Is “Patiently waiting” an oxymoron?

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“Server: (n.) Someone who is paid to wait on people who won’t wait on you; Salary is inversely proportional between the waiting performed by the server and the waiting performed by the customer; the only profession in which you can ‘wait faster’.”

Patience is a virtue.” We’ve all heard it, and we all believe it. Some of us believe we have it even when we don’t; at least we don’t realize when our Patience turns into waiting. It’s a rare thing to have patience in a world built upon instant gratification and convenience, prizing efficiency and initiative as hallmarks of success. I hate getting stuck behind a slower car for more than 30 seconds – I get really emotional. I hate the 1-2 second lag time in hard acceleration when my car isn’t in Sport mode.  I will honk if nobody moves at an advanced left green light within the first 3 seconds. I would much rather go somewhere else than wait in line for more than 5 minutes (also a reason I probably missed out on a lot of food in Singapore). But I still call myself patient?? Am I deluded or just sinusoidal?

People in the waiting room lining up to see the doctor are called patients for a reason.

I’m a HUGE proponent of understanding words and context. So much miscommunication occurs when people have different definitions or connotations with certain terms. In the words of my good friend Andrew when he’s arguing with my other friend Frank: “Well it depends on how you define it.”

Historically these are the two definitions:

Patience: The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Waiting: The action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or until something else happens.

So what do we get from this? Simply that waiting can be a subset of Patience, but just because you are waiting doesn’t mean you are being patient. Who cares? Well, if you care about not deceiving yourself and start improving yourself, then you should.

I consider myself fairly patient, but at times I catch myself ‘waiting’ with a discontented spirit. I am annoyed or irritated (yes there is a difference) and my patience has run out (or maybe was never there to begin with). Apathy is a self-defense mechanism I employ often, and here is no exception. I struggle with being patient because there are times when I like to be highly efficient. Thank God for my wonderful girlfriend Sharon who is very punctual.

Here is another great example of the staggering difference between being patient and merely waiting. Consider these two simple statements:

a) God is patient with us.

b) God waits for us.

Statement ‘b’ poses a condition. God waits for us….until what? Until we become good people? Until we self destruct? On the other hand, statement ‘a’ stands on its own. God is patient with us, full stop. It describes his attribute and does not assume he is patient for any other reason other than his character and there is no event which ‘ends’ his patience for better or worse. Patience however doesn’t equate to inaction. Your patience doesn’t “run out” when you take action or are done “waiting.”

In Genesis 15, God reveals to Abram that they will endure four centuries under persecuted rule by the Amorites. Why? There is a special timing that only God understands, but if we go by the consistent behaviour of God in the old testament we see a recurring theme of grace and repentance. God allows a time for sin to prolong so that people may be given the chance to repent and turn from evil, while God and His people suffer at this expense. That is a great thing to know, because who doesn’t need that?

So how do I turn my waiting into patience? Well, patience (being a virtue and not an action) is about the attitude you have towards others and yourself in relation to them. It’s something that can be worked on, slowly, but if you ask me there are many things I would not have truly understood without the grace of God enabling me to do so.

 

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Being fearful in a fearless society

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Caption: I took this photo that night with 6400ISO. Can you see anything or is it my imagination? Try tilting you screen away until your eyes adjust, then slowly tilting to the normal viewing angle.

We’ve all heard that classic dialogue in a horror flick:

Protagonist: “I’m not scared of you.”

Crazy killer/demon/little girl/your girlfriend: “You should be.”

Recently I watched the horror remake IT directed by Andy Muschietti, and it exceeded all my expectations. I don’t want to review the movie and certainly don’t want to spoil that joyride for you, but I wanted to describe this scene for you (of the theater, not the movie itself):

(intense horrifying scene plays with screaming and scary things)

Me:  (slaps the knee and laughs) This is amazing!

Sharon: WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?!

I don’t think I’m a sociopath but your opinion means nothing to me anyways (that’s a joke by the way). I went home that night and tried to scare myself while I crawled into bed, alone, in my basement apartment late at night. I listened to creaks and knocking sounds. I tried to imagine how scary it’d be if I heard voices. I pulled my blankets and pants off to make myself feel more vulnerable. I let my imagination make up stories, like how I would wake up in the morning perfectly tucked in. Unfortunately I feel asleep like a baby. I awoke the next morning and had a chat with Daniel who had seen the movie with me and I told him of my failure. He then asked “well then, what are you scared of?” I replied, “I don’t really know. I like the feeling of being scared, but I don’t actually get scared.”

I’m not bragging, but rather want to highlight a gender stereotype that men strive towards: The fearless protector. Us men must never be afraid! No, we must protect our women from bandits, spiders and demonic clowns! To show fear is to show weakness.

This is balderdash though. Fear is important. Even dictators know that fear is a motivator – they just use it the wrong way. A man wiser than me once said:

“Being a Lord is like being a father, except you have thousands of children and you worry about all of them. The farmers plowing the fields are yours to protect. The charwomen scrubbing the floors; yours to protect – the soldiers you order into battle.” He told me he woke with fear in the morning and went to bed with fear in the night. I didn’t believe him. I asked him, “how can a man be brave if he’s afraid?” “That is the only time a man can be brave,” he told me.

-Robb Stark, recounting Ned Stark’s words (Game of Thrones)

Fear guides us. You just need a healthy fear for the right things.

“Don’t be afraid of showing fear.”

– Sifu Mike

There is often a mixture of the terms fear and respect. A dictionary definition clearly divides the two. Fear usually has negative connotations and assumes avoidance of an undesirable outcome (pain or loss); respect is positive and revolves around a characteristic that is desirable (trustworthy, confident, etc.). However in the real world ‘respect’ is often not used in this sense:

  • “Riders must respect their motorcycles” – the meaning is actually fear. Be aware that riding a motorcycle is dangerous and can have many dire consequences and this should make you a more mindful rider.
  • “Don’t you dare leave this house, go to your room!” (kid walks out and slams the door. Father turning to the spouse). “He just doesn’t respect us.” – In this specific scenario, the father is not referring to whether his qualities as a father are motivating his child to obey him, but rather that he cannot assert his authority over them because the child does not fear him (or his loud voice).

You can see that colloquial uses of the words fear and respect are intertwined in our world. Imagine you were best friends with the leader of North Korea. You respect him because of his political drive, confidence and fashion sense. However, the way you would act in front of him is different if merely out of respect for him, than out of fear of him. Similarly, the way you would interact with him would be different if you were scared of him, rather than if you feared him. This is a crude example, but imagine you had stolen your neighbour’s goat because you were hungry and was brought before Kim Jong-Un:

Kim Jong-Un: “How do you plead to the accusation that you stole Mr. Park’s goat?”

  1. “I respect that you’re trying to uphold the law, but you don’t know the circumstances. I exercise my right to silence.” 
  2. “I confess to the crime. I have broken your law.”
  3. “It wasn’t me.”

Here’s another short example. “I really respect my professor, and I fear that I will disappoint him.” The two statements are not the same, yet they are not mutually exclusive either. At least, the second part isn’t. You can respect the professor but not fear him. However things get tricky when you fear disappointing him…but why do you fear that? It is because of the utmost respect you have for him.

The ‘fear’ of higher authorities should be closer to ‘reverent awe’ than ‘scared out of my pants.’ I believe this is why many misconstrue the Christian God as one who demands his people to be afraid of him and his wrath. Rather we are told to “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17)”. See the theme here? Prominent American theologian Albert Barnes comments on the meaning of fear in this verse as follows:

The word fear, when used to express our duty to God, means that we are to reverence and honor him. Religion, in one aspect, is described as the fear of God; in another, as the love of God; in another, as submission to his will, etc. A holy veneration or fear is always an elementary principle of religion. It is the fear, not so much of punishment as of his disapprobation; not so much the dread of suffering as the dread of doing wrong.

 

What then, or rather who, do you fear?

Be a Hack in Life

I was at Dim Sum with a very un-chinese Chinese friend, and upon delighting him with the shrimp-crab-claw I asked him if he was finished. He nodded and I reached over, pried the two claws apart and all this crab meat fell out. Stunned and smiling he made mental note and finished his food. I must give credit to my sister for showing me that, which I silently observed and passed off as my own wisdom. I also admit this because she doesn’t read this blog.

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Now if you’ve heard the term ‘Life Hacks’, a few extremely simple and useful things probably come to mind: How to untie a knot, using lego blocks as key chains, or how to poop like a unicorn. If you haven’t heard of them and are confused by the list I just presented, Life Hacks are small, easy and accessible things you can do that make your life that much better. It hence emphasizes the underlying principle that we are creatures of habit and therefore complacent.

I am now at a ripe old age of 31, and am discovering how stupid I am. Sure, I have a Master’s degree in engineering and I’ve worked as a consultant around the world but would you believe I don’t even know how to use hair conditioner? Not that I don’t use it; in fact I use it all the time! Perhaps it’s better to say that I don’t know how to use it effectively or maybe even properly. Are you questioning yourself right now? If I told you that you were rinsing too much of the conditioner out of your hair, what is your reaction? What if I told you that conditioner is designed to be spread, without agitation, for a minimum of 10 minutes for best results? What if I told you that you’re not supposed to use conditioner on your roots because it blocks your pores and the heat from your head will emulsify certain ingredients and cause premature hair loss? I’m not saying any of these are the right way or even scientifically true, but the fact is you probably don’t know. Of course you can’t, right? You can’t possibly know about everything, but you can know some things.

“The more you times you challenge, the more chances you have to come out a winner.”

-Sifu Mike

Before we jump ahead of ourselves and hop onto the Improvement Express, the first thing we must do is challenge what you ‘know’. Who taught you how to run? Is it really a natural thing for a human being? Are you sure you’re running the right way based on the sneakers you own? Here’s another simple example:

Who taught you how to blow your nose? Maybe your mother used to hold your nose and tell you to blow. But her arm and hand held your nose differently than if you did it on your own:

  • How do you fold the tissue?
  • One hand or two hands?
  • What parts of the nose do you cover? All of it? Part of it?
  • Do you blow soft and steady or hard?
  • Do you alternate nostrils or wiggle the pinch?
  • Do you pinch closer to the bridge or nearer to the tip?
  • Do you allow a space in the tissue to hold the snot or will that catch too much air and rip? Is that what partial covering is for, to allow air to escape up top but catch snot in the bottom?
  • Which direction do I remove the tissue?
  • Which way do I wipe my nose after?
  • Is it normal to also have to clear the individual nostrils after blowing the nose or is that because I’m doing it improperly?
  • Is blowing your nose even the best way to clear your nasal passage?
  • Looking at human biology and anthropology, how does the body instinctively respond to a clogged nose? Before tissues were invented how was this done?

If you can answer all those questions, then as the one and only Claire Ang says, “Come, I clap for you.” If you can’t then there’s room for improvement! This is just blowing your nose! Think of all the hundreds of thousands of everyday tasks you can streamline! Challenge. Research. Think. Develop. Test. Implement. Start small and as this becomes a part of your life it will permeate to much important areas of your life as well: “Is this how a husband is supposed to act towards his wife? Where did I learn to expect dinner to be made when I’m home? Why did I assume the one making less money should quit and stay with the kids? Is this cookie cutter pattern just how we’re supposed to function?”

“When you are thinking, you are winning.”

– Flobots

 

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Disclaimer: This will probably be my last post related to Singapore, but I will continue to blog here every once in a while to vent my thoughts.

I spent 14 months living in Singapore. It wasn’t exactly the most adventurous thing to do if I think about. After all, it’s a clean and safe city and despite being in SE Asia, English (or Singlish anyways) is widely spoken. However, it was a time that I was away from my family, friends and girlfriend. Away from my communities and snappy cold fresh Canadian air. It was quite an experience for many different reasons, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned in my time in the Merlion.

I learned to be more outgoing, albeit awkwardly.

Singaporeans aren’t known for being very open and talkative to strangers. When I first arrived I was quickly shut down by people in my attempts to start conversation with random strangers on the street. This only exacerbated my shyness and for a while I too pretended to have all these interesting things to see on my phone when I was just opening and closing Whatsapp endlessly and playing ‘Neuroshima Hex!’, while slowly getting over my nausea from taking public transport after being used to years of driving myself around.

Then of course, I just couldn’t take it. I was completely alone in this country (all 700 square km of it!) and everyone else I knew was 12 hours in the past and halfway across the globe. I just stopped caring and it was liberating.

I don’t mean I stopped caring about having companionship, friendship or relationships. Rather I mean I stopped caring about being rejected, and I stopped the foreplay. I just went straight for it and started asking people for their numbers after just meeting them. I asked people out for awkward breakfasts  (I don’t know why my mind automatically tried to say ‘breakfastses’), lunches and dinners. I joined meetups. Some people thought I was weird, but they still usually accepted my requests. I made friends and I didn’t make friends, but it’s okay because in the end – well, I made friends.

By this time I had already been in the country for months, but it changed my life in Singapore drastically and I hope it continues to aid me while I move around in Canada (I just settled into a new city).

The world is just a collection of people, and YOUR world should reflect this too.

When people ask me about Singapore, the thing I think about most is not the food or travel. Nor is it my workplace or the shopping (admittedly, sometimes it’s the volleyball). My memories drift easily to the people I met and became friends with. The guys I played volleyball with for 10 hours a day. The coworker who took me into their home. The interns and intern-lookalikes who battled for Foosball superiority. I find this lesson repeated over and over everywhere I look.

The same thing happens when you ask people about work – they will inevitably grumble about the workload, the politics and long hours. However more importantly they will talk about the people at work, whether for better or worse. “I had to leave because my boss was abusive” or “Yeah but I stayed because I really liked the people there” are extremely common responses.

So often we work in silos and we end up dehumanizing those around us. You know who does that? Hitler. But you do too. What’s the point in having an experience when you can’t share it? Whether that means having a partner or blogging about it is irrelevant. Whether you like to admit it your world is just a connection and collection of people.

I was reminded of the importance of children.

As one would expect, work is very important in Singapore. Often both parents are working. Also home-carers are frequently employed, but more as a cleaner and babysitter, than an educator or nanny. To me, this causes a problem because in my own view the children are not getting enough attention outside of school and the dozens of activities they are signed up for (to stay competitive).

As much as I dislike dealing with kids (I like kids themselves), I ended up helping out with some kid’s events at Covenant Evangelical Free church and met some people who were very passionate about it. I get it. I’m so happy there are people like that, because I think back to Miss Grindley who was my Kindergarten and Grade 1 teacher. I still try to see her when I can to say hello. I have such fond memories of her – not just because I liked her and she was nice, but because she saw potential in us and gave us extra lessons and eventually had us ‘exported’ to other school programs for accelerated learning. It wasn’t just the education boost, it was knowing that she cared about us too.

I was reminded of how Christians should stand united.

I’m on the other side of the globe. Yet the people I met at Covenant shared the same core beliefs as me. We believed in a loving God and a sacrificial Son of God. We were motivated by the love of Christ to serve others and help each other turn from the dark parts of our lives. When there was a need, we’d rally around to support that need. It was a reflection of my favorite bible verse:

“16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

– 1 John 3:16-18

Don’t love ‘because’

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I touched the loose peg gently, running my hands over the warm wood of the lute. The varnish was scraped and scuffed in places. It had been treated unkindly in the past, but that didn’t make it less lovely underneath.

So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect. -Kvothe (A Wise Man’s Fear)

I’m sure at one point in our lives we have heard or even uttered ourselves the cliched, curdling and sometimes vomit-inducing question: “Why do you love me?”

Contrary to your initial reaction, it’s not a fisherman’s wharf for compliments. Sometimes it comes from a place of insecurity and/or inferiority. Other times it comes from conflicting information between what is said, and what is done. Even still it can come from a misalignment between two people and their views, status or stages in their lives.

Of course there are many reasons why you love something or someone. But Kvothe is much wiser than John Legend, who sings “[I ] Love…all your perfect imperfections”. Well if you loved them, then that’s easy isn’t it? Get real JL, you don’t LOVE that your girlfriend is always late, or that she forgets your birthday, or is clumsy and crashes your brand new Ferrari. The marker for a deeper level of love, is to love despite. Think of it this way – the things you love about your partner: good looks, interesting hobbies, success and drive – loving these is normal. And where things are normal, it can be applied generally. As difficult as it may be to find that combination of things your partner possesses, how much harder is it to build a relationship together and then love someone despite:

“Would you date an attractive girl with a pretty face?”
“Of course, is that even a question?”
“Would you date a girl who plays video games and sports, and is musically talented?”
“Definitely!”
“Would you date a girl who is always cheerful and is always motivated to do her best?”
“Absolutely.”
“Would you date a girl with a big scar across her left cheek and a small gap between her front teeth?”
“Umm, I guess? It depends…”
“Would you date a girl with no ‘interesting’ or common hobbies?”
“Well, that wouldn’t be ideal…”
“Would you date a girl who sometimes is inwardly very sad about life, has existential issues and sometimes just wants to give up instead of pressing on?”
“Not really…”

Just to be clear, it’s not the flaws that keep us in love. It’s just that we are all flawed people, and to love someone despite their flaws is a true test. Also you don’t lord this over them either – that you’re so great and mighty – because that is not what love is. All great relationships are based on this principle. And it’s not one-sided so don’t feel inferior. Both parties love each other despite.

God loves us, and clearly we’re anything other than perfect. God isn’t waiting for us to become better people before getting to know Him. Likewise, we don’t need to get all our ducks in a row (or ‘set up one’s skittles’ for you old school Europeans out there) before committing to a relationship. It’s not about me, it’s about us.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
-Romans 5:8

Short Story: Sam & the Shoebox Tower

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As a young boy Sam fought with the other kids. They hurt him and he hurt them too. As the years went by Sam grew up -just a little – and decided he didn’t want to hurt or be hurt anymore. So he ran. Sam ran as far as the wind would take him, but he soon realized that it wasn’t the wind who held him back.

Sam had hoped that his feet would grow stronger the more he ran. Certainly his legs did and soon he could outrun the other children. However, as rough and calloused his feet got, they were always hurting from the debris on the road: pebbles, wood splinters, broken glass, metal dust and the smashed snail shells from crueler children.

So Sam sold all his meager belongings and when he didn’t have enough he stole what he could. With finally enough in his pocket, he went and bought a new pair of shoes.

The shoes were fiery red with a black diamond insignia and they catapulted him through day and night, eastwards and away from all the leering crowds. Sam ran until even the wind could no longer catch him and the sunlight, barely. Through the hills and valleys, through towns long abandoned, and bustling marketplaces alike Sam’s breath got shorter and shorter.

Finally one day, as Sam reached the City his feet started to hurt. Bewildered, he stopped and found out to his dismay that the soles of his shoes were completely gone. He took the shoes off and tossed them into the trash can, for he believed he had run far away long enough. He took the shoebox he had been carrying this whole time and sat down in the nearby park, staring intently into its emptiness, as if waiting for a new pair to sprout.

Some people walked past and looked at Sam in contempt. Sam had been running so long that he had almost forgotten this feeling. Almost and not really. More walked by, making rude comments. When enough people had walked by, enough days had passed, sufficient comfort was reached and adequate tempers rose, a small group of them stood from a distance in the rain and threw mud at him. Another group walked by and spat at him.

Not quite knowing what to do, Sam mixed the mud with the spit and he placed it neatly into his shoebox. After only one day his box was filled to the brim, so he prayed that no more people would come since he didn’t have any more space. What would he do with it? As soon as he opened his eyes the sun came out in full force. Sam left his usual spot and went to nap under the shade of a tree.

When Sam awoke, he returned to his spot to find that a miracle had happened. Someone had left him a gift. Inside his shoebox there was a brick. It was an ordinary brick. When it was cold, the brick became cold. When it was warm, the brick was warm. Again, in his confusion, he removed the brick and he laid it out before him on the ground.

Soon a new tirade assaulted him, with mud and spit complimentary. Again, Sam packed the shoebox and when it was full he laid it out in the sun and took a nap. Again, Sam awoke to a brick and laid it out so that it was touching the other brick on the short side.

Weeks passed, and Sam had begun building a wall. He discovered that if the people walking by could not see him, he would be left alone. However it was not yet tall enough so whenever he stood or when people walked off the pathway they saw Sam and began to hurl insults at him, among other things.

More weeks passed by and his haven became a house with circular walls. However as the weeks passed Sam became more weary of the attacks. Sometimes Sam really wanted to pick up one of his bricks and throw it at them. He wanted to smash their teeth in and bludgeon them into a pile of broken bodies. Sometimes, he wanted to smash his own head in with the brick. But he knew both options were not good. So instead he sat holding that brick until his knuckles went white and he pressed it tightly against his forehead. When he became numb and could feel no more he released the brick and set it on top of his wall.

One day there were raps and taps on his wall. Sam stood up, but he could not see  well because his wall had become so high. The knocks became harder and faster. Sam was annoyed but he knew whatever they were throwing wouldn’t get through his wall. But he was wrong. A hammer burst it’s way through and a curious man peered in.

Sam was afraid! He was trapped with nowhere to run. The man said hello and told him that he didn’t realize anyone was living in here. They spoke with each other briefly and then the man left. Sam had a mix of emotions, but in the end he repaired the wall and built it twice as thick at the expense of shortening his tower.

Then one day, the rain came down and didn’t stop. At first Sam was delighted to be refreshed. Then he became to grow worried as the water swelled up to his knees. He had built his tower too well – there was no hole or loose brick. The water filled up to his belly and now Sam began to frantically pound and push against his tower, but the walls were now too thick to budge. The water crept up to his neck and as a last resort Sam screamed out for help. But nobody could tell where the sound was coming from, even if they had cared to come to his rescue.

The flood overcame him and his head was now fully submerged, his last breath sucked into his squeezed lungs. Sam didn’t think of a way to escape because it was futile. He didn’t think of his loved ones, because he didn’t have any. He didn’t even think of the man with the hammer because he came and went so quickly.

Sam didn’t think of all the things he regretted doing, because he knew deep in his heart that he regretted everything he had done. Except one. In his final moments, Sam regretted never learning to swim.

We know too much and understand too little.

2017-01-25-20-26-02Knowledge comes with time. Understanding comes from thinking.” -Guru ML

Old School Asian culture often puts a lot of emphasis on results. That undoubtedly leads to a style of teaching and learning that leaves a child with a lot of knowledge, but little understanding.

If you read my last post, you learned that after graduating I was desperate to work and had taken on some menial tasks. I totally forgot that during this time I had considered tutoring. I went for an interview at a tutoring school (think ‘Brainchild’) in which I would tutor Physics and Calculus to high school students.

When I arrived, the interview mainly consisted of a trial run. He gave me a physics problem and asked me to solve it while explaining to him how I was doing it as if he were the student. I started from the fundamentals, emphasizing the main concepts behind the problem: Conservation of energy, free body diagrams, the fundamental equations and the principles behind them. Then I derived the necessary equations and solved while explaining why I was using this angle, or why this value was negative, etc.

The interviewer looked at me afterwards and told me that I solved it correctly, but I had taken too long. Parents send their children here and expect them to solve X number of questions in Y number of hours, and that they need to see improvements in their grades as quickly as possible. He told me to skip the explanations and go straight to the equation and assigning values to the variables and solving.

This went against my belief, as I had always taught students to understand the fundamental concepts and principles. I want them to learn and be able to apply these concepts in real life, not just get a good grade on their report card. I bid him farewell.

“If you are thinking, you are winning.” – Flobots

We know too much. In a world where convenience and efficiency is golden, and the internet has a wealth of information waiting to be mined our gut instinct is to dive straight in and pick out all those nuggets of knowledge. Aren’t we missing the point? Knowledge can be held in a repository like a library, a database, or a report waiting to be retrieved at any time. Understanding cannot. Thinking cannot be searched. What do you call a person who knows many things? A walking encyclopedia. That’s all it’s worth; two legs put on a set of 15 books. What do you call a person who understands many things?

And how many times have I heard people complain about how Google has taken the fun out of thinking? We call it the ‘Death of Conversation.’ Remember before everything was searchable, someone would have a question that bugged them for days:

“Do you remember if you get rid of windshield condensation by turning up your heater or turning on your AC?”

First comes the retrieval process, where you all wretch your memory trying to find that long lost data. Then comes the brainstorming stage where you exercise another part of the mind and come up with multiple theories. Next comes the debate where you duke it out with your friends about which one is right and the supporting rationale. Finally it’s the conclusion when you weigh out all the alternatives and decide which one is most likely. Sometimes there are even experiments to test out the hypotheses.

Nowadays this whole amazing, stimulating and entertaining process boils down to “OK Google, how do I get rid of windshield fog?”

Death to the conversation! Death to thought! -I digress.

This extends also to interpersonal relationships. At one point in my life, someone told me that they wanted to know more about me – in fact, everything there was to know about me: My past experiences, favorite movies and books, hobbies, colors I had dyed my hair and when, etc. However they committed a grave error. Knowing these things about me wouldn’t make them any closer. Even if they knew something about me that nobody else did, that uniqueness granted to them would be so fragile that it shatters upon the whispering of a few words to a receptive ear.

No, I would much rather have you understand a part of me first, than know everything about me.

“And I don’t really know him at all. I don’t know anybody, and nobody knows me. We spend our lives guessing at what’s going on inside everybody else, and when we happen to get lucky and guess right, we think we “understand.” Such nonsense. Even a monkey at a computer will type a word now and then.” -Xenocide (Ender’s game series)

Easy? You’re doing it wrong.

The words ‘A New Challenger!’ flashed across the screen. I was at Erin Mills Town Centre spending my fifty cent allowance playing Marvel vs Capcom 2 at the arcade. I was good at the game and rather snobby about it too so when my opponent stepped up to the console, I didn’t even turn to look at him. My eyes were glued on the screen – hands twitching in anticipation for the words ‘Ready’ to dissolve from sight.

It was time. My hands flew into a flurry, executing combo after combo with delightful precision. But something was off. Each time a smirk was forming from unleashing a devastating combo, I was stopped short by a chuckle next to my left ear. It was unnerving to say the least, but it didn’t throw me off enough to affect my game. After 2 flawless victories, my opponent spoke up for the first time. I expected a groan of despair or a statement about either my mother or private parts.

“Ha! Too easy.”

“Excuse me?”

“You want a rematch or are you done for today?”

“I’m sorry…?” In my confusion I turned to look at him, and this is where I’d like to write “and I met his gaze” except I can’t. The boy had no eyes, just empty sockets.

Look back at the past week. In fact, look at the past month, or years. Can you recall when things were easy? If I had asked, when were things hard you would jump at the question. Things never seem to be easy, and that’s a good thing. Many times, when you think things are going easy, you’re doing it wrong and everybody but you knows it.

Allow me to elaborate. Have you ever thought things were too easy? Things were too smooth? Did you have this unnerving feeling that it shouldn’t be this way? If you did, you’re on the right path. If you didn’t, then you need to pull the wool out of your eyes.

When I was studying for my Master’s degree, a fellow classmate came up to me and asked, “Is it me, or am I supposed to be doing something? I seem to have so much free time.” I felt exactly the same. I had more spare time than in any of my undergraduate years.

Imagine you were a new hire. You spend the first weeks lounging around doing nothing, thinking this was the easiest job ever. You read the documents they sent you a couple times over before becoming utterly bored by them. Then after a few weeks, the boss comes around and asks you what you’ve been up to:

“Not much, I’ve read the documents on policy and safety several times over now.”

“What about your training? Are you all caught up now?”

“Training? I didn’t get signed up for any training.”

“(raises eyebrow) You do know you have training to complete right? Why didn’t you look for me or the training coordinator?”

“Well I assumed that if I needed training someone would have come and told me about it.”

“I assumed we hired someone with a brain but I guess I’ll have to settle for half. Well, walk over to the admin building and get it sorted out I need you on the floor this Friday.”

“Sure. Where is the admin building?”

“Good heavens (editor’s note: paraphrased) boy! Have you not given yourself a tour of the place or taken any initiative?”

Why do I bring all this up? The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes when things seem easy, it means that you need to take a step back and find out what you’re overlooking. I was watching a video series on religion and the workplace (http://www.themeetinghouse.com/teaching/archives/2016/a-tale-of-two-kingdoms/). It made a startling point to me. That in the modern North American world, if I put Christianity and the workplace side by side, you’d go “yeah, OK. I can be a Christian at work.”. If I put it next to the Government, you’d go “yeah OK. I can be a Christian in the government.” If I put it next to a university, you’d go “yeah OK. I can be a Christian and a scholar.” BUT, if I put it next to a picture of say big Kim, you’d go “OK, now that’s a problem. Being a Christian in North Korea is not easy.”

However, the fact is none of those combinations are easy. There’s so much going on in the background that you might not be cognizant of, but it is definitely there. To be ignorant of it is dangerous. To be making decisions without realizing it, is dangerous. To change allegiance subconsciously, is dangerous.

The series talks about tension between decisions. For example, my beliefs tell me that I should be honest and patient but my job as a salesman asks me to be cunning and aggressive. Or, my belief tells me that I should always produce the best work I can, but timelines are so tight and nobody is really going to look at this in detail anyway. The fact is, you can never just choose one or the other. It’s a game of playing with the tension, but you have to understand that it exists in the first place.

TL;DR – things are never easy; check yourself.

Life isn’t about balance

You don’t need balance in your life.

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There is one main definition of ‘balance.’ It implies equivalency between parts. For example, the two sides of a scale have equivalent weight so they are balanced. A hammer is perched on the tip of your finger so that the sum of torque on either side of the fulcrum is equivalent. The number of a certain type of atoms is the same before and after a chemical reaction.

However, we always tend to say “I need balance in my life.” However there is absolutely no equivalency between the parts of our lives at all. What we really mean is that we need to shift our priorities so that we are not unhappy. But man, are we always unhappy.

I’d like to convince you that what you need in life is not balance, but progress.

There are many out there who are satisfied as long as the overall ‘positives’ in their life outweigh the ‘negatives’. They place the ‘Good’ on one end of the scale and the ‘Bad’ on the other and make sure the ‘Good’ is heavier. What I’m proposing is that you don’t even need to aim for a 51/49 split. You can be content with a 1/99 split.

Hopefully this analogy nails the hammer on the head: When I became a Master (yes that is the correct term to address one who has their Master’s degree) I immediately had interviews with the University Health Network a few weeks later. It was a great work place with a vision, with a position I was interested in, and was in the downtown core. I quickly made it to the third interview but then didn’t get the job. From there onwards things got dreary as I spent the next 6 months slaving away hunting for a job. Firstly a design job, then jobs I were interested in, then engineering jobs, then really ANY JOB! (p.s. the job I eventually got was amazing though). During this time of despair, I needed to make money. Well, I didn’t quite need money as I was living at home, but I needed progress. I needed to know that I was doing something to prevent my bank balance from continually dipping. I needed the silver lining; something to fill up my time when I had exhausted looking through the new job postings and sending out emails.

This ‘thing’, or dark place if you will, that I got into was online surveys. You can laugh, and you have every right to – a graduate with a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and Master’s degree in Product design, with experience working in machine shops was flopped in his gaming chair, idly trading his opinion and hours of his time for ten cents a piece. I kid you not. I did surveys that paid anywhere from ten to thirty cents for 10-20 minutes of my time. I would get roughly around $20 a month. That’s 100-200 surveys and over 30 hours. I worked for $0.66/hr. I also attempted mystery shopping and online freelancing.

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But you know what, I didn’t regret it because at the end of the month I was $20 richer, and I had a confidence boost knowing that hey, someone is entitled to my opinion!

 In your life you will most definitely face horrible circumstances. You will be in places you don’t want to be, surrounded by people you don’t like to be around and doing things you’d rather not. The state of your life can change, but you can focus on progressing that state despite where you are.

Imagine you are a well-known dancer. You’re teaching classes, performing, and your life is progressing well. There’s some shows coming up featuring a few celebrities and you’re getting interviewed on the Late Show next month. Then you break your arm and you miss everything. In fact you miss the interview too because you had to rest in the hospital. Now you can do nothing but watch videos on YouTube and send emails.

When you’re discharged, it takes 8 weeks to recover, and after finally removing the cast you begin to start physical conditioning. Unfortunately your right arm is so weak you can’t pull off any of your routines. You start re-learning your moves using your left arm instead.

Eventually your right arm is almost back to 100% but you’ve been out of the game for several months now and the buzz has died. You’ve missed your chances and probably will never get the opportunity to break through again. You continue to practice and begin brainstorming creative new dance moves and choreographies. The end.

In this story, the state of your life has changed 4 times. You were famous. You were pitied and helpless. You were recovering and hopeful. You recovered but was disappointed. You were left behind but became motivated. In all these stages, you were progressing. Sometimes slower or faster, but you were always taking steps and you should take pride in that. It wasn’t about being broken, or being lost, or being hopeless. The story is about what you did during those times, no matter how small the impact. Don’t stop at doing your best, also identify what you’ve accomplished. Don’t look at where you are, look at the victories, no matter how small.

Instead of complaining about how bad it is at work, take some time to appreciate the things you’ve learned. You may feel like you’ve wasted a year working at a company that didn’t pay well and had a terrible working environment. Instead look at what you did gain from it. Did you network with at least one person outside the company? Did you learn how to make Pivot tables in Excel? Did you get better at Foosball from lunch time recreation? Did you make a friend? Did you learn how a CNC milling machine works? So what if in 2016 all you did was figure out how to  use Microsoft Project?

The bottom line is, you learned something and you’re better off now than you were before.

The Threshold for Goodness

We are all familiar with thresholds. Some of them we know so well that we can almost objectively measure its limits. For example my pain tolerance is higher than the North American average (which is one of the world’s lowest by the way). I can’t exactly tell you what my upper limit is because there’s such a wide variety of pain to feel, and honestly I have been fortunate enough to not experience most of it. However I can confidently tell you whether something will be painful or not if it’s something I’ve felt before. Getting slapped as hard as possible by a 180 pound man – no. Falling off my motorcycle – in gear, no, and without gear, yes. Overcoming constipation with brute force – very. In fact I think these are the times I shamefully find myself trying to make plea bargains with God. “Please let this poop come to pass, I swear I’ll volunteer more!!”

If you ask me what my anger threshold is I could tell you even better. I mean the point where you can’t contain it and blow up. It’s very high, but I know what things really set me off. Those I won’t share here. My enemies have enough ammunition already.

So then, if someone asks “What is your threshold for goodness?” Honestly I do not know how to respond. The line is blurred. There seem to be so many factors – what mood am I in, who am I with, where am I, what character judgment have I passed, am I in a hurry?

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I tell you a story now about what prompted this thought. Albeit a rather boring and uneventful story, bare with me as I unravel my reflection.

I was sitting in church. The pastor was speaking and the room was quiet. A man outside of the sanctuary was coughing. A rather terrible cough, the kind you know the man has been trying to hold in, but is forced to let out in a cacophony of throat-scratching bursts. It is intermittent, but goes on for quite a while. Some members subtly shuffle in their seats, obviously a bit distracted and perhaps slightly annoyed. The cough rings through the thick wooden doors separating us.

At first I think about why nobody is helping him. Certainly it is quite common for a member to fetch the pastor a cup of water during the service as I have witnessed on multiple occasions. The first few thoughts come to my mind:

  1. They don’t want to miss parts of the sermon
  2. They are sitting in the middle of the row and don’t want to have to shuffle past everyone else like the annoying person in a movie theatre who didn’t use the toilet before the movie started
  3. The coughing can be tuned out by them and is no longer a distraction

You notice that I did not include “They don’t care.” I do not think that is true. I believe every person in that room cared deep down, but for some reason it didn’t manifest itself.

Then obviously trying not to be a hypocrite I searched myself for the answer. All these possibilities came to me as reasons why I wasn’t getting up either:

  1. Since the cough was intermittent, it would stop and I wouldn’t have to do anything.
  2. Surely, someone else was going to get up and do something (bystander effect).
  3. I was timid. For whatever reason I felt like if I stood up people would look at me. Also I felt like I would be a fool if I got up and the man stopped coughing. These are both irrational ideas, but for sure I was feeling this way.
  4. For some reason I just felt stupid if I tried to do anything. Maybe it’s the unseen power of social conformity. Maybe it’s the human condition. But either way I knew I was wrong.

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” -Romans 7:19

It’s always a constant struggle. Why is it sometimes so hard to do a good thing, even when it’s so small? Why do we feel out of place, ashamed or embarrassed to do a good deed, instead of joyful?

You can look at it another way. It’s not just that you’re failing to do a good thing. You’re actually doing a bad thing. Most of us know the story of the Good Samaritan, but this verse sums it up:

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” -James 4:17

I commanded myself to stop being such a coward. C’mon man! Does it take this much reflection and hype to get a poor guy a glass of water?! But the past is the past now. I stopped deliberating and just decided, to hell with it (funny choice of words) and got up, went to the kitchen and boiled some warm water. Of course, when I went to the lobby the coughing man was no more. Was it all my imagination? Was he a spirit guiding me back? I left the water with two ladies and requested them to give it to the person who was coughing really hard. They looked at me and confirmed my suspicions – in fact, there was no coughing man here.

He had gone to the washroom.

I went back into the sanctuary feeling foolish at how much time and courage it took for me to do that. There are so many chances in life to do good. Sometimes we are prepared for it both physically and mentally, and sometimes we are not. Either way we should not shy away but be glad. Next time you find yourself struggling with doing something food for someone, make the decision to just do it. Maybe you’ll be late. Maybe you’ll even get rejected. Maybe the person needing help is taking advantage of you. Start somewhere. What world would we live in, when people fail and fear to help each other out?

“15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” -Ephesians 5:15-17