Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reflection on Project Work

2010 has been an amazing year for me. It has provided me with many great opportunities to grow as a human being. One of these great opportunities was Project Work or PW in short. PW is an A level subject where students are required to work in groups to achieve a certain specified aim. I just completed 9 months of this PW and my project was on initiating an anti fast-food movement. My group chose this project primarily because over consumption of fast-food is a major problem in the world and leads to many health issues and also encourages unethical practices in the food industry. In the course of our project, my teammates and I had many arguments and disputes. But ultimately, we still worked together and successfully completed our project. The entire experience taught me many invaluable life lessons and showed me that, contrary to popular belief, PW is a useful and fun subject. I want to dedicate this post to the lessons I learnt from PW.     

Firstly, I learnt just how disgusting fast-food really is. It has almost no nutritional value and is full of fats and carbs. My group even did an experiment on French fries and discovered that it contains lots of preservatives. In fact, this experiment was covered in an earlier post. I also learnt that by consuming fast-food, we are retaining or even increasing its demand, thereby encouraging the fast-food firms to practice a greater degree of cost cutting. This means that they will have an incentive to produce shittier food through unethical practices, such as hiring illegal workers or even ignoring animal rights. Because of this project, I did not consume fast-food for 9 months. This was quite an achievement for me for I used to be a regular fast-food eater. I even experimented with vegetarianism for a period of time when I realized how badly animals were treated by meat producers.

I also learnt how to work well with a group of complete strangers. When we students first started lessons in 2010, we were simply told who was in our PW groups. We had no voice in choosing our teammates! The teachers probably randomly assigned them to us. I was put into a group of 5, out of which 4 were girls. It was an alien environment for me and it was initially really difficult to work on such a big project with complete strangers. Plus, all 5 of us held very strong opinions towards certain topics and thus could not come to an agreement on many issues. Because of the strong opinions we held, I learnt the skill and spirit of compromise. I learnt that when you work in a team, you can’t always have what you think is the best. You have to give up and sacrifice some of your own views to keep the group happy. You have to be prepared to compromise you own theories and ideas. The entire group’s satisfaction, instead of that of a single person, leads to a smooth and fruitful project.

In the process of executing our project, I took an initiative in the designing process. I designed a brochure and created an online video. Both of these tested and enhanced my creativity and opened my eyes to the beauty and power of advertising. This initiative carved out another facet in my personality. I have stopped fearing creativity.  Now I cheerfully undertake tasks that require me to be creative. I also took an initiative in designing a Facebook page for our anti fast-food movement. I finally learnt how to use Facebook properly! I also realized just how difficult it is to maintain a movement and to reach out to people successfully. I now admire and respect leaders of major movements. It really requires a lot of dedication, courage and self-confidence.  

Ultimately, I had loads of fun doing PW. I think it is a wonderful subject because it gives students a break from the strict academic focus of disciplines such as the Sciences and allows them to develop invaluable life skills such as peaceful co-operation, compromise and creativity. PW can be a really fun and fruitful subject if it is done with a correct attitude and mindset. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Are you serious?

Throughout the past 2 years or so, I’ve been getting a lot of comments from people, especially girls, saying that I’m way too serious and that I should “take it easy and chill”.  I must have been very awkward and boring around them! And recently I did realise the importance of being “chilled out”. It really helps in breaking the ice between people and in taking a break from the struggle of life. It is also important for humour.

However, this realisation has not reduced my high regard for seriousness.  I still thoroughly believe that one needs to be very serious in all circumstances other than those that I stated in the previous paragraph.
So, I want to dedicate this post to explaining why the hell I am so serious and why being serious is important, at least to the boring me! I hope I don’t sound too pompous by dedicating this post to myself. But I really think this explanation is worth sharing because I thought very hard and meticulously about it.

All of us have done good and bad in our lives. For those who are currently teenagers or those who have been through their teenager years, you know that we teenagers do wild things sometimes or even all the time. Being a teenager myself, I have done crazy things. But after doing these things, I felt very guilty and ashamed. I knew that I did something wrong by losing control of myself. Through reflection, I realised that this was not the type of life I wanted to live. I did not want to be a slave to my raging hormones and irrational feelings. I wanted to live a life where my body is a slave to my mind; where I am in control of myself. I wanted to search for a way of life that is universally valid; a way of life that does not harm life through my words, thoughts and actions, but only creates value through them. The search for such a way of life is not an easy one. Great people like Buddha spent their entire lives thinking of and developing such life frameworks. The search for such a life requires one to be very serious and determined about his mission. So that is one reason why I am so serious. It is because I am constantly searching for ways to improve my life so that I can stop harming life and instead, do my best to create value.  
When one is serious, he is controlling himself. When one controls himself, he is calming himself down and opening his mind to his environment. When you open your mind to the environment, you open your mind to yourself. When you become sensitive to your environment, you become sensitive to yourself. You and your environment are ultimately manifestations of the truth or the nature of life. So if you become sensitive to your life and environment, you become sensitive to the truth of life. You allow yourself to experience the truth manifesting itself infinitely frequently across the smallest intervals of time. Thus, by being serious and hence sensitive to life, you increase the chances of yourself grasping the truth of your own life. This is also one of the important reasons why I am serious. I am seeking to understand the nature of my own life, and being serious is a side step that is necessary to grasp this end product. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Deep Connections

Hello Readers!

It’s been quite a while since I updated my blog.  Now that my exams are over I’ll be updating it much more often.

Recently, I observed something about myself. I observed that I have always been prejudiced towards certain religions. My views towards them were predominantly negative and I was very intolerant. I reflected on this intolerance recently and it occurred to me that I was simply being absurd. I was freely judging these religions but I had never visited their places of worship or experienced their practices. I was being untruthful to myself. I was boosting my own ego behind a curtain of ignorance. I was claiming superiority of knowledge and wisdom over these religions. I was like a blind man claiming he can see. But I realised that this was not the wise or true way to deal with any situation. It was a naive approach that only limited my own capacity.

This reflection led me to an idea. I decided that I should visit different places of worship to get a glimpse of what goes on in there.  This would expand my perception of the religions and would allow me to experience the truth behind them instead of creating some pseudo-truth that has no meaning or value. 

I wanted to start off by experiencing Christianity. I contacted a very close friend of mine, who is a Christian, and arranged to visit his church on a Sunday afternoon. I told myself that I would not go there with a closed mind. I told myself that I would go with an open mind and I would not judge the practices of Christianity. I would only appreciate them and grow in a spiritual sense.

When I met up with this friend, he gave me a brief and interesting history of Christianity. He told me about the Christian perception of life and its intricacies. He even told me about Jesus and God. I had a very poor prior knowledge of these topics and I was quite intrigued by the description he gave. I also asked him several questions to which I received mind-opening answers.

As we walked up to a hall, I started hearing beautiful singing. I never knew that it was a common practice in Christianity to sing and to honour God through the songs. I sang along with the people in the hall and listened attentively to the sermon afterwards. It was a solemn and sublime experience for me.

My perception of Christianity was definitely changed after the experience. I regarded the religion with much higher value because it was helping the people in that hall. It helped them appreciate their lives and it was providing them with a deep spiritual experience, which I believe is necessary for living a fulfilling life. I definitely did not understand Christianity completely after the experience, but at least I got a glimpse of its practices and understood its value to the Singaporean society.

After the entire session, my friend and I were looking for a place to grab lunch. While we were scouting, I asked him several more questions about his religion. I accepted his answers and tried to comprehend them, but it was really beyond me. It was at that point that he, for the first time, asked me about Buddhism. I told him about the origins or Buddhism and some of the basic principles of Mahayana Buddhism, such as the law of cause and effect.

While I was talking about Buddhism, I noticed the expressions on his face. He was not uncomfortable or unhappy. He was not angry or bored. He seemed to be at peace and accepted what I was saying. He even seemed to comprehend what I was saying. In any ordinary circumstance, such a conversation would have sparked anger and intolerance in the communicating parties. I mean who would want to hear somebody else preach about his or her religion right? But we ended up having an amazing conversation about our own religions.  Mystically, the barriers between us were dissolved. We connected as human beings and there was a free flow of beautiful information between us. This connection somehow transcended all the religious, ethnic and societal boundaries that distinguished the both of us. In that conversation, I didn’t perceive my friend as a Chinese or a Christian or a student or whatsoever. I didn’t care about his skin colour or his looks. I only perceived him as a fellow brother and human being. Despite his intrinsic flaws, I saw only the light in him. That experience moved me. I believe that experience formed a much stronger bond between us. It formed, if I may, a Human Bond; a human connection beyond just physical attainment or any other distinguishing borders.

This experience with my friend taught me that if one puts in hard work towards listening to and understanding somebody else, true friendship and strong bonds can be formed between the people. These bonds transcend man-made boundaries and connect people together as fellow human beings. This experience has also motivated me to visit and learn about more places of worship in Singapore.

Lastly and most importantly, I want to share about the application of my experience. I live in Singapore, which is a multi-religious society. There are Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and many others. One of the hot topics of discussion is how we can achieve a long-lasting harmony between various religious groups. Well, from my experience, I think we must break the locks of our conservative cultures and we must start independently visiting different places of worship.  Of course, we must visit them with an open mind and we must be polite. The key point is to learn and understand something about all the religions. Another key point is to connect with the people from various religious groups, as I did with my friend, and to share relevant experiences, if possible. Human Bonds must be formed, or attempts need to be made for its formation. This would reduce uncertainty and suspicion among religious groups in times of trial. It would forge social cohesion.

I imagine every person in Singapore forming Human Bonds with others from various religious groups. I imagine an amazing Singaporean society which is strongly interconnected and adopts non-violent approaches towards solving problems. In such a society, humanism would only flourish and the positive fruits attained would spread like wildfire to the rest of the world, inspiring similar peace movements. What a world that would be!