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The Power of Acknowledgements

Flowers. I love them. When I used to stay in Beijing, the one thing I did religiously every weekend was to make a trip down to the wholesale flower market to buy a big bouquet of flowers for my apartment. Actually, they are for me. I love the sight and smell of flowers. They cheer me up. They remind me of the beauty in this world. They remind to stop rushing around and (literally) smell the flowers. I love flowers.

In the past month, I know of four bouquets of flowers that brightened up six lives. I sent my secretary a bouquet of flowers for Secretary’s Day – as it turned out, it was the first time ever she received flowers. She then sent her mother and sister-in-law flowers for Mother’s Day. I sent my gf a bouquet of flowers on her birthday, in the name of another gf who is now living in India and me.

There was a stretch last year when I was feeling low. My husband sent me flowers to cheer me up. It lifted me out of my malaise and melancholy mood. I was reminded that I am loved no matter what and every time my memories recall that file, I am reminded I am loved. (I couldn’t resist patting myself on the back for cleverly showing my husband my favourite online floral shop some time back. Ha!)

In the lift on my way home, I met a pair of folks whom I believe to be co-workers. The lady’s eyes lit up when she saw the bouquet and said, beautiful flowers, with a whimsical smile. The guy asked if it was my birthday or anniversary or some special day. Before I could answer, the lady added, did he do something wrong?

I laughed then and I laugh now at the memory of that short exchange. I remember I responded: They are from my husband, I was feeling a little down the last few days and he sent them to cheer me up. The woman blushed a little, I guess somewhat embarrassed about her last remark. The guy simply said, Wow.

My passing shot delivered with a smile: you don’t need a reason to send someone flowers. Everyone likes to know he is being appreciated in some way.

Acknowledgement is for everyone, anytime, anywhere. Flowers are but a tool; in my opinion a simple and effective one. You don’t need a reason to acknowledge someone. You don’t need to be a man to send flowers. You don’t need to be a woman to receive them. You don’t need to wait for a “special” day to do so. You could acknowledge someone for no reason and THAT would make any normal day special for the person.

I can think of a million reasons to acknowledge the people in my life but there really is only one that matters: because I can. Like the ones who make my day bearable when it gets tough going; the ones who make me smile; the ones who lighten my work and life loads; the ones who quietly exist in my life; the ones who left a footprint in the years passed; the ones who touched my life in the many small ways that I sometimes do not realise until much later.

It is with hindsight that I saw that the very buying flowers for myself in Beijing was an acknowledgement of my life in this foreign land; a simple acknowledgement of my courage to stay sane despite all the chaos I was experiencing. A willingness to look past the struggles, the flowers were an expression of my gratitude that I was able to still enjoy the simple beauty in life.

My secretary expressed her love and acknowledgement for her mother and sister in law with flowers, a simple act that tilted everyone out of their comfort zones and reminded everybody that something bigger is present, something hopeful and optimistic that is available in life. The flowers I sent was my way of saying ‘thank you for being in my life’. It over-rode my sense of inadequacy in our relationships and was my way of expressing my gratitude that I am blessed by their existence in my life.

Sometimes we forget to count our blessings. Yet, don’t just stop at that. Take it one step further – acknowledge the people for being a blessing in your life in the first place.

Acknowledgement is a simple act of generosity and kindness. When was the last time you acknowledged someone in your life?

P/s: There is another aspect to acknowledgement that applies in the not-so-pleasant aspects of life. I am leaving that for a separate post as it deserves its own space.

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Unsettled but unmoved

(First posted on Facebook on Monday, 16 May 2011 at 11:16)

One of the things that Singapore GE 2011 got me to do was move out of my comfort zone, politically that is.

I was never interested in politics in Singapore. I believed that it is all engineered anyway and as long as the PAP-led government got it right most of the time, I can tolerate mistakes here and there as long as they get the big picture right. Afterall I consider myself part of the fortunate strata to have the means to live a comfortable albeit far from luxurious life. I don’t have any complains about my life as a whole, even if I do have grouses about the increasing cost of living. By and large I am contented.

Thanks to the GE, I realised I was like an ostrich that has buried my head in the sand for too long. The more I probed, the sadder I got. Quite early on in the GE, I already knew who I would vote for (if I could vote). I am pro-Singapore. I am one of those who celebrated whole heartedly the win of the Workers’ Party in Aljunied.

Now that the dust has settled and the nation watches the ruling government go through a soul searching process, I am stung by the continuous flood of negative rhetoric one can so easily find online. As much as I agree that the Internet has provided an important forum for a much-needed diversity in views (especially in the derth of unbiased, objective journalism in Singapore), I am disturbed by the overwhelmingly objectionable tone of much of the rhetoric.

To borrow and paraphrase the words of Paul Gilfeather, a principal correspondent at Today newspaper in an article today: I do not object to the existence of these views as such. However, it is the default setting which sees some Singaporeans attack the ruling party at every opportunity that unsettles me.

Some of these are voices that many have come to rely on for alternative views, highly regarded in the internet stratosphere. Indeed, the very fact that they are decidedly alternative is what attracts people.

I am drawn to these voices too and value the efforts of these individuals and groups that serve to create a more open and communicative political and social landscape. My concerns are:

1. How can you take someone seriously when they automatically take the opposite view, no matter what the circumstances? (again to quote and paraphrase Paul Gilfeather in the same article)
2. Do people seek a balance of views by reaching out to all the views available?
3. For people who rely on a single source of opinions that is doggedly one-sided, their choices are guilty of being misinformed and biased, no matter which side they take.

I have a low regard for the professionalism of local newspapers. However, I appreciate that they have a job to do, a social function (even if some think this to be distorted) to fulfill. As much as I disagree with the way things are done, I choose to still read the local dailies to get a picture of the other side of the hedges. Then given all the information my little brain can process, I choose where I stand.

A stand for something is different from taking a position. A position is fixed – either you are in position A or B or C, you get the drift. A position is a function of agreement – either you agree with one position or you do not. This is necessarily adversarial.

A stand however is a space to come from. I can stand for love and compassion and inside of this space, still accept the very existence of hatred and selfishness, all in the same space. It is not about proving someone wrong so I can be right. It is not about making someone look bad so I can look good, or me looking good at the expense of others.

I am pro-Singapore. My stand is for Singapore is best captured by our national pledge. As much as I am unsettled by the seemingly polarised views on the internet, my stand is unmoved.

For the cynics who think the pledge is mere words and is an impossible dream, consider that you are the ones who undermine the value of the pledge and what it stands for.

It starts with the individual. This GE showed us the power of individuals united by one vision (a grander word for stand.) But it all starts with the individual.

For individuals who have the listening of many, I ask you, who have the gift to sway thousands with words, use this gift responsibly, with humility and compassion. You too serve a critical role in this nation’s future creation.

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Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frighten us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t save the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make a difference, to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.

– attributed to Marianne Williamson

(Thank you Tai-san for sharing this poem.)

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My Valentine

A friend posted on her FB yesterday asking if married couples (those who are married for a while) still celebrate Valentine’s Day.

My husband and I have no specific plans to celebrate this day except to spend time with each other. We talked about it but the conversation was brief. It’s not that we don’t celebrate our love. We share the view that we don’t need to wait for a specific day to show our love for each other; and the display of our love doesn’t come in the form of bouquets of flowers, expensive meals, gifts or doing anything out of the ordinary.

Now, I am not saying I don’t like flowers, gifts or my husband doing something ‘special’ for me. Come on, I am a woman! I do like superficial things like that, really.

I am saying we don’t need a reason or a special date to show we love each other.  

This morning he woke me up with a kiss as usual. As my eyes struggled to open, he greeted me with a smile and pointed to the dresser table. A present! Happy Valentine’s Day darling, he said. I smiled and thought, GOSH, he got me a present. In that moment, I am so aware of my husband’s love for me. I reached for him and gave him a kiss, hug and a big smile. It doesn’t matter what he bought for me; it was the way he was being with me. And BEING cannot be bought or faked.

My husband is my alarm clock. He wakes me up with a kiss every morning. He wakes up early so I get to sleep in. He would get ready for work then come wake me so I have the bathroom and room to myself to get ready for my day. He would kiss me goodbye when he leaves the house before I do. He romances me every day.

He makes me laugh. He laughs with me. He supports my choices. He listens and demands the same of me. He shares his life and dreams with me. He gives me room to be me. He loves me for who I am. He loves me for who I am not. We bring out the best and worst of each other. He apologises when he makes a mistake. He gives me room to apologise when I make a mistake. He watches chick flicks just because he wants to. He would record a show he likes on TV so I get to watch it too. He sent me a bouquet of flowers just to cheer me up when I am having a bad day. He indulges me and thanks me when I indulge him. I am me, he is him and we are us.

I have never felt more loved by a man in my life. His generosity, humanity and passion for life provide me a safe space to just be. Valentine’s Day reminds me to not to take him for granted.  I am deeply grateful for him giving himself to me everyday, in his own way. That’s the best gift I can ask for in a husband.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Emril. Now, where are my flowers?

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I am such a scrooge

Being empowering is something I’ve always wanted – to empower people around me to be the best they can be. Over the years, I have had different appreciation of what empowerment means, what it looks like, what it takes.

For most of my life, I experience empowerment to be “telling someone what to do and giving the person space to do it”. First and foremost, I must have the solution to whatever the person is dealing with. Then I posture myself in a way that allows me to tell/advice the person how to do it. Finally, allowing the person to actually act on my wisdom/suggestion/advice without me trying to do everything myself.  This particular view of empowerment leaves me feeling that I have to be Miss Know-it-all and Solve-it-all.

This form of empowerment, at some level, propels me to seek for every solution possible, within the realm of what I know. I became pretty good with solving problems. However, every now and then (which is quite often actually), I hit a wall. I draw a blank. I don’t know what to do, don’t know how to respond to a problem. I get totally stressed out about not knowing what the next step should be. If I didn’t know, how could I empower others??????

Since I took on being a coach in a leadership training program last year, I truly begin to experience empowerment in a new way. There is no right or wrong way to empowerment per se. Yet the way I have experienced it in the past year or so have left me with a whole new sense of freedom to be with people the way they are and the way they are not; with a brand new perspective to how great people can be when real empowerment – not domination – is present.

As a coach I saw for myself a few things that, when distinguished, opened up a whole new world for me:

1. My previous way of being empowerment was coming from my fear of being insecure and inadequate. If I didn’t have answers, what value do I bring to this world? A long-time, entrenched fear that I need to prove I am good enough at every chance I get or I am nothing.

2. I was trying to fix and change things, to become some way I want it to be. If it wasn’t the way I think it should be, any other way would render me pretty useless wouldn’t it?

3. Resistance, resistance. I resist the world the way IT IS NOT as it did not fit my view of how it should be.

4. I was trying to empower others when I would not empower myself. I mean how empowering is it for me if I do not allow myself to make mistakes, if I constantly beat myself up for being imperfect?

I get it. It is soooooooooooo clear. It was all a pretense – me wanting to empower others. My focus was on how I survive my perpetual doubts over my worthiness; yet I pretended that it was about others. And I have been wondering why empowering others never comes easy to me, no matter how hard I try. I was at war with myself: pretending to be empowering others when I am really only interested in how that makes me feel about myself.

I am such a scrooge. Not only was I totally not generous with myself, I was unable to be generous with the people I claim to want to empower. Instead of giving them space to just be themselves, create space for their greatness to show up, my focus was validating my existence by me providing as many answers as I can in life.

In fact, I now see very clearly that empowerment is all encompassing, not a single dimensional problem solving process. 

Generosity is like the front and back of our hands – if I am not generous with myself, I can’t be generous with others. If I can’t live with my mistakes, I cannot tolerate other people making mistakes. If I cannot appreciate my own greatness, I cannot possibly see the greatness in others.

Empowerment is now to me an act of generosity to self and others. Giving myself permission to make a difference to others given all my imperfections. Giving others the space to keep growing and defining their own greatness, in areas of their life that matter to them and are important to them.

Thank you Landmark Education, for giving me a whole new way of living my life, for experiencing myself and humanity. Thank you for empowering and enabling me to live my life with peace and power. I love my life!

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Being a friend

I thought about what it means to be a friend today. I am surrounded by friendships. I am touched by friendships. I am blessed by those who so generously gifted their friendship to me.

For many years, I tried to be as good a friend as I can be. My way of showing that was being supportive through good or bad, whether I agreed or disagreed with my friend. I stand by my friend. Agreement is best, don’t impose, don’t push, don’t challenge too hard. It’s their lives to live.

Am I really a friend? Being in agreement all the time, holding my tongue, not daring to say what I think? And then cringe when things do go haywire. Don’t worry, I’m here no matter what happens. That, was something I used to say a lot to myself to convince myself I am a good friend.

What inauthenticity and what audacity. I was only interested in ME looking good. If I was really interested in the wellbeing of my so-called friend, I would have stood up and be counted, not afraid to be straight even if that may look bad. Sure, my friend may not agree with me or heed my suggestions.

It is living in NOW that I could possibly hope to have any impact on anyone’s life. Regrets, hindsight wisdom and if-onlys make no difference to anyone.

I have learnt that taking a stand for someone does not require me to be rude, aggressive or pushy. I will always remember what a coach once said in a class I attended: to be a stand is to be a listening for someone’s greatness to show up. Inside of this space, there is room for disagreements and different opinions.

The power of being a stand is simply accepting that someone can be great, without proof or evidence. You are great because you are.  

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A movie that touched me

My Name is Khan.

I watched this movie on a flight back from a business trip in October. Something about it touched a chord in me. I couldn’t quite express it then. Sure it was kinda corny in some parts, too good to be true in others, true Hindustani style drama in all. Yet, it has remained powerfully lodged in my brain, stubbornly poignant. I told everyone I met the days after the movie to watch it if they have not. I bugged my husband to watch it.

We finally bought the DVD version and watched it together. It was no less powerful for me. In fact there were a few scenes and segments that I did not remember watching before. I lapped them up, like a dog having its favourite snack twice over. Yet, I still can’t quite express what it was that touched me.

Today, a friend commented on my FB about the movie (I had after watching the movie the second time posted an update that I love that movie.) It came to me out of the blue. This is what I said to my friend in response to his comment:

There’s something about the way the story was told that goes beyond the obvious… mmm… like a possibility larger than what is reasonable and within norms… something bigger than all the differences amongst us. There is no other difference between you and me, just good deeds and bad deeds. And all of us are capable of good AND bad deeds.

A possibility larger than all of us put together, beyond what our intellectual capacity can comprehend or engineer. The possibility of unity and harmony, of love for the humanity for no reason or evidence other than that we are capable of immense love, if we so choose. Of forgiveness beyond reason, of a compassion beyond what we believe or see we can provide to a fellow human being.

I was privileged to be a part of such a possibility over the weekend. Miracles can and do happen. What I ask myself is not what the world can give me but what I am willing to provide (I am beginning to appreciate what John F. Kennedy said.)

There is no doubt in my mind – I am willing to be a space for greatness to show up, a stand that this crazy, crazy world WORKS.

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