Against insularity

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
– Matthew 25:32

Self discipline is comparatively easier than having group discipline. While a group can spur/support/encourage the individual members and help people succeed, negative things spread much more easily than good ones. That’s why things like the ‘collective action problem’/’tragedy of the commons’/gossiping (etc) exists.

While it’s easy to do things alone, we all know that as individuals we can’t change the world – at least, not in the scale in which we want/need to. I’m challenged to remember that He calls ‘all the nations’, ‘the people’ to work together, to feed, to water, to clothe all those in need.

Which community do you fit in the world?

Divided

I don’t think we’re entirely directionless. For most of us, we can articulate what we don’t like, but it’s difficult to commit to something that we wholeheartedly like and wish to do for the rest of our lives. We have generic aims out there: we wish to be happy, we want to provide for our families, we see ourselves working in the financial sectors. Nice, good goals. We know what we don’t like: perhaps it’s science, and we don’t see ourselves working in the education sector, but we’re also circumstantially open to these things.

While I’ve a vague idea of my future, snippets of what I want, some more clear visions than others, I’ve been feeling rather divided lately. This division is rather problematic, it brings great discomfort, sadness, inability to tell others what I stand for, what I identify with, how do I create a coherent self without sounding contradictory.

I’m reminded of essay answers which we wrote in college: ‘it’s best to have an amalgamation of policies to solve this problem, to utilise the best traits of all available policies’. And now in university we learn that ‘problems can be solutions’ – jugaad urbanism/innovation, with empowerment, the poor can lift themselves out of poverty.

But we need to remember that there is a myth of complete, perfect solutions. Because these are complex, impossible problems. (The ‘wicked problem’ – problems are way too messy. A solution for one aspect of the problem will lead to other side effects, creating new problems, or imperfect solutions etc.)

I think this is a great problem for me since I am not particularly passionate about something, I don’t feel like I’m ‘on fire’ enough (merely lukewarm), I seem to not have clarity in what I want. Hmm for example, I think about how certain ‘entities’/concepts are related. Like there are many minimalists who are also environmentalists or even vegan. These are complementary lifestyles, but at the same time, I pointed out that there are contradictions, sometimes. E.g. if you are a vegan and an environmentalist, would you rather use plastic products or animal based products? The former may not be biodegradable but the latter is? Often I feel confused about what I want, what I stand for. Should I do volunteer work or should I work as per normal and give to charity. How do I then make choices, describe myself to others?

I need to remember that complementary/related solutions doesn’t mean that they can all be conducted at the same time. I cannot be, nor do everything at once. While I like all these ideals, it’s difficult to choose one over the other, perhaps I need to think more about what exactly I will decisively commit to.

What I Learnt Today

I don’t know how to categorise this post, should I warn that this is/may be a rant? Anyway. A friend gave me a new perspective about why I write: (I may have too high aims for my writing) perhaps I write simply so that I can put thought to words and then let go and forget about them.

Ok. This post is about social issues.


I find people boring. This is/was a statement I made back in secondary school. It can be a bit offensive. It also inadvertently made a friend conscientious of the things she said/behaved around me. I got bored because people have ‘pet topics’ and talked about that same thing all the time. Things like family. Being depressed. Academics. I am guilty of this repetitiveness too.

But these are two things which I find especially triggering. Socially UNACCEPTABLE:

  • Being mean and negative

I like to think that people are generally pretty nice. Understanding. Mature. Kind. I have written about the better side of human nature: I think that while people with problems (like depression, mental illness, OCD) may feel ashamed of their struggles, they need not be. I think that generally most people have people they love/know of who struggle with such issues. The general population is kind towards people who are different. Think about many movements for equality, better treatment of people. Kindness movements. Racial equality and how that translates to laws, ‘affirmative action’. Gender issues being brought up more. Being against fat AND skinny shaming. Being different is ok.

I would like to think that if people knew exactly how much what they said hurt, they would not say it.

But that doesn’t always make their words excusable.

I realised this is one thing I absolutely cannot take. I don’t mind swearing as much as this. I hate it when my family complains, talks about negative things like: I don’t like my boss, I’m always getting bullied, the government sucks, women are way too favoured over men (ok, I don’t mind alternative viewpoints, but seriously, do some research and give me statistics before you rant, don’t speak emotionally haha ok am I hypocritical here?)

The ABSOLUTE WORST is saying something bad about someone else. I don’t like gossiping. I don’t think I ever did. This is a huge turn off, especially if I don’t know the person who is talking well. I don’t understand this, actually. I think it occurs pretty frequently. WHY would you say something bad about someone when we’re meeting for the first few times? About how your mother favours guys over girls and hence you feel angry at your mother for ‘mistreating’ you. About a junior you dislike who is coming to your faculty, you narrate a story about how you were civil to him and describe him as being arrogant (without substantiation, mind you).

Please. Just don’t say these things. It makes me rather sad. Anxious. Angry. What if I’m one of those people who have the negative traits that they are describing (or rather, I’m being misunderstood as showing favouritism, being arrogant). I think I’ve been rather lucky to be amongst relatively ‘nice’ people in my schooling years. While there were negative people, I had a ‘nice bubble’ I could go to, who were available all the time, since they were in my class. The concept of class does not exist now, unfortunately. I suppose that I forget how nasty people can be, how they can be unthinking, immature, unapologetic. I don’t get how people can just say these really terrible things casually. What are they thinking? Is it for lack of topics to talk about? (Just shut up). Is it to get to know each other better? So that I know what they cannot stand? Do they think that by saying something negative it makes us like them because they’re, opinionated? Emotionally open – they are being vulnerable to us? To know that they are better than the people they are criticising?

With this disastrous first encounter, I struggle to see them in the same way that I (would like to) see humans. As deserving of the highest form of love. As being kind and generous, traits which can be discovered if I take the effort to get to know them.

  • Banal conversation

(Ok getting quite tired)

I don’t like meeting people in the context of school. I feel like there isn’t much to talk about. We talk about what we are studying, the classes that we’ve been in, what we like or dislike, our future plans, sometimes, the grades that we get. All these things that I’m not actually super interested in/ ‘things of the world’. I hate it especially because it feels like we’re in a rat race chasing for grades; perhaps I’m imposing the feeling upon myself. To be more likeable in class, smile more, speak up more, being anxious about school.

I much prefer meeting someone in other contexts, we have much better conversations that divert into things that matter to people. Families, interests.

But I admit that conversation is a two way interaction. I need to learn the art of making better conversation with school mates. I wonder is the conversation poor because I’m not passionate about what I’m studying/don’t think about my future with it as a subject? Generally, I feel that the ‘school’ environment has become quite a toxic place. I need to change my mindset.

FS5: The importance of culture

The weekend starts off like this. There is a heighten mood of anticipation for what there is to come, despite the sleepiness (to me) of the village. Announcements are made through the loudspeaker early ish in the morning, the sound muffled and vibrating throughout the thick, dusty airwaves. The party doesn’t start till about 3, then someone changes the time in the afternoon and says it’s at about 230. We are anxious and don’t want to miss it, it’s a once in a life time opportunity, so we hang around but we can’t sit still.

We’re don’t understand much, if anything, about this festival. It’s a confusing beginning. A pick-up truck is in the front and it inches slowly on the half paved half mud road. On the back there is a huge rocket, about 2m in height, colourful and bright. Pink, I think. Our truck, carrying a tree like structure with notes stuck unto its ‘trunk’ like a tree goes behind this truck. I think it’s going at about 3km/hour tops, it rolls and jerks to multiple stops. We walk much faster than it. My buddy tells us this festival is dangerous, and I can’t understand why. It’s only much later, perhaps the next day, which I understand. It’s the language, it’s because people are drunk (even in the heat of the day, and it’s early afternoon – they have been drinking since before noon).

The music is deafening, it’s a live band on to of a huge music truck; it’s perhaps two and a half stories high. I am amazed at how the players aren’t tired, the singer especially, it seems like she is singing non-stop. But I think that they do take shifts; there is another male? They blast the music. Someone asks for a translation of the songs and it’s actually quite hilarious.

They sing about adultery: having a crush on your neighbour’s wife. They have a song which literally goes ‘vagina, vagina, vagina’. But also pop music, and a song which goes ‘ah biang, ah biang, ah biang biang biang biang biang’, supposedly imitating the sound of thunder. It’s all just really bizarre to me. (Tomorrow, we’ll ask our hosts what they think about the lady boys we saw during the parade and the festival. The lady boys were dancing raucously and erotically, wearing hot shorts, lots of make-up. Some actually were pretty good dancers. This ‘sex’ culture is very different from where I am from: there is not so much erotic dancing; we do these sorts of things in the cover of dark like in clubs and at night, there is a greater focus on touching, rather than showing off good dance moves. Anyway, I found it quite, surprisingly that they didn’t approve of these lady boys. I can understand if the Thai people are conservative and don’t approve of transgenders, but hello, this is a festival which talks about sex so openly, everyone participates in drinking and everything, the lady boys are not the only ones who dance raucously; I’m actually more uncomfortable with the old drunken men who try to pick up girls. The lady boys are in their own little circle and don’t disturb others. But I suppose they feel that these lady boys are a disturbance to the equilibrium: the festivals were not celebrated like that before and including them in would ‘take away the meaning of the festival’? Just my speculation).

I think about other things as well: the importance of culture and why should we keep it? There have been articles written about how we need to understand the root of the festival/the culture and meaning behind it; in understanding these things, we won’t feel like it’s such a despicable thing, we can enjoy it and appreciate it.

But I think that while there may be meanings to doing these things (there might be logic, the reason may be flawed – I really must come up with a better word for these two nuances), it doesn’t mean that it is correct (it’s like I can understand WHY a poor man steals but it doesn’t make it ‘morally right’). it’s nice to have culture, and I think it’s dangerous to excuse our wrong doings just because it was always done and it’s ‘heritage’/tradition etc. thinking about Paul and his letters to the different groups of churches: he tells them to set themselves apart from all the pageantry but they find it difficult to because it is ingrained so deeply into them, their lives, their socialities, families etc. basically, I question how ‘right’ this festival is and what should be done to improve it (if we should).

 

 

 

FS4: Being aware of binaries

‘I cannot show you the way to enlightenment, but I can merely show you the path that I took’ – (Buddha’s wisdom? Or so quoted from a friend)

Had many good conversations about Buddhism with a Buddhist friend during this trip, was quite lucky to learn more, especially in my home stay as well. Most of the Thai population is Buddhist anyway. We have also been discussing about things like the problems with geography (overly micro/macro, amongst many many other things. We had heated debates and discussions as well. Loved it haha).

Anyway, just a short piece for us to question our comfortableness with binaries. I think this is quite a ‘Western’ (haha be cautious even with this binary) philosophy, quite a modern concept? With Christianity (ah, many people talk about this as well; we think the bible is full of contradictions because we read it with a very literal Western lens, things must be absolute and extreme). – Perhaps I should expand on this one day? There is much to write about this/much that I’ve thought about.

I think I’ve been pretty fortunate to have (been making) friends who are Buddhist/interested in this philosophy (or even other religions like Muslims as well). While I still believe there is such a thing as absolutism, I think we need to acknowledge that we all have our own paths that we need to take – instructions/truths are place and time specific and our own circumstances differ as well.

Most of what we hear are guides rather than truths.

The medicalisation of deviance/criminal activity against free will

(Just something to think about: this concept has been written about by others)

Breaking it down: in the past, people with mental issues were locked up, away from society, thought of as being different. Now, people who are different are seen to ‘have problems that need to be solved’. We think that this is a nicer, more humane way of treating people. Instead of locking up people with mental issues, we put them in hospitals, give them medication to treat them in hopes that they can integrate into society and be happy and ‘normal’. People who have murdered, who have stolen (kleptomaniacs) or done other criminal activity can be excused if they have committed crimes under the influence of ‘depression’, ‘mental disorders’.

(My thoughts) but the ‘patients’ are left without free will. They do not have a choice whether or not they want to be treated. If they deny treatment, they do so because they are unwell, they do not know what’s best for them.

I think of ‘Addition’ by Toni Jordan, the ending was surprising for me, but it was thought provoking too. Spoiler: Jordan didn’t give the protagonist the happy ending of ‘recovering’ from her mental disorder. Instead, she wrote about the effects of taking medication for OCD: weight gain, having multiple voices in her head, not being completely lucid? Eventually the protagonist decides to forgo ‘treatment’/doesn’t try other forms of treatment but goes back to dealing with her OCD, she goes back to obsessively counting and not leaving her house much. Is the cure really better than the illness? Is there really a cure in the first place? Or are you trading one issue for another – with medication she can go out into the world without counting, but she isn’t fully present. I think about the talk which was given in college: a palliative doctor said that ‘no one ever wanted to die’. They simply want to be put out of their pain. Once they don’t feel pain, they won’t want to die. Hence he doesn’t believe in euthanasia, he thinks that the only reason why people want to die is because they want to be put out of their misery. Misery of pain, of costing the people they depend on, etc. I think about Equus by Peter Shaffer (the play is quite interesting!). What if the ‘patient’ simply doesn’t want to get better? What if they are mistreated in the hospitals simply because ‘no one can control them’; they are restrained, force fed medicine? ‘Passion cannot be taken away by a doctor’: it’s merely repressed, it makes people boring.

I don’t have answers, merely more questions: how much responsibility do we have to help someone to get well? How much pressure should we apply on them to try new ways to get better? Are they sick in the first place? It is great if they do indeed get better, they will thank us for not giving up hope on them, to allow them to lead ‘regular’ healthy, happy lives. But of course there are many other failures as well, others who curse us for putting them in such institutions, where they aren’t free, where they feel worse off than before. A friend reminded me that homelessness has many facets: to us it may be shameful, but to others it is empowering, dignifying, a choice. Perhaps they were made homeless because they have some mental issues, they cannot get along with families, they don’t like being institutionalised. They choose to be on the streets, to be free, despite our occasional discomfort when we have to interact with them, our momentary discomfort/mistreatment of them is preferred over being locked up and unhappy. It’s between their comfort or ours? Who is more important?

Perhaps this is my conclusion: looking at the big picture, society has progressed. It’s like how I don’t think anyone would say that modern medicine has worsen in comparison to the past. Lots of small problems still exist but we admit that things are getting better. While new problems surface and many issues remain unsolved (like AIDS, cancer, superbugs, epidemics). The solution/cure/medicine has gotten better. (We need to differentiate the effectiveness of cures against the rise of new problems: just because new problems surface doesn’t mean that the cure has gotten worse). Overall, people are living healthier, longer, better lives. People who have mental issues are at least seen in a kinder light? That they can be helped, cured, we do not need to be afraid of them?

Medicine is still very flawed. It is estimated. Each and every pill we take, should technically vary because of the plentiful variations in each and every patient. Our current health, our weight, our diet, our genetics, our gender. But the dose is generalised: adults VS children. It is better to generalise than to not prescribe any medicine at all?

While we work towards a better, more perfect world, let us not be overly obsessed with small problems and destroy the whole imperfect system. Some still suffer and are greatly unhappy, but we continue to try and believe in progress, not mere change. That gives us hope.