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English essay topic: ‘Young people are becoming increasingly selfish and self-centred.’ What are your views?

In Personal reflections, Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 3:10 pm

You will only hear this assertion from people who are “not part of this generation but are judging it from above”. (Jon Stewart)

It is a ludicrous assertion, and one that deserves to be ruthlessly refuted. As a youth, I have not found my peers to be “increasingly selfish and self-centred”. Instead I have found my generation to be concerned about their communities, their countries, and the world that they will inherit.

Past generations have had brilliant leaders and change-makers, and this generation of young people has its own. For example, Malala Yousafzai–a 15-year-old Pakistani school pupil–is an advocate for education and women’s rights. She detailed her life under the Taliban and how girls were prevented from schooling on her blog, and she openly shared her political views despite the Taliban’s clampdown on all opposition.  In spite of an assassination attempt last year, Malala has not faltered as an activist for education. According to her, her purpose is “to serve humanity”. Clearly, young people like Malala have demonstrated that youth today do have the gumption to defend noble causes and fight for the interests of others.  She is testament to the notion that youths are not oblivious to the injustices around them and that they want to correct them. To jaded adults, individuals like Malala may be idealistic, but she is not in any way selfish or self-centred.

It may be argued that selfless, mature youths such as Malala are few and far between, and the rest of our generation can otherwise be generalised to be “selfish and self-centred”. However, when I imagine the hoards of young men and women who voluntarily enlist themselves in the army, who make enormous sacrifices to defend their countries, I find it impossible to agree that youth today are self-centred.

Young people today do not need to brandish bayonets or fight against repressive regimes to prove they are a generation that cares about the world around them. With the advent of Model United Nations, more and more young people are showing a commendable interest in pertinent global controversies. Model United Nations is a simulation of a United Nations conference, where students play the role of diplomats and debate important political issues such as nuclear security and sustainable economic growth. Perhaps not all young individuals are adept at being diplomats, at crafting the best resolutions to the world’s disasters, but this is a generation that, at the very least, shows an interest in political happenings miles away from their homes and makes an effort to learn about our damaged world. Perhaps then, they will learn to fix it for generations that come after them.

Every generation has its own selfish people, its own pessimists, its own cynics and its own naysayers. However, I refuse to believe that my generation—this generation of young people—are more selfish and more self-centred than the ones that have come before us. I look around my classroom and my neighbourhood and I find youths who are passionate about volunteering at the local nursing home, at the local hospital, or even in third-world countries far from ours. I have faith in this generation.  Get to know the youths in your own community and you will too.

PS: I haven’t blogged in a while, and it’s a little sad that my first post in a long time is another banal school essay. But I felt this needed to be said for the sole reason that we (youths) are sometimes unjustifiably attacked for not matching up to the toil of previous generations, for being too pampered and too sheltered to care about anything beyond our own materialistic desires. Obviously that assertion is a lie, and we (youths) should not be coerced into believing it, lest it become true.

Social work

In Personal reflections, singapore general election parliament, Singapore Politics, Uncategorized on November 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Some things need to be said about mental illness.

Generally, it’s easy to raise awareness about animal abuse and melt people’s hearts with posters of bunny rabbits and cute puppies. It’s never too difficult to elicit an “Awwwwww” or a “Those poor things…!” from the general public.

But when it comes to talking about psychiatric patients………………..you’re probably not going to get the same emotional response. Till this day, too much stigma surrounds the notion of mental illness and rehabilitation.

Before my week-long work attachment at an undisclosed religious mental rehabilitation organisation, I had no clue what psychiatric patients would be like. And at the rehab centre, they were surprisingly normal. It was genuinely difficult to tell the difference between the staff members and the clients–not because the staff were mental, but because there seemed to be nothing remotely wrong with the “patients”. Certainly, those were the clients who’d already been treated and were rehabilitating well, but what I saw did offer some glimpse of hope: Mental illnesses like schizophrenia do not spell the end of all sanity and healthy living.

I met a 53-year-old man named Will. He grasped my hand and said “Hi, I’m Will, the Investigator. I want to keep this country safe, nab criminals. So that Singapore can attract foreign investment.”

He seemed perfectly sane, healthy, rational. I later learnt he was schizophrenic, a condition in which the subject sometimes cannot tell the difference between what is real and what isn’t.

A day later, when I went back to work, he looked at me with an unnerving seriousness. “Aren’t your parents scared of this place? Aren’t your teachers scared of assigning you to a….a mental hospital? You’re not afraid?”

“No, I’m not. We’re just playing Scrabble, it’s not like anyone is going to hurt me. Everyone is really, really friendly.”

“But some of us aren’t…..you know….stable………DO I SCARE YOU?” He kept staring at me, even when I looked away. The truth was, Will didn’t scare me, because he was too normal to frighten anyone.

On a separate note, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many social workers, who handle cases like Will’s and everyone else’s in the rehab centre. I can honestly say that none of these social workers are working in self-interest. It is not a job that typically pays a lot, and like all other noble professions such as nursing, there are certain hells they have to endure on the job. Paperwork is one of them.

I’ve met a businessman who gave up his lucrative construction company to join this mental rehab centre as a programme planner. I’ve met a social worker who had to endure the guilt and grief of his psychiatric clients committing suicide. And I’ve met occupational therapists with amazing patience needed to teach and train disruptive clients.

For these clients, being hit with mental illnesses is like having to start from Square One all over again. Some of them were high-achieving doctors and lawyers who simply couldn’t cope with the stress of their profession and developed mental illnesses that caused them to lose basic living skills like bathing, brushing your teeth and changing your clothes. It’s like being forced to start from scratch. What makes it easier are these social workers who want nothing more than to help them slowly rehabilitate.

All of these social workers are there with an altruistic purpose of serving clients, and because of the religious nature of the organisation, the staff find motivation in their religious goal of helping others. In a secular society like Singapore, we cannot undermine the value of such religious organisations that don’t strive to preach or proselytize, but to give back to the community as best as they can.

In such a fast-paced and competitive country, we talk about achieving “happiness, prosperity and progress”. At the same time, we talk about being “One People, One Nation, One Singapore”. Perhaps it’s time we realised that the two are a tad mutually exclusive. The reality is that with such high-speed progress, a lot of us end up being left behind–whether it’s the mentally disabled, physically disabled, or regular folks who just can’t cope. It is these religious organisations that inspire people with an altruistic incentive to help them.

Unlike corporations,  these organisations aren’t doing this for Corporate-Social Responsibility and public relations. And unlike governments, they aren’t giving “handouts” to win an election.

I feel undoubtedly cleansed after being around these people, and have begun to feel a sense of disgust for the self-serving grandeur politicians build around themselves. Looking at such exhausting, selfless work, one wonders if high salaries belong to the realm of Ministers or to the realm of such people who make true “sacrifices”.

While I fully agree that we need to pay these social workers well, perhaps increasing their pay would create another “ministerial” culture, where we attract the wrong people for the job–those who are concerned with profit, not people. The world of social work seems to be built on altruism–and high pay simply doesn’t fit into that world.

As a society, we need to start talking about uncomfortable things like mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. We need to talk about how much or how little we know about it, we need to say the wrong things so we can learn the right things. Misconceptions must be cleared up, and we must rid ourselves of the unnecessary fear of mental illnesses. No matter how hard these patients try to recover from their illnesses, it is society that must first rehabilitate from its phobias and prejudices. Only then can we hope to achieve true re-integration.

Being Holistic

In Personal reflections, Singapore Politics, Thoughts from school, Uncategorized on October 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm

It has come to my attention that I am not “all-rounded” enough.

In Singapore, the word “all-rounded” is synonymous to the word “holistic”. Both words are used to describe people, or more commonly, pupils who excel in academics as well as “aesthetics”. “Aesthetics” typically refer to performing arts (like dance), musical ability (usually piano or violin), and personality (though I doubt this is as prized as the former two)

Singapore’s known for being this education hothouse that just churns out students who are bright, articulate and talented. So when someone tells you that you’re not “holistic” or “wholesome” or “all-rounded”, its a just cause to feel hurt. The kind of inadequacy and inferiority you experience is just downright painful. That’s why we students are just so competitive–losing out, even in the smallest of ways, hurts. Especially when you dream of someday going to an Ivy League University and making it big in life. It always, always hurts to think that you’re not up to par.

But now I realise I’ve accepted such criticisms too willingly and I’ve accepted the yardstick for all-rounded success far too readily. I don’t know why my ego didn’t kick in and I don’t know why I hadn’t bothered to go into the automatic mode of defensiveness. Yes, I do want to be humble, and I’ve paid too high a price for not being humble. But accepting such criticisms unquestioningly was just plain stupid. The yardstick by which we measure our individual successes must not ever be dictated by social norm or peer pressure, and that’s the secret to surviving the hothouse environment.

So, what’s MY yardstick? It’s pretty much the same stuff society prizes–intelligence, integrity, personality and talents. EXCEPT my definition of those things differ greatly.

Intelligence need not be measured A1s and C5s. Integrity is not about picking up litter even when it’s not your own. Having a great personality is not just embodying the one-dimensional trait of “being nice”. Talent is not defined by having a Grade 10 Piano cert.

Intelligence is about intellectual rigour; it’s about being able to see rhythms and patterns and nuances in the world around you and making sense of it all. It’s about being able to empathise with opposing perspectives in controversies. It’s about delving deeper, going beyond the surface, and not just accepting  things at face-value. That’s intelligence.

Oprah Winfrey says “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”

Don’t get me wrong: integrity does encompass picking up litter, like what school teaches us. And it does encompass–Okay let’s say, if you’re a prefect and your friend does something against the rules,  it would indeed be morally upright of you to book them anyway.

But integrity is much, much more than that.

In a deeper, more intangible sense, integrity and moral courage means daring to go against what’s popular in order to do what’s right. It means standing by your friends, even when they are the most geeky people in class and hanging out with them is going to hurt your popularity with the cool kids. It is never just about playing by the rules and being a law-abiding citizen. In fact, if the establishment does something of injustice and enforces a rule that you believe is wrong,  if you have the moral courage to speak out against such injustice on behalf of others, that’s definitely integrity. If you are powerful, but still choose to stand with the powerless, yes, that is integrity.

Having a great personality IS about being nice, yes. Treating others the way you would like to be treated is extremely important. However, a striking personality goes beyond this niceness, and is one of passions and humors and gumption. It’s the ability to wholeheartedly embrace being human, and allowing yourself to feel intense pleasure, sorrow, anger and fear. It’s about melting away every bit of ice-cold indifference and not letting the monotony of life numb you out from the world.  Furthermore, being able to radiate confidence and warmth and friendliness even in the most uncertain of situations, and imbuing in your peers that same confidence, is essential. Most importantly, being able to forge a connection with the people around you and develop genuine friendships–that’s part of having a great personality.

Lastly, talent is intrinsically linked to your passion. It’s whatever you define it to be, If it’s piano/ballet/violin, sure. But if it’s writing fanfiction and limericks, well, why not? If your talent is academia, science, current affairs and philosophy, you’re not going to have the easiest time finding like-minded individuals, but hey, that’s just who you are.

The establishment will never be able to measure an individual’s true potential, and not all individuals will fit into the die-cast mold of being holistic. In the midst of so much competition to match up to such standards, I have lost sight of what is truly holistic–a value that is meant to vary from individual to individual.

Truth is, we will never encourage “holisticity” if we, as a society, continue to impose upon our youth a cookie-cutter definition of all-roundedness. And no matter how hard we try to emphasize Character Education as part of school curriculum, you’ll find that selfishness will always exist in a society that values competition more than collective interest, and indifference will always be inculcated in generations that continue to be stifled by the culture of competitiveness.

School, Uniformity and Conformity.

In Personal reflections, Singapore Politics, Thoughts from school, Uncategorized on September 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

Today, through bleary eyes I stared at the national flag as it mounted the pole and ascended. I didn’t want to sing the anthem–I had sung it every day of every week of every month of every year since nine years ago when I first enrolled into school. The repetitive monotony made such a ceremony seem insignificant now. But as I observed that flag with lifeless eyes, I realised that there were teachers standing in front of me, and I somehow felt their cold, hard stares, their  eyes boring into my skull. Sing. You must sing the national anthem. Quick, Risa, sing. You’re going to get scolded. My lips parted as I mouthed the lyrics of the national anthem–lyrics that had once been sung with passion and love but were now just insignificant words too familiar to mean anything.

As the crescendo died and the music faded, we students stood closely packed in neat, straight rows as we suffered yet another shelling. Why didn’t you sing the national anthem and school song? It’s so disrespectful. You, girl! Stop touching your hair! Stop fidgeting, girls! Listen to me! You MUST sing the national anthem and the school song! You belong to THIS school and THIS country so you jolly well open your mouths and SING!….STAND STRAIGHT, GIRLS! Why aren’t you listening! And look at your skirts–they are so short! You must uphold school values, girls, you must. we have to be accountable to stakeholders…i mean, parents! what will they think of you when they see you dressed in such a short uniform? I SAID STAND STRAIGHT AND LISTEN! Look, when you go out in public or go on stage, we want you to have your held head high (sic) and we want you to uphold corporate values. HEY! THE GIRL WITH THE HAIR, STOP TALKING!

It seemed, even the microphone couldn’t stand her voice anymore. A shrill howl of audio feedback erupted from the speakers. A painful sound for sleep-deprived students to hear in the morning.

But corporate values? Stakeholders? And more importantly, held head high??? Girl with the hair? We all have hair, thank you.

Last time I checked, I was a student in a school–a school where I could discover my talents, my personality, my own gumption. Suddenly, I find myself an employee working in some large-scale MNC with corporate values. Ouch. Difficult reality for a fifteen-year-old to accept.

Really, just really, how do you expect any of us to have any semblance of school and national pride if you’re giving us a shelling every single morning? Why are you forcing me to sing the national anthem–if I don’t sing it from the depths of my heart and soul, isn’t it already meaningless?

There are school rules against slander. But I am not slandering. You don’t even know what school I come from. I love that school–it’s a great school with some brilliant and passionate teachers, good facilities and a nurturing community. But every day, I find my individual voice, independent mind and gumption suffocated by rules. I know there’s a need for discipline. I understand why we need appropriate uniforms. I get why we need strict rules. But we need to strike a balance in schools. How do we find a way to be firm, but not stifling?

And stifling may prove counter-intuitive for the results-driven school as well. The other day, in English class, the class was–as usual–silent. We listened, we didn’t ask questions. Not even when the teacher asked us to ask questions. Girls, are  you all dead?? Why do you look so tired? I’m asking you for questions and opinions! Give me an opinion! You there, sitting at the back, give me an opinion on this! I want an OPINION!

It seems, no one knows what an opinion is nowadays.

Protected: To my ten-year-old self

In Personal reflections, Uncategorized on August 31, 2012 at 1:43 pm

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Protected: To 10-year-old Risa

In Personal reflections, Uncategorized on August 31, 2012 at 10:38 am

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Protected: Regrets and Reflections.

In Personal reflections, Uncategorized on March 3, 2012 at 7:58 am

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