all I asked of them and that is what everybody should expect from them: try your best.

I began the session by opening the floor to any questions, hoping that the questions might spark some interesting discussions. To my disappointment, they were still pretty much in their comfort zone. It is not surprising though. I can understand that it can be difficult to escape the comfort zone and 4 hours might not be enough to fully motivate a person to jump out of the zone. There were some questions being asked, but none that I can stretch into a long, interesting discussion.

Amidst the gaps of silence, I was thinking about what I could do to get the ball rolling. Somewhere in the process, I had an idea: ask them to tell me about what they have read in the past week. It could be anything: from blog posts, to Facebook statuses, tweets, or news articles. It is unlikely that they haven't read any of those in the past week, considering that practically all of us are on the internet nowadays.

After a few beats of silence, a student stood up to bring an issue to light. He read about the 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers who might enter this country, and he continued by highlighting his concern that it might not be a good idea. Seeing that the atmosphere in the room had changed a little bit after that topic had been raised, I saw an opportunity: let this be the topic for them to talk about.

So I instantaneously assumed the position of the mediator. I accepted the student's opinion as a valid one and I made his opinion the starting point of the discussion. I asked the other students if they have their own comments to add. Another student stood up, to disagree with the previous student. In my head, I thought this was great! Not only did this topic encouraged them to speak English, but it also encouraged them to think critically and to disagree politely.

Of course, I had to maintain a level of neutrality and mediate the discussion because there were instances where it got a bit heated. But this is a good exposure for them, to learn how to maturely discuss and disagree. The whole session was dedicated to just this discussion and I was satisfied with how it went.

After hearing a few opinions from a few students (some agreed and some disagreed), I reminded them not to be enemies with each other just because of a disagreement. Even though the topic is an important topic, but it is petty compared to their friendship and unity. Thankfully, I observed no hard feelings among them.

What is interesting to me personally was how they constructed their arguments. We know that a good discussion depends on having good arguments. Whether they want to agree or disagree with the idea that 1.5 million foreign workers will enter the country, their arguments must be and should be based on evidence and not emotional sentiments.

For example, one student argued that having more foreign workers in the country would harm our safety. I assumed correctly that he was referring to crimes committed by these foreign workers. While still maintaining my neutrality, I raised a simple question: do you know the official statistics of crimes committed by foreign workers in this country? No answer. To be honest, I don't know the answer myself.

My point is simple: you can't draw a general conclusion based upon a few incidents. It is undeniable that we have cases where foreign workers committed criminal behaviours in this country, but is the number significant enough to warrant an outcry? I asked a follow up question: do you know the official statistics of crimes committed by locals? Also, no answer. I don't know the answer too.

An argument that is not based upon facts is exposed to making flawed conclusions, sometimes dangerous ones. The conclusions that we make affect how we feel and our emotions affect how we behave. So it is not a simple thing to sweep under the rug. If for example we make a flawed conclusions about the 1.5 million foreign workers, then how we treat them might be far from what is just.

Just like in the discussion with the students, I didn't proclaim to support any side because I don't have the hard facts myself. I don't know if opening our doors to 1.5 million foreign workers would be a good idea or not. What I do know is that whether we like it or not, it is our human responsibility to uphold a sense of justice in our dealings and in our arguments. We should not let our emotions blur our good judgment about what is right and what is wrong.

All in all, it was a good session and a good exposure to the students about how to maturely discuss matters of importance. At the very least, it gave me an idea of how to "force" students to speak in English.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Compete with Your Wife

Some might think that a healthy relationship involves no fighting, but this is far from reality. All married couples fight, but the difference between the ones who are in a healthy relationship and the ones who are not, is that the healthy ones don't fight over small things and when they do fight, they don't go over board.

But that is not the intention of this blog post. Perhaps I'll save that for later. The "fighting" that I am referring to here is about healthy competition. It involves no flying plates and no ill feelings. But it does involve you trying to one up on your spouse. The spirit of this competition is based upon this verse of the Quran, " race to [all that is] good..." (Surah Al-Maidah, Verse 48).

How does this translate into your married life? Well, you can go about this in multiple ways but the one way that I like the most is service. So race with one another to see who can serve the other better. Let the race begins!

There are dirty dishes in the sink? Be the first one to wash them!

The trash can is full? Be the first one to take it out!

The baby needs changing? Be the first one to get your hands dirty!

Dinner is coming up? Be the first one in the kitchen!

The toilet is dirty? Get on your knees and start scrubbing!

Your spouse is sick? Give her a first class spa treatment!

The list can go on and on. The point is simple: be the person who serves the other better. Who deserves your service more than your wife, the mother of your child? Some men who are reading this might be thinking that serving their wives is a bit "below" them. After all, the wives are supposed to do the serving, right?


A true leader is a servant to his people. Just like Prophet Muhammad, who would secretly go out to feed an old, blind man. Just like Abu Bakr, who would do the same. Just like Umar, who would go out to ask his people if any of them needed someone to read their letters for them.

No act of service is too small for a real man. No act of service should hurt a man's masculinity, unless the man is insecure of himself in the first place. If you are already confident with your manhood, then lowering your ego to serve others shouldn't be a problem.