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29gifts

Tibetan man with his yak  at Yangpachen, Namtso

Tibetan man with his yak at Yangpachen, Namtso

Gift #4:   April Showers bring May flowers

Everything has a season, Everything has a reason

Had Steve Jobs not been fired from Apple, he would not have met his wife, and bought Pixar, which made him a billionaire. [This is according to his commencement address.]

In Chinese, there’s an expression that comes close to the English idiom, every cloud has a silver lining. In every terrible circumstance, there’s a tiny sliver of hope of something good that may come as a result.

塞翁失马 [sai weng si ma, yan zi feifu]

The expression 塞翁失马 literally means Sai Weng lost his horse and comes from 《淮南子》written by Liu An in the Western Han Dynasty. An old man called Sai Weng lost his horse, but when others came to comfort him, he said, “I have only lost a horse, and this is not a big loss. Maybe something good will come of it in future.” And so it came to pass – a few days later, his horse returned followed by another good horse.

Although from the story my mom told me, it continues that one day, his son sat on the new horse and was thrown off this wild horse. His son became a cripple. When neighbours came to console him, how is he going to start his own family? No one will want a husband like that?  The man said, its not a big loss. Perhaps something good will come of it. Several years later, the country went to war with a neighbouring country, and all the able-bodied men in the village were enlisted. But because his son was a cripple, he was spared and able to marry a young woman of his dreams. Perhaps the story has other twists and turns.

Tibetan yak

Tibetan yak

The Chinese saying, is usually twined with a question “Is this good or bad?”

Was colonialism good or bad for Singapore?

When World War II came, and the British came, and the Japanese occupied Singapore, was it good or bad?

When Singapore was expelled from the merger, was it good or bad?

When the British withdrew from Singapore in 1971, was it good or bad?

As I looked back at my own life, whenever I face a setback, fear crept in. At times, I was even paralyzed with fear and depression. Be positive, pull yourself by your boot-straps, friends tell me. They are not wrong. But somehow I couldn’t muster the courage to positive thinking.

I’ve come to learn that adverse situations are pivotal circumstances and contain seeds of new growth = turning points. Life-changing experiences take place, when I’m not preoccupied with grumbling. I’m not trying to justify the works of evil people. They will be judged in their own time.  Whatever man meant for evil, God can turn it to good.

My response to such adverse circumstances in future?

Ask: What is the lesson that I am supposed to learn from this situation?  What is my responsibility? Did I contribute to this problem? What can I do differently? [Which leads me to Gift #5 – Learn something new.]
What do I have to mourn and move on?
10 years later, when I look back, what can I give thanks for now?
Are there qualities, growth that I have gained?

Having a routine helps in adversity. And friends.

What are the lessons adversity has taught you? Let me hear from you.

Don’t judge each day by your harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.  – Robert Louis Steveson

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Cats lazying in the sun in a Sarawak longhouse. Photo taken by L.

A man was overheard apologising to the Minister TCJ at the funeral wake of LKY, that he was wearing a colourful shirt. Instead of either black or white, traditional Chinese funeral colors. The man had rushed to the procession from work and was worried that he couldn’t make it in time, and so did not go home to change his clothes. Incidentally the queue to pay last respects have stretched from an average of 5hrs to 10hrs.

Some of us may wonder at the man’s superficial concerns.  However, in the study of cultural differences, Asian cultures including the Japan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore belong to high context cultures.  What is unsaid, the gestures, the body language, the eye contact, and the symbols remain important part of communication, more important than what is spoken. Low context cultures (US, UK and Australia), on the other hand, pay more attention to the “content” of what’s spoken rather than what’s in the context.

The Minister replied him that what mattered most was his heart. He cared to come. His desire to pay his respects. Thank You. Not the color. We are one heart, one people.

The man, LKY, would have said the same.

“I am not great on philosophy and theories. I am interested in them, but my life is not guided by philosophy or theories. I get things done ….” – Lee Kuan Yew

Deng Xiaoping, the architect of modern China, in defence of pragmatism, once said “Black Cat, white cat, Who cares? As long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat”.

His remarks were in reference to comments on whether a democratic system or a communist system was better to bring forward reforms in China. Incidentally, Deng himself, was an admirer of what LKY had done for Singapore’s public housing and city planning when he visited in the late 1970s.

My gift to my younger self would be this advice:

Gift #1: Get things done

Have you misunderstood someone else’s intention before? Valued form over substance? Look at the person’s heart and intention. Value pragmatism. Look at the results.

A man with many words to speak, look at his own life. Has he followed his own advice? What is his life behind closed doors?

Eloquence is no proof of a man’s integrity. Not a man’s political affiliations. Who his parents are. His color, his creed.

Black Cat, white cat, Who cares? As long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat”. -Deng Xiaoping

Man looks at outward appearances. God looks at the heart – 1 Samuel 16:7

Note:

29 gifts to my younger self are reflective reminders on how I would like to live my life differently.

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At a recent lunch with friends of over 15 yrs, in a somewhat reflective mood I asked, “What advice would you give your younger selves?” Surprisingly, these ladies in their 50s did not dismiss my question but spent time seriously musing over it. At last, one gave up and said, supposing you got past the problem of time travel, you won’t listen to your own advice. To which, another replied, “the idea is not to pontificate, but to then heed your own advice, and live your life differently”.

I’ve since used this as an ice breaker, among people I know well, and who would not mind being in a reflective mood. Use this with caution, as the mood, time, place, comfort level makes a difference.

What was the general conclusion: Take more risks and have more fun.

This reflective journey I am about to embark, tangentially aligned with the passing of LKY, whose shadow loomed heavily in the background of our growing up years, and especially the first 8 yrs of my career. I will in the course of 29 posts, write these reminders as gifts to myself, sign-posts if you may, for the next lap of my journey. I’m taking a pit-stop.

 

From Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Browning

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep

 

Why 29 gifts?

29 gifts is the title of a book by Cami Walker, who at 35 yrs old, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a neurological condition that made it difficult to walk, work or enjoy her life as she once had. Walker became depressed as she faced continual health and money problems. But then a friend and spiritual mentor challenged her to stop feeling sorry for herself and instead start giving to others. The friend challenged Cami to give 29 gifts to others in 29 days. (Huffington post).

The day I decided to write the post, the random bible verse reading for the day was:

Jer 29: 11 –  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Proverbs 29

Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy

A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father,

By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.

25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.

26 Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.