THIS BLOG IS a habit I cultivated as an outlet for the theories and
opinions that hit me everyday whilst developing my screenplays and characters.
I blog because my characters would prefer I don't do a dialogue dump of my ideas on them.
I blog because screenwriting teaches us more than just narratives. Also about life & human behaviour.
I blog because it brings clarity to my values and beliefs. And respite from screenwriting & filmmaking.
I FIRST DISCOVERED film as a 25 year old art student in New York. It struck me then that film, the study of human drama in creative form, could be the ultimate medium of self-expression I was searching for.
Having careered in many fields, from architecture and engineering to
fashion, food, finance and consulting, none has proved as rewarding as
understanding and sculpting human behavior and emotions through storytelling.
I used to be obsessed with the American indie thinking man’s sci-fi; films that commonly explored a what-if situation based on a scientific concept.
But as I survived each debilitating crisis: a divorce, losing a loved one to cancer, I appreciate in real life, one of screenwriting’s major tenets - character transformation. I could no longer return to making pure fiction based on imaginary concepts.
SCREENWRITING, THE CONCEPTION of story and drama, has become for me a
useful tool for understanding life and for creating authentic
Today, I find myself increasingly drawn to stories that are based on self-actualization. They become the unifying theme across all the stories I tell. It keeps me questioning my values, motivations and insecurities. By remaining true to what I stand for, I create only stories that resonate with my audience on a deep emotional level.
STORY BEGINS ONLY when characters are involved. Characters that make choices. Choices in reaction to what is happening - Plot.
“Story = Character + Predicament + Attempted Extrication”
- Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal
“What is character but the determination of incident?
And what is incident but the illumination of character?”
- Henry James, The Art of Fiction
Which basically means plot reveals character through the choices the character makes. In turn, the actions that the character takes affect plot.
|Employer's Problem||Your Solution|
|Client's Aspiration||Your Solution|
In an everyday context, during a conversation with your potential client or employer, how you react towards their problem reveals to them what kind of person you are.
A COMPELLING MAIN character is a blessing for the writer, the actor, the director and the producer. A compelling main character drives the story forward in unexpected ways, even with the most insignificant action and the subtlest of behaviour. Compelling characters attract talent, audiences, investment and awards.
So how do you create one?
Strictly speaking, I don’t. As a filmmaker of
my characters come ready-made. Nevertheless, the following two methods
After you populate your screenplay with plot and characters, the first method involves making keen observations about how your characters react to the plot and with other characters.
These observations are not three adjectives that describe the character. Or lengthy descriptions involving profession, backstory and family background. Certainly not wardrobe preferences either. These are helpful. But they do not make for a compelling character. Instead,
I SHALL ILLUSTRATE this with main characters from two of my feature screenplays
Sheepwolf is about Chye who grew up in a poor abusive family. He hoped to provide his daughter Nicole the loving environment he never got. Unfortunately, his wife abandons them soon after Nicole is born. Thereafter, he loses his brother to a street murder, prompting him to pursue his life’s calling teaching self-defence to empower women. He least expects that one day he would have to protect his daughter from her own mother.
Garage Spacemen is about a maverick scientist Lim Seng who has a dream of sending the first Singaporean to space. Despite being a prominent former civil servant, his project failed to receive funding from Singapore. Undeterred, he amasses a group of volunteers over six years to build a spacecraft and to streamline the launch process. With help from India and Australia, he manages to launch his manned spacecraft after four attempts.
THESE OBSERVATIONS REVEAL an unexpected and idiosyncratic yet
entirely believable aspect of their personalities. I must be careful
not to explain or qualify why they are the way they are. That would be
tantamount to justifying or judging their behaviour. No, I merely state
what I observe. And I avoid stating the obvious (i.e. Lim Seng is a
rebel who challenges the status quo.)
These one-liners form my unique personal take on the characters as a filmmaker. They are derived from years of observing my subjects. The process is no different for pure fiction screenplays. It’s the gold that actors and directors look for to get award-winning performances.
HOW DID CROUCHING Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Intouchables become such popular movies? The former won four Oscars and was based on an ancient Chinese wuxia tale. The latter became the most viewed French film in the world up to 2014 and was based on a true contemporary French story. They have seemingly nothing in common in terms of story except
PR consultancy Hoffman Agency’s tagline is “The story is always there.” You just need a shovel to dig it out. But digging the story is only the beginning. Telling it is the rest.
After writing feature screenplays for close to a decade, I've developed
the following process for screenplays I originate.
For true stories, the first year is spent shadowing the subjects and interviewing them. Then I pen a screenplay of 100-120 pages using the American approach to storytelling, which has character archetypes and a narrative structure that is recognizable to audiences worldwide. This is especially important for the Singaporean stories I tell. Because a young nation with an unestablished cultural identity has by nature a limited built-in audience. Unless the story is written for universal appeal.
DRAFT ZERO OF the screenplay is what I consider a data dump. An internal
draft that never gets read by anyone except in the event of my passing.
It's all about getting the story on the 100+ pages so that it now
exists as a plot that flows coherently from one event to
the next whilst engaging the reader’s emotions.
Following that, I shelve Draft Zero for a month.
The deeper psychological motivations of why the writer is telling the
story isn’t always apparent to him/her until the screenplay begins to
exist fully formed on paper. Hence, I pen the Director’s
Statement - a document used to clarify to myself and others about
why I’m telling the story.
With my why in mind, I revisit Draft Zero. And perhaps discard a third of it. Some writers find this an inefficient process. I believe it makes for a strong story. By strong, I don’t mean tight. A tight story is one that doesn’t meander and keeps the audience constantly entertained.
This is not to be confused with auteur-driven films where the style of
the filmmaker is distinctive. That merely serves the filmmaker’s ego.
A strong story’s primary purpose is to serve the audience.
As I assemble the next draft, I go back to interview the subjects for perspectives that oppose my why. It’s equally important to test my why and not merely seek confirmation bias. This is the Hegelian dialectic, thesis-antithesis-synthesis at work.
In Garage Spacemen, my why is to inspire audiences to take action on their dreams no matter how outlandish they seem. Yet despite overwhelming perseverance, the space endeavor never succeeded. The moral of the story is not if you take action on your dreams, you would eventually succeed. It’s tempting for the filmmaker to be lulled into this false sense of security and tell the conventional “motivational tale”. But such a tale simply isn’t true of life.
In order to arrive at this conclusion, it is crucial that up to this point, I give myself room to explore and
DRAFT ONE OF the screenplay is what I feel comfortable letting others read.
I'll send it to the individuals the film is based on, my confidants and
my peers. I will elicit feedback on this draft and I may use this
version to get a co-writer onboard.
Getting a co-writer involved at this stage is not the norm for an indie feature. Few writers are willing to share credit or relinquish creative control after this much work has been put into the screenplay. But I believe otherwise.
For that, I usually involve a co-writer with a similar why but
who comes from a different culture as the one the story is set in.
This provides a perspective that I’m unaware of, thereby improving how
the story will be received by other cultures.
In the case of Sheepwolf, my American co-writer Arlene provided the Western female perspective that I was largely oblivious to on a story about an Asian male protagonist. I likened our working relationship to the one that director Ang Lee had with his writer-producer James Schamus on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. As the Chinese screenplay was being written in Taiwan, Lee would translate it into English and email it to Schamus in New York every night. By the following morning, Lee would receive the revised version from Schamus and translate it to Chinese. I believe this rigorous process helped garner its Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.
DRAFT TWO OF the screenplay is the product of co-writing. In the case
of Sheepwolf, a complete rewrite that took Arlene and I two years.
This draft would be sent to labs and producers for funding and hopefully, production. More changes are expected along the way. Some minor, some major. Until the project is green-lit and the screenplay makes its way to the shooting script - the Final Draft. Which may take an additional year. Maybe longer. Maybe never.
I’ve once had the opposite experience of rushing into making a feature film. It took me a year to complete. But I spent a lifetime being dissatisfied with it. Life is much too long to indulge the ego's need for short term gratification.
These days, a screenplay can easily take me three to five years to get from idea to Final Draft, with countless internal drafts in between where I get to experiment and exhaust possibilities.
To be confident of my choices. Unfortunately, there is no income until the film is made. No guarantee that the film would ever be made.
AESTHETICS IN A broad sense goes beyond visuals. It is the branch of philosophy concerned with the creation and appreciation of beauty. In film, I refer to the collective sensory experience derived from the following as the film's aesthetic.
These are the raw materials for worldbuilding. Collectively, they inform the mood of the film.
Most people think of the sci-fi and fantasy genres when they encounter the term worldbuilding. But
Charlie Jane Anders points out in her
article on worldbuilding,
“Good worldbuilding shows you what your characters see and notice every day about their environment. Great worldbuilding shows you what your characters don’t see, either because they take it for granted, or because they’ve trained themselves not to notice something unpleasant.”
AESTHETICS IS ONE of the three
components that comprise a compelling film. It constitutes the
how instead of the what or why.
The question on Aesthetic could just as easily be phrased as “What does the world of your film look like?” Which causes the filmmaker to approach Aesthetics as a tool for sugarcoating, the eye candy that makes the Utility and Mission of the film more palatable.
But no. That’s the easy question.
Instead, by asking “How does it feel to be in the world of your film?” the focus on 'to be' draws the attention to the audience. It causes the filmmaker to evaluate the process of harnessing the raw materials of worldbuilding…
By allowing the audience to experience what the character experiences,
Which ultimately makes for a more fulfilling cinematic experience.
WHEN JOHN F. KENNEDY visited NASA for the first time in 1961, he ran
into a janitor. The president asked him what he was doing. The janitor
responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
Similarly, I’m the janitor who’s helping put great stories in front of everyone’s eyes. These aren’t my stories per se. They are stories about self-actualization. They are stories that have existed before I came along. My responsibility lies in telling them well.
With each feature film or video project I embark on, no matter how
small, I make it a point to craft a mission statement specific to that
project. Even before penning a word of screenplay. It’s not the logline.
It's not what the story is about (in terms of plot or
theme). Not how
I plan to tell it. But why.
The mission statement is expanded upon in the Director’s Statement. Which I keep revising until I’m crystal clear about why I’m telling that particular story.
Here are a few examples:
To move audiences with an inspirational tale on survival from abuse.
To inspire audiences to take action on their dreams no matter how outlandish they seem.
To impress upon audiences that sponsoring a child brings the sponsors themselves contentment and fulfillment.
Distilling the film’s raison d’être into a pithy mission statement ensures that the film is executed with a singular vision from concept till completion.
A THEME EVOKES a universal human experience and can be stated in one word or short phrase. For instance, the theme of the classic film The Godfather about the life of a mafia boss’ son’s ascension to power is family.
After penning the treatment for a film, I take a step back to identify the themes that emerge in the treatment. They are usually ideas and concepts that I naturally gravitate towards as a result of my own struggles. Theme then becomes a lens I use to focus the screenplay on. Theme is neither genre nor plot.
Here are a few examples:
The origin story of Southeast Asia's largest self-defense movement.
Themes: Survival. Masculinity. Identity. Love. Self-esteem vs Self-actualisation.
The endeavor to send the first Singaporean to space.
Themes: Pragmatism as oppression. Self-actualisation. Stigma of failure.
In the absence of theme, a film falls flat. It’s unmemorable.
There’s no takeaway for the audience. Because the filmmaker has
prepared none. The audience can feel the absence of theme because
Aside from the fact that he desires to be a filmmaker and considers
himself a working filmmaker. And unfortunately theme will neither
appear magically in the editing process after the film is shot.
Nor can it be post-rationalized. Audiences will see through it.
A good screenplay takes time to craft in order to draw out relevant themes that feed into the mission of the film. When the themes resonate well with the collective unconscious of its intended audience, the film becomes a timeless artifact.
WITH MUCH COMPETITION these days, it’s no longer a differentiating factor but a bare minimum for any good product to have the following:
Aesthetic - How attractive and ergonomic is your product?
Utility - What unique problems do your product solve?
Aesthetic and Utility alone would draw audiences to buy your product. At least once. Because today’s consumer is fickle-minded. Has abundant choices. And a short attention span. What differentiates you from a one-hit wonder is having a following. And you build a following with the following:
Mission - Why does your brand exist?
TODAY'S CONSUMER SCANS the market initially for a product that meets their fundamental need.
Then the focus shifts to products that boosts their confidence. Their self-esteem.
Any attention left in them is now channeled in search of an identity.
The above decision making process takes place in an instance. Subconsciously. Driven primarily by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Unfortunately most brands aren't aware of the need for a compelling Mission
- the authentic personal story
the brand has to create for themselves. It’s about giving the audience
a compelling identity they can’t resist. Think Apple, Virgin, Amazon.
If your brand has a compelling Utility and Mission, such as making electric cars that accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy, you still need to dress it up with sexy cars. Aesthetic. Speaking of Tesla obviously.
After establishing an AUM, somehow your product may still not be drawing in the crowds. Not bringing in the numbers. Needless to say, it’s how strong your product measures against the competition on these metrics. Beyond that, in some instances,
I USED TO think the AUM framework only applies to tactile consumer-driven retail products. Not as much for films. I was mistaken. Films are as much a product competing for the consumer’s attention as any online or offline retail product.
THE THREE VITAL elements for convincing your audience. Craft is the technical knowhow required to accomplish the objective.
Craving is the hunger beyond passion that drives the journey. It is powered by your unique perspective based on what you stand for.
If Craft is the how, and Craving the why, you must be wondering what can be more important than the why? The following is an interesting historical anecdote.
DID YOU KNOW that two Roman empires co-existed at one point?
By the 3rd century, the Roman Empire had grown so vast that emperor Diocletian recognized it wasn’t feasible to govern from Rome. So in 286, he divided the empire into two halves with the border between the two empires corresponding roughly with that separating modern day Eastern and Western Europe.
While the Eastern Empire flourished, the Western Empire languished, eventually falling in 476 at the hands of the barbarian statesman Odoacer who deposed Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor to rule the Western Empire. With the empire fallen, Western Europe continued to exist for the following centuries as numerous tribal kingdoms - Franks, Visigoths, Vandals, etc. Not long after, the Eastern Emperor Zeno dissolved the Western court and proclaimed himself the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.
In 797, Irene of Athens, mother of then Emperor Constantine VI, gouged out her son’s eyes, leading to his death. She would then proclaim herself the sole ruler of the Roman Empire as she continued to rule from Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).
The unprecedented status of a female ruler led Pope Leo III in Rome to crown the Frankish king Charlemagne as “Emperor of the Romans” in an attempt to revive the Western Roman Empire. In 800, a new empire in Western Europe emerged. The Holy Roman Empire. A name that overshadows its eastern counterpart, henceforth known as the Byzantine Empire.
The two empires would continue to co-exist for several centuries until the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and the Holy Roman Empire dissolved in 1806 following Napoleon's victory in the Battle of Austerlitz.
ISN'T IT BIZARRE to the modern man that an entire empire was conjured into existence by one man? Who strangely enough is not even the emperor himself. This phenomenon peculiar to the human species is known as legitimacy. In this case, the
When an individual other than the church anoints someone, it does not
carry the same symbolic meaning. Because the Church is an authority
highly regarded by its followers.
Hence, Church refers to an individual or organization highly regarded by your audience that gives you split-second credibility and legitimacy when you can show their endorsement of you. Opportunists like Charlemagne go so far as to create their own Church by making Pope Leo III legitimize him as the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
On the other hand, because the nature of Church is symbolic and subjective, it is a blind spot for many artists and startups, who often believe that honing their Craft is the only path to credibility. By mistaking Craft for Church,
SCREENWRITING TEACHER JACOB Krueger often gives advice to emerging screenwriters alluding to an Art vs Craft discussion. He observes many emerging writers attempting to write whatever the market or Hollywood is looking for. Trends that will pass by the time they are finished writing. Unfortunately, the likelihood of their screenplays being produced is abysmally low. Simply because
Regardless of industry or profession, honing your craft is a
matter of time and experience. The standard tools of the trade.
The conventional formulas. The non-creative elements.
Therefore Krueger believes that instead of writing for the market, emerging screenwriters should focus on telling stories from the heart. Writing that connects with their instincts. Their identity. Their journey. What he refers to as the inner artist. Because Art is the unique voice of the creator.
Where Art and Craft demonstrate the prowess of the creator, another dimension we can challenge ourselves as creators is to ask whether our creation is of any use to our audience. Does it serve them? Is it worthy of their response?
FUNDAMENTAL TO ALL screenplays is its ability to entertain and to
evoke emotional reactions. Entertainment does not have to be
crass, mindless diversions and amusements. It can refer to the
ability to hold the attention of an audience every moment
throughout the course of a film, presentation or sales pitch.
But is it enough to merely entertain and provoke a reaction from your audience? Indian yogi and mystic Sadhguru believes
Sadhguru considers responsibility not as guilt. Not as accepting the blame for things you have or have not done. Not as taking on the burdens of the world.
If you’re only a craftsman who is accomplished at your craft, you will undoubtedly earn awards, accolades and respect from your peers; fellow craftsmen who seek to emulate you on a superficial level. And nothing more. But when you create work that is worthy of response, you are
The best films, presentations and pitches get us to respond. They call us to action. They make us responsible. For something. And not simply react. To nothing.
HAPPINESS IS WHAT we actively seek in a lavish meal. A shopping spree. A pampering vacation. Though psychiatrist and author of Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl believes,
This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that human beings, like
all animals, are wired as inherently hedonistic creatures lost in
the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification. But are we?
While happiness is also experienced in raising children or promoting a cause, it is never actively sought after in these activities. What makes them different from the material pursuit for happiness?
FULFILLMENT IS GAINED from the pursuit of purpose. A long term
goal built upon a desire to contribute to matters larger
than ourselves. A seemingly endless journey in which we are
able to persevere and derive satisfaction along the way.
Regardless of the outcome.
In this sense, the purposeful pursuit never lets us down. It becomes a highly dependable source of inner strength. Purpose endures.
On the other hand, the pursuit of happiness as an end is like a
fix. The same experience. Over and over again. When numb, simply
Because activities involving the sole pursuit of happiness are intrinsically empty and purposeless, it serves as a necessary escape from stress and boredom. Even from the sobriety of purposeful pursuits.
ACHIEVEMENT IS OFTEN confused with fulfillment. They bear similar
traits. Both are enduring. But the intent is different.
A multi-millionaire friend who devoted his life to an incredibly purposeful cause revealed to me once that he wanted to help his daughter increase her real estate portfolio from $6 million to $8 million. He believed that the sense of achievement would give her the confidence she needs in life.
This struck me as ironic and bizarre. Unlike immutable laws of physics, doesn't it sound ludicrous that an arbitary figure such as an additional $2 million can give you the confidence you need? Yet how many of us have a similar practice of keeping our own arbitrary figures in our heads that would meet some peculiar need? I know one who believed that she should be compensated $1 million by her employer before she can leave her job to relocate overseas. What's the rationale?
Such personal goals may seem like relatively harmless milestones to chart our material progress in life. But if we allow our wealth to become our crutch, these milestones would gradually undermine our sense of self-worth. If we don't get there, we never feel good enough about where we are. And who we are. Conversely,
This doesn’t mean being comfortable with the status quo. From an
point of view, it means we go from seeking Respect (proving
to others) and Validation (proving to ourselves) to seeking
Justice (challenging the injustice in life).
Interestingly enough, this is exemplified in the Overview Effect whereby astronauts experience a cognitive shift in awareness when they view the Earth from outer space. As NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell puts it, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world.”
AS A FILMMAKER, there are moments when I imagine my films winning
prestigious awards. Getting that desired recognition. That sense
of achievement. The accompanying happiness. I don’t pretend that
it doesn’t delight me. And awards do help promote my cause. But I
see these states of mind as by-products of my
Not the end goal.
I must be careful not to allow this sense of achievement to drive my art. To define me. It can become pernicious! As renowned investor Ray Dalio observed,
Psychologist Erik Erikson renowned for his work on identity crisis had long observed a close relationship between identity and purpose. To which he developed the following key questions on identity.
These are questions we need to be asking ourselves. Constantly. To ensure that our eyes are always on the prize. The active pursuit of purpose.
THERE WAS A time when my life revolved around crewing on film sets. The
love for filmmaking started out with the act of making films.
I figured out what I was passionate about.
As the years passed, I realized that filmmaking was about storytelling.
And it all began, ironically, outside the film set. In the writer’s
I figured out how to go about fulfilling what I was passionate about.
After making a few films and not totally loving it, it occurred to me that it didn’t matter if I could write and direct well. I was given a megaphone but I had no voice.
I couldn’t figure out why I was making films. I didn't know my raison d’être.
BEFORE FILM, I had given up on many things in life. Somehow, I
couldn't seem to give up on film. Film was my art. Art was my
cause. Serving that cause gave my life purpose.
I was adamant that if I had to give up something, it was my relationships, including my marriage, in service of my art.
At the turning point of my life, it hit me hard when I lost someone close to cancer. It struck me then that it wasn't about giving up anything. It was simply about giving. Giving more of myself.
I found clarity in my why.
For once, there was clarity in my cause.
EVERYONE WHO KNOWS me sees me as an incorrigible idealist. I believe that by
giving ourselves to a higher cause, we find greater
purpose and fulfillment
in our lives.
I aim to move and inspire the everyman with stories of higher causes being born out of broken people operating under morally ambiguous circumstances. Heroes are born out of the darkest point in their journeys.
Film is my medium of choice for sharing these stories about self-actualization
ME IN A nutshell.
What do you do?
I make films about stories that explore self-actualization.
How do you approach your stories?
My approach is to be authentic to the spirit of the story.
Why do you make films?
To inspire the outsider in us to self-actualise.
What are your films about?
Self-actualization and pragmatism as oppression are themes commonly explored in my films.
Why broken & morally ambiguous characters?
It’s compelling to watch humans struggle with their self-made rules.
What’s characteristic of your films?
I challenge my audience to root for my flawed heroes.
Who’s your audience?
Anyone who desires for the outsider in them to be heard and seen.
What are you involved in besides film?
I enjoy helping others understand themselves better.
What’s your personal philosophy?
Authentic power comes from understanding what you stand for.
What constitutes failure for you?
Failure is when we fail to understand our audience's perspective.
Why do you do pro bono work?
Pro bono is about sharing my creative expertise with like-minded individuals.
What was a pivotal moment in your life?
Being denied closure when I lost someone close to cancer.
How did that pivotal moment transform you?
I learned to give more of myself to those in need.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years, I won't concern myself with past milestones.
NETWORKING & SELLING yourself are undeniably invaluable skills to possess. Yet, can you always count on the proverbial "It's not what you know but who you know" to land yourself a job or obtain a sizeable donation? There comes a point where your audience is wondering to themselves, “What do your problems have to do with me?”
If all they hear is how good you are, and nothing about solving their pain points, achieving their goals, or what they stand for, then at most, you’ll get their attention. Never their concern. As Ted Roosevelt famously put it,
NEGOTIATING & ARGUING suffer from the same consequences. If you
find your mind preoccupied with arguments that support your position
and your ears perked up for your counterpart’s inconsistency, you're
likely unable to listen for a solution. Or the truth.
As former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss advocates in his book Never Split the Difference, when you create a safe enough environment for your counterpart to talk, it gives them the illusion of control. Thereby...
AS A SCREENWRITER of true stories, I experience firsthand the power of Voss’ advice when I get subjects to open up about their lives. So that when I create scenes with these characters, I imagine myself slipping into their skin, draping their face over mine, getting a glimpse of how they see the world.
It is the emotional sensitivity of identifying with others.
So how can the rest of us acquire this borrowed empathy?
Recently, my girlfriend took a hiatus from her corporate career to start her own swimwear label. One night, her 10-year-old niece sees her trying on clothes from her wardrobe. She asks, “Aunty, did you make all these?” My girlfriend breaks into laughter.
For us adults, the answer is fairly obvious when we consider minimum order quantity, economies of scale, inventory turnover, etc. Yet we are also able to imagine ourselves when we were 10-year-olds, arriving innocently at the perfectly logical conclusion that a designer should design and make her own clothes from scratch - harvesting the cotton, spinning the yarn, dyeing the fabric, etc.
Who are familiar only with their own experiences and perspectives.
To get them to see value in what you do, all you have to do is
explain your ideas through their lens. To connect the dots
for yourself when you were a 10-year-old.
Here's an example of how to put it into practice.
FACEBOOK COO SHERYL Sandberg shares in her book Lean In that most people are preoccupied with finding the right role for themselves, with the implication that their skills will help the company. Which explains why she was thoroughly impressed when Lori Goler who applied to work at Facebook asked the million dollar question, “What is your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?”
Take a moment to imagine that you’re having a conversation with
someone you potentially want to work or collaborate with. The first
question you want to be listening for is “What’s your
biggest problem?” or “What’s your biggest aspiration?”
Have this question at the back of your mind. The answer would surface naturally during the conversation. By listening for the other person’s biggest problem or biggest aspiration, you now possess the key to unlock value for this person. Why is this important? Because…
Most people don't realize that their goals can be framed
differently to appeal to different audiences. It’s essentially the
Different enough to connect the dots for your audience.
Framing is asking yourself the second question, “How can I help to solve it?” or “How can I help you attain it?” The difference between this version and Goler’s is the word help. Because it’s rarely likely that you have the relevant skill sets to solve the other person’s problem entirely. But you can likely play a part in helping to solve it.
THIS IS A powerful concept for client presentations, cover letters,
salary negotiations, selling insurance, selling real estate and
scenarios that require a win-win.
Most people open their presentations and cover letters focusing on their own strengths and their own goals, naively believing that all the client or employer is looking for is a driven individual. They don’t realize that the client or employer doesn’t care until anything said is relevant to them.
Now, consider this 2 step approach.
Step 1. Structure the opening of your presentation or letter with information pertaining to “What’s your biggest problem?” or “What’s your biggest aspiration?” The problem or aspiration of your client or employer. This shows empathy.
More importantly, it creates a reference point.
Step 2. Provide a solution that involves your participation, tapping on your strengths while fulfilling your own goals. Information pertaining to “How can I help to solve it?” or “How can I help you attain it?” This shows relevance.
Seth Godin once wrote, "a different part of our brain is activated when we think about what's possible rather than what's required." By shifting your audience's focus from what's required (their problem) to what's possible (your solution), you just made yourself indispensable in the eyes of your audience. And that is the most valuable skill.
BETWEEN AUDIENCE AND filmmaker. Between husband and wife. Between parent
and child. It's the cornerstone of any relationship.
But what should you respect someone for?
Status? Power? Wealth? Any of these and the relationship will
How about Knowledge? Experience? Seniority? Especially in Asia, we may appear to respect someone for their age and experience. But not truly.
Simply put, reverence is earned but unquestioned respect.
WHAT ABOUT CHARACTER? Character is a huge red herring. We don't
respect all good characters. Just as we don't disrespect all bad ones.
Dissociate from those you don't respect. More importantly, discover why you respect those you associate with. And you discover yourself.
IT MAY NOT be what you're passionate about. Though it could be. What is the One Word that best represents what you want to stand for? In other words, who or what cause you aspire to become.
If you can't think of the One Word you stand for, think of
three possibilities. Allow them to swim around your head for a few days.
Till you find one that suits you. Or you replace them all. And restart
I used to waver between CRAFT and PURPOSE. CRAFT - the dedication to perfecting my art, is important to me. But not as important as knowing why I need to be perfecting it. Pursuing that why is inherently PURPOSEFUL.
WHY NOT A sentence? Or three words? Having a single word forces you to
boil the essence of what you stand for to something simple. Graspable.
Memorable. It comes in handy especially when you're recalling the One
Words that those around you stand for.
Once in a while, there's an exception to this. A friend of mine wasn't fond of studying when he was a kid. He got into the worst schools and would've been destined to be a bottom feeder. His mother sent him abroad to study. Faced with hardship in a foreign environment, it transformed him into a diligent man who later carved an excellent career for himself. Today, he helps ex-convicts adjust to life outside of prison. His One Word is not DILIGENCE. It's SECOND CHANCE.
WHAT ARE THE One Words that you think each significant person around you stands for? Compare that with your own One Word. If the two words are polar opposites, the relationship will not work out.
I have quite a lot in common with those who stand for PERSEVERANCE
because of our shared belief in hard work and our disdain for those
who stand for shortcuts. However, an unquestioning devotion
towards perseverance is where our paths differ. While I believe in
persevering in purposeful activities, I actively advocate giving up
"Blind perseverance" may likely be a hand-me-down value from a father figure; a survival system that has outlived its relevance. My aversion to "blind perseverance" stems from my vision for all human beings to discover and act on their life's calling in an increasingly AI-driven world. In such a world,
We should actively question the relevance of hand-me-down values if
they are what we stand for.
KNOWING WHAT YOU stand for is the easiest way to build
confidence. It gives you the focus to do the things that matter.
And to say no to those that don't. Because you stop pretending to be
who you are not, you live life with fewer compromises.
Not surprisingly, when you know what you stand for, it's easier to identify like-minded individuals. Which naturally helps build your audience. On the contrary,
DO YOU HAVE 5 people in your life you can turn to, whose perspectives you value, within 48 hours of encountering a crisis?
Are your 5 wizards wired differently enough from you, and from
one another, such that their perspectives work in concert to illuminate
your blind spots holistically?
Wizards don't have to be mentors or coaches. But they shouldn't be your father figure. You want a distinctive voice you trust. Not the default voice you revere. For some, their children are their wizards.
Wizarding, unlike mentoring or coaching, is a two way street. You can be a wizard to someone who's your wizard. It's not about getting advice from a sage. Not about obtaining consensus. It's about variety. Because variety induces holism.
Who you choose to be your wizards is absolutely critical. So limit those voices to 5. Most would have trouble identifying 3. View each crisis as an opportunity to reinvent yourself when you consult your wizards, and when you are someone else's wizard. The desired outcome is a lighter, enlightened mind.
THE FATAL FLAW is a screenwriting concept that refers to a shortcoming of yours that is so significant, it masquerades as your strength. A quality you use to justify your success. As a result, it becomes your blind spot.
For artists, it's perfectionism. The perfection that artists
seek inevitably causes them to procrastinate presenting their art to
For entrepreneurs, it's optimism. An overly favourable outlook of how their product impacts their audience makes them blind to possible pitfalls.
For others, it’s diligence. The self-gratification derived from working hard makes them blind to the virtues of working smart.
For me, it's all of the above and self-righteousness. My bias towards my endeavours having deeper purpose than those of others. Sometimes, I forget that purpose is subjective.
Confirm your fatal flaw with your mentors, coaches and wizards.
I WAS ONCE involved as a third party observer in a product placement meeting with a well-known Mt Everest expeditionist. From the moment we shook hands till he revealed his fees, his manner of speech down to the subtlest of his body language gave off “let’s talk money” vibes. For a motivational speaker, he came across as anything but the embodiment of his inspirational slogan “dare to dream”.
Needless to say, the deal wasn't consummated. Not because he was expensive. But because he gave us the impression that...
We weren't simply paying for his personality. We were paying to be
associated with his cause. By failing to inspire us with his cause,
he didn't give us assurance that he felt sufficiently aligned with
the client's brand, or even with his own cause, to inspire his audience.
This and other occasions led me to become curious about why certain individuals who appear to stand for a higher cause choose to give an initial impression of being transactional.
Do they fear that by failing to act transactional, they may get ripped off?
Do they feel embarrassed admitting to a higher cause they stand for?
Do they even truly believe in their own cause?
Regardless of the reasons, I strongly believe there is a case to be made for
IF YOU STAND for a higher cause, put it out there. Skip the small talk.
Go straight to the things that matter to you. The story behind
your why. What you
stand for. Leave your audience moved and inspired by your cause. It
may well be the difference that makes or breaks a deal. This is the
power of storytelling!
Cover letters and salary negotiations are no different. They should be crafted as storytelling vehicles to evoke an emotional response. Anyone can identify a boilerplate letter right from the first sentence. Take the time to draft something unique to your own personal experience that is of value to the reader in a way that’s genuine, sincere and heartfelt.
The reader wants to see that you believe in their project. Their story.
Their cause. And not merely a business transaction in which you
exchange your time and energy for money.
Most of us have probably had the experience of paying more for or taking a pay cut to work with someone who can move and inspire us. Why?
DO YOU FEEL that you’re entitled to “be yourself” in the company of someone close? That they should accept you for who you are, warts and all. That “being yourself” also entails teasing each other's flaws?
Suppose that someone close deems a certain behaviour of yours to be in bad taste. Much as you agree with their assessment, you choose “being yourself” over change. After all, why pretend to be someone else in front of them? Though objectively speaking,
Any habit reinforces itself via a feedback loop when the only
justification for its existence is its continued presence in your
repertoire, and not because of its merits.
Our personalities are all malleable. And as we know, bad habits can, and should be discarded. As renowned investor Ray Dalio notes,
Now let’s turn the tables around.
HAVE YOU EVER felt justified pointing out the bad habits of someone
close in the name of “being yourself”? While unaware that your
opinions have morphed into judgmental behaviour over time.
Inwardly, judgmental behaviour manifests as a bias, prejudice or disapproval against those who deviate from your personal set of values and beliefs.
Outwardly, judgmental behaviour can be easily identified by asking yourself,
Take for instance the following jocular, seemingly innocuous remark between a couple. “Why do you always dress like you come from a village?”
Because its disempowering nature reflects the speaker's bias, the listener feels judged and switches off completely. If allowed to fester as a joke, it only serves to undermine the relationship. Until one day, it becomes the straw that breaks the camel's back. Inconsequential as it may seem, the potential damage far outweighs any comic relief derived from such light-hearted humour.
I AM GUILTY of such judgmental behaviour myself, even till this day. In
preaching my cause, I occasionally go overboard. I become outwardly
critical of those who do not seek purpose,
in life. Bear in mind, these are folks I can neither put a face nor a
name to. It becomes evident when I put myself in their shoes, that my
criticism is unwarranted. And nothing short of disempowering.
Recognizing my own shortcoming, I actively refrain myself from passing judgment. Which invites detractors to question,
I've come to believe that it’s pointless to get caught up with a phrase
as meaningless as “being yourself.” To live in a society of
individuals who embrace disparate ideas and ideals necessarily entails
compromise. So long as I don’t compromise what I
stand for, I see
compromise as the ability to adapt.
Being adaptable is not about being cordial. Or being diplomatic. Or lacking an opinion. After all, as a screenwriter who interviews subjects for their true stories, I can’t possibly expect them to open up about themselves by making small talk and skirting sensitive issues. On the contrary,
My subjects experience a level of trust with a stranger that gives them the assurance they won’t be judged. For myself, I've noticed that by actively censoring my own judgmental behaviour, I enter a state of unprecedented open-mindedness that allows me to learn a few lessons from them.
The fact is most people in this world are less concerned about letting their personal opinions made known to the public than they are about being judged.
A TITLE IS like a movie trailer. Instead of two minutes you have one
second to hook them. With your audience in mind, consider the
1. Does the content of your title matter to your audience?
2. Does your title sound sexy, compelling or dramatic to your audience?
3. Is the content of your title authentic to what you’re selling?
Here’s an example of a title meant for an intended audience of financial planners and real estate agents.
“How to turn your clients into your ambassadors.”
If you’re a financial planner or a real estate agent experiencing difficulty building your referral business, this matters to you. You'll most likely attend a course with the above title.
STRICTLY SPEAKING, “AMBASSADOR” refers to a diplomatic official
or an authorized representative. “Referrer” or “endorser”
are more accurate given the context. However, these two words are so
familiar to your audience that it fails to capture anyone's attention.
On the other hand, your audience probably understands “ambassador” to mean someone so fervently supportive of you that they'd readily recommend you to friends and family. C'mon, there's no denying it sounds way more sexy, compelling and dramatic than the other two.
By now, your title should have hooked your audience in under a second. Why bother with authenticity?
Imagine being lured to a movie that doesn’t feel like what you've experienced in the trailer. The same thing applies for a title. It’s a matter of integrity. Sell something you’re not and you risk losing more than just your audience.
MEDITATIVE SCREENWRITING TEACHER Jessica Hinds introduced the concept of the 5 prime emotional needs underlying every action that a character takes.
Validation - to prove to yourself
Respect - to prove to others
Justice - to fight against injustice
Love - to be with someone you love
Comfort - to be in the company of friends
Emotional needs are not tied to the nature of the action. It's not
about what you're doing but why you're doing what you're
If you're climbing Mount Everest, most would assume it’s for validation. That maybe true for most cases. Though you could be climbing Mount Everest for any of the following reasons:
To challenge yourself - Validation
To gain the respect of others - Respect
To champion a cause - Justice
To be with your spouse - Love
To be amongst friends - Comfort
Some actions have up to three underlying emotional needs but one stands out as dominant.
TAKING THIS CONCEPT one step further and applying it to your life’s journey, you can ask yourself...
As you begin to rank the top three emotional needs that drive your
core, you get a better sense of why you do the things you do.
My primary emotional need in life began with Respect till my twenties. Validation in my thirties. At the turning point in my life, it became about Justice.
What drives you in life?
PERHAPS THE MOST significant element in all great films that touch, move and inspire audiences - Character transformation goes beyond merely seeing a person acquire a new skill or adopt a different persona at the end of the film.
To see this powerful concept executed in screenwriting, a highly driven
character (e.g. an entrepreneur) begins his journey with an objective -
a notion of what he wants. He is undeterred from his
goal. The audience roots for him because of his determination.
By the end of his journey, he arrives at an unexpected yet inevitable conclusion that what he wants no longer matters. Instead he discovers what he needs. Usually something that fills an obvious emotional void. This bitter-sweet moment can be so unforgettable for the audience that it has the capacity to change lives.
HERE'S A TRUE story. I was working on the screenplays of two
when I found out that my partner was stricken with terminal cancer.
It was a rare form of cancer that showed few external signs of
debilitation. I took it for granted that she had a few more years.
Given the extreme difficulties of getting a film produced, I plowed on my screenplay tirelessly, prioritizing art over love. Despite her pleas, I took off for a month to co-write with my writing partner in Los Angeles.
When I returned, I was shocked to find her body muscles have atrophied beyond belief. Her condition declined rapidly thereafter. In a few months, I was overcame with shock when she could no longer recognise me. Shortly after, she passed on.
Could I not have waited a year to make my trip to LA?
Unfortunately that was all hindsight. What I wanted badly was to complete my screenplay. Call it Art. Ambition. Achievement. What I needed most was compassion. Regrettably, I learnt it the hard way and bore the brunt of a painful, irreversible transformation.
This only served to reinforce the screenwriting adage -
BEHAVIOURAL ECONOMIST Dan Ariely points out that we live
simultaneously in two worlds. Social norms & Market norms. Community
favours vs Financial transactions.
The world you define a relationship in determines its behaviour.
Pro bono professionals are not employees or volunteers who forgo compensation for drudgery. They choose to spend time...
Introduce money and you take that away from them. What was once play now becomes work, upending performance & creativity. Market norms enter. Social norms depart. Too little money, they feel insulted. Too much, they feel used. Both sides become calculative about their resources. The relationship is unnecessarily strained.
PRO BONO PROFESSIONALS get to constantly question what the project
means for them and why they are in it. The autonomy to
achieve competency within a community of
like-minded individuals is what drives the pro bono professional.
When I work pro bono, because I'm not paid, to justify my time, I seek to be as involved as I am with commissioned work. I expect the same from the client. If I sense that the client is not respecting my time or my perspective, I'm prepared to walk away.
I DISCOVERED MY love for film at 25. Joined the work force at 26. Worked four years as an employee. Totally hated it. Quit the work force at 29. Started my own business. Worked in fashion at 31. Returned to film school at 33. Been working on my films, my business and whatever fuck I want. Everyday. Ever since. How is this even possible given my late head start in life?
If you hate your life right now, rat race or not, this may interest you.
I was a top student in secondary school till junior college (middle
school and high school). By all means, I should’ve landed myself in
Oxbridge or an Ivy League on a Singapore scholarship. But I didn’t.
Instead, I went to the world’s most renowned architecture school in New York that nobody knew. Spent two years getting brainwashed. Then transferred to the engineering school. Studied fine art and humanities for three and a half years. The equivalent of a liberal arts education. Eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering at the ripe old age of 26.
A total of five and a half years of undergrad education! Thankfully, all tuition-free.
THE ONLY REASON I graduated was because my family’s business was in
dire straits. I had to transform myself from a scholarly hippie to a
traveling salesman to help out. I spent two years in the west coast of
US living out of a car. Motels.
Dorm rooms. Then another two years working a total of four jobs in
finance and consulting. Singapore then Hong Kong.
I was truly lost. Depressed. I had enough.
I WAS 29. This was a time for me to self-reflect. Align myself with my inner compass. This was my 6 months sabbatical.
Why 6 months?
1st month, wean myself off corporate life. Get adjusted to
living in a different country. A new environment helps. 2nd and
3rd month, open myself to new possibilities. 4th and 5th,
execute those possibilities. Last month, start looking for a job
if all else fails.
Thankfully, I had enough savings to last me a year. And frugally I lived. Making every cent count. Living out of a capsule hostel in Tokyo’s red light district. That’s right. Capsule + Hostel. Why rough it out? Because…
For accounting folks, I call the left side of the balance sheet - Assets, the fun side. The right side - Liabilities and Equity, the responsibility. Everything on the right is responsible for all the fun on the left.
I read Rich Dad Poor Dad. It was tremendously useful. Everything
else by that author ever since, is junk. This book and my four
years of employment taught me that my future business is going to have the following:
1. No physical inventory.
2. No customers.
3. No suppliers.
If you’re thinking wtf? You’re absolutely right. That was how crazy determined I was to get myself off the fucking corporate grid. Even if it meant making way less money.
BACK THEN, I had a friend who was living the corporate high life. He graduated a year earlier just so he could make an additional year of income in his life. He wasn’t struggling or anything. He didn’t have younger siblings to feed. It was the scarcity mindset.
Cancer is common these days. You find out you have stage 3 cancer and
your savings are wiped out in two years. That should get you rethinking
the scarcity mindset. And more importantly, the direction of your life.
In hindsight, I’m thankful I ended up in an unknown school called The Cooper Union, miraculously avoiding the burden of an Ivy League education. I’m thankful that my first job, without a doubt unremarkable, led to eight years living out of a suitcase. I’m thankful that despite living my life as a nomad, I never once acquired the herd mentality.
A GREAT BRAND positions itself well. Differentiates itself from
its competitors. Derives its brand identity based on its philosophy.
Establishing a known brand is a remarkable achievement.
A social movement champions a cause for the greater good. Doesn't concern itself with competitors. Defines its audience's identity based on its philosophy. Establishing a compelling movement produces lasting change in society.
BEING A DISRUPTOR is fashionable these days. But there's no
authentic power in allowing your identity to be defined only by
what the industry is not.
Apple and Virgin are commonly referred to as lifestyle brands. They’re stylish. But styles go out of style. And eventually out of business. Apple and Virgin don’t.
Apple and Virgin are grounded in their cause of challenging the status quo. Differentiation from their competitors is a result. Not a motivation. Beauty and innovation is an outcome. Not an impetus.
If we consider Apple and Virgin as disruptors, we need to ask how many markets have they upended? Like a vigilante, a disruptor can be ignored.
Apple, Virgin and Tesla however, are movements beyond a brand.
When you create a compelling movement, a force that can't be ignored,
your audience can’t resist deriving their identity from your cause.
This alignment results in change beyond achievement.
Past the tipping point, your movement becomes legend.
WHAT MAKES A good promo video? Whether the objective is fund-raising or
growing awareness, my process employs feature film storytelling
techniques that tug at audiences' heartstrings.
Assuming you, the client, has already established both a clearly defined objective as well as the cause (e.g. World Vision wants donations of $45/month towards child sponsorship in developing countries).
No promo is successful unless it moves & inspires your audience. Not just any audience. An intended audience is an audience you define specifically with intent, and whose participation as a result of viewing the promo can hopefully, be measured. Simply casting a wide net is at best, a shot in the dark.
Half the battle is won simply by featuring a hero (screenwriter's term that refers to the main character of the promo) who is already well-regarded by your intended audience. All the better if their hero is known to be aligned with your cause.
As a writer, I interview the hero for his/her personal journey
specific to the cause. I’m seeking goals, villains, stakes and triumphs
that the intended audience can identify with as part of their
Somewhere in that mutual exploration, the truth recedes and purpose emerges. This informs the Director's Statement, which is a perspective unique to the filmmaker. Crafting a script using this approach beats any script I can possibly come up with based on pure imagination.
The hero is comprised of the person in real life and the
character in the promo. In reality, the person never
spends 24/7 living the life of the character.
As a director, regardless if the hero is an actor, I ensure that the hero delivers a performance on camera that is perceived as authentic to the character and not merely regurgitating lines.
This "Authentic Performance", oxymoronic as it may sound, is essential to capturing the audience’s imagination and igniting their passion. It is also the final step that culminates the creative collaboration between the hero/actor and the writer-director.
What we're doing is raising funds or awareness for the cause.
How we're doing it is via the hero's journey the audience can identify with.
Why we're doing it is to give the audience a higher cause to stand for.
We should never lose track of why we do what we do.
IF FACTS REPRESENT reality and Truth makes sense of that reality, then Meaning selectively interprets that reality.
Take for instance the 31 May 2019 launch of the first Singaporean to space from Alice Springs, Australia.
A spacecraft tethered to a balloon ascended to 8km, followed by descending back to Earth on a parachute.
The team failed to reach their objective, the Armstrong line at 20km.
Despite failure, the attempt was greater than the outcome.
As an independent filmmaker focused on
I occasionally fall into the trap of focusing too much on the truth.
The truth is best left to the journalist. The filmmaker should concern
himself with meaning, taking care not to be preachy.
The audience may think they came for the truth. But truth be told, they want meaning. If they want the truth, they can watch the news. When watching a film, the audience ultimately wants to know...
HUMAN BEINGS HAVE the innate blessing, and flaw of associating subjective meaning with mere facts. Almost always involuntarily.
We convince ourselves of such meaning by believing the stories we tell
ourselves. Thankfully, this is why moving and inspiring films
have the ability to transform an audience.
As story strategist on the space endeavour, the Facts are a man in a box rises to the sky before falling back to Earth. The Story we tell ourselves is a Singaporean goes to Space.
We built a following because 'Singapore' obviously meant something to our audience. But that story didn't land for other Singaporeans. Perhaps they weren't our target audience. Perhaps it didn't mean as much to them. So we ask ourselves...
ONCE UPON A time, it was a no-no to admit failure in business. Silicon Valley changed all that. The fail-fast culture took hold. Now failure has its own conference, FailCon and global movement, Fuckup Nights.
Singapore purportedly supports innovation yet demands “latest proven
technology.” What is latest hasn't been proven. What is proven
can't be the latest. It's no wonder the most commonly asked questions
are, “Who has done this before?” and worse, “If it’s such a
great idea, why hasn’t somebody else done it already?”
The spirit of the endeavour to send the first Singaporean to space is about embracing failure. During a team huddle, a senior advisor remarked,
When the conversation drifted to more light-hearted topics, I was asked,
“Are you single?”
“Why aren’t you married?”
“I used to be. Now I’m divorced.”
The room went silent. It wasn’t the response everyone was expecting.
But why? If failure denotes the beginning of success, why are we ready
to embrace the pariah in a failed business but not in a failed marriage?
Realistically speaking, doesn't the endless hours that founders devote to their startups take a toll on their families' well-being and finances? If startup founders are more prone to divorce, why are we more forgiving towards their business failures than their marital failures?
If we're to inspire a healthy mindset towards failure for the next generation, we shouldn't stigmatize failed marriages. As with all experiences and mistakes in life,
IN SIR THOMAS More's 1516 socio-political satire Utopia, the
eponymous fictional state is painted as a place of perfection in law and
order. In Utopia, possession of gold is frowned upon, going so far as
featuring prisoners bound in fetters of gold. In Singapore’s
quest for Utopia, this is what Singaporeans have become.
The unquestionable priority for the average 30 year old Singaporean is to purchase property. Because ownership of property is widely perceived as the safest form of preserving one’s nest egg. Property has become the default choice of parking one’s money. Property has become "silos of wealth." Extrapolating this phenomena in land scarce Singapore inevitably leads the country to be in danger of becoming a nation of landlords. Not surprisingly,
Recognizing this, the government taxes ownership of additional properties.
Being the nation’s largest land banker, it controls the supply of its
leasehold land. Apart from a meager 17% freehold land, most properties
are 99 years leasehold. This antiquated legacy of British colonial
rule points to a painful truth. Most of us never truly own our
Imagine 6 to 7 digits of hard-earned dollars evaporating in less than a century! This would be unthinkable in some countries. Even if it isn't, is this system fair? Is this system just?
AS ANTI-APARTHEID ACTIVIST Steven Biko famously put it,
Every investment savvy Singaporean has learned to be obstinately pragmatic. Two commonly asked questions when purchasing property are, Is it freehold? What’s the psf (per square foot price)? Because every square foot counts. Including the ledge that the A/C compressor sits on! This unhealthy obsession on the property’s tenure and its psf has a deleterious effect on its people.
And this is the price we pay for safety. For Singapore is indeed the safest country in the world to live in. If capitalism is the efficient allocation of resources, by channelling our capital increasingly into "silos of wealth", how are we producing anything purposeful to society? For a ‘smart nation’ that prides itself on innovation, we are indeed pragmatically oppressed. We have indeed become imprisoned by our own fetters of gold.
IT DOESN’T INTEREST me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for,
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool,
for your dream,
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain,
mine or your own,
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy,
mine or your own,
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your
fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful,
to be realistic,
to remember the limitations of being human.
IT DOESN'T INTEREST me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can
to be true to yourself;
if you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul;
if you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty,
even when it is not pretty,
and if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I WANT TO know if you can live with failure,
yours and mine,
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
IT DOESN'T INTEREST me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair,
weary and bruised to the bone,
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
IT DOESN'T INTEREST me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you,
from the inside,
when all else falls away.
I WANT TO know if you can be alone
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
DURING MY TRAINING as an architecture student at Cooper Union, I was privileged to have world renowned architects as professors. I admired their strong personalities, their ability to bulldoze their opinions through critiques such that lesser professors constantly deferred politically to the top dog. As top dog, their outsized egos allowed them to
One even went so far as saying, “I can teach you everything about architecture. What I can’t teach you is how to have an ego.” To the impressionable twenty year old, it appeared that possessing an ego that left little room for others to voice their opinions were the hallmarks of a successful architect. But
I USED TO think that being critical and judgmental was a sign that I knew what I want. Or at least have the balls to stand for my views. That merely denotes the presence of a strong personality. I would discover later that it's an issue. Though not the strong personality per se. It's
Consider the critical, judgmental, emotionally charged response "You're obviously missing the point." If you were the recipient, wouldn't you be compelled to defend your ego instead of your ideas? Very simply put,
Is everyone supposed to only get your point? Are they not entitled to theirs?
Also consider the dismissive response "What are your talking about?!
You don't make sense at all!" Could it be the listener's stubborn
refusal to see things from the speaker's perspective simply because she
lacks the patience to put herself in the shoes of others? Or that the
opinions of others simply don't matter?
Critical and judgmental remarks are the quickest way to disarm and disrespect others. It erects barriers that impede communication, causing others to tread on eggshells around you. When they are not even demanding for their opinions to be adopted. Merely for their voices to be heard and acknowledged.
Unfortunately, an impasse is when both parties enter defensive mode to protect their egos, making it hard to consider other possibilities. Possibilities proposed by strong personalities because they are viewed as authoritarians. Possibilities proposed by not-so-strong personalities because they are disrespected as doormats.
Unless you intend on pursuing a career in litigation or you enjoy putting others down, it is simply not socially intelligent behaviour. As Brianna Wiest puts it succinctly in 16 Signs of a Socially Intelligent Person,
NOT RESPONDING IS perhaps the greatest challenge. It entails refraining from speaking critically or judgmentally. And above all, resisting to engage others’ critical judgments of you. Not because you don’t have balls. But because you're socially intelligent enough to recognise that
Anyone solely concerned with validating their ego, is by nature, rarely ready. Because they expect the teacher to be a person they respect. Thus failing to consider the possibility that the teacher may manifest as an idea, regardless of the speaker. An open mind cultivates teachability, and hence readiness.
Sound critical and you become critical. Appear judgmental and you become judgmental. Having pre-drawn conclusions limits your ability to thoughtfully reflect on the merits of the ideas of others. Conversely, if you create an environment safe enough for others to share their ideas, you enhance your own perspective and acquire a modicum of social intelligence.
AN OVERLY REDUCTIVE definition of social intelligence often comes
across as politeness, diplomacy, common sense, street smarts and
being socially apt. But these are merely the outcomes of social
intelligence. Not why it matters. And that's an important
distinction to make.
The following is a selection of socially intelligent behaviour from Brianna Wiest’s article, 16 Signs of a Socially Intelligent Person that I'd personally like to cultivate.
Wiest makes the point that the fastest way to sound socially unintelligent is to say “You’re wrong,” “Your idea is flawed,” “You’re not making sense,” etc. To speak as definitively as the above impedes one’s ability to be open-minded towards the existence of and to learn from other perspectives on the matter. Socially intelligent people say “I don’t personally understand this idea, or agree with it.”
To quote Wiest, some of the most difficult people to be in relationships with are those who feel so threatened by the slightest suggestion that their behavior is hurtful that they get angry at the person suggesting it. Socially intelligent people listen to criticism before responding because an immediate emotional response without thoughtful consideration comes across as defensiveness.
Contrary to popular belief, socially intelligent people say what they intend to without skirting around the issue. They use disclaimers not out of fear of sounding offensive. They use disclaimers to articulate their ideas with specificity and clarity. They're aware that speaking critically or judgmentally elicits an unnecessarily emotional reaction from the listener which in turn defeats the purpose of healthy communication. A visual analogy is a needle prick vs a knife gash. Both tools reveal blood. The former is elegant whereas the latter is unnecessarily brute.
When socially intelligent people observe the other party make a faux pas in their argument, be it a miswording, a mispronunciation or simply nervousness, they help the other party along because they genuinely want to understand and connect with the other person. On the other hand, socially unintelligent people instinctively pounce on such faux pas to mock the other party and cause unnecessary distress because they view arguments as a competition instead of a healthy exchange of ideas.
As Wiest points out, while listening to others speak, socially intelligent people focus on listening to what is being said without being caught up with how to respond. A response may indeed be unnecessary in some instances.
I AM MINDFUL of social intelligence not because I’m proficient at it
but because I recognize the huge role it plays in healthy
communication that I'm deficient in. Hence, my personal why
for increasing my own social intelligence stems from my desire to
connect with and understand others with respect. Politeness
and diplomacy is merely the outcome of this approach.
I endeavour to weed out close relationships from my life that display chronic social unintelligence because such relationships impinge on my self-expression. I’m a strong advocate for social intelligence because I believe in full blown self-expression for everyone except where their own self-expression impinges on the self-expression of others.
OUTSIDERS ARE INDIVIDUALS who are displaced existentially within the society they operate because of experience, background or behavior that differ drastically from the Mainstream.
Outsiders can be immigrants, minorities and individuals with
non-conforming sexual orientations who struggle to be accepted by
the Mainstream. Outsiders can also be victims of trauma, such as
rape, mental illness, disability and to a different extent, bankruptcy.
Outsiders can also be pariahs, such as political dissidents and
artists who pursue a cause largely unrecognized by the Mainstream.
From the Mainstream's perspective, the Outsider’s struggles may fall into two categories.
1) They know what they don’t know. The Mainstream is aware that those struggles exist for the Outsiders and they may or may not know enough to empathize with the Outsiders.
2) They don’t know what they don’t know. The Mainstream outrightly denies the existence of the struggles of the Outsiders to the extent that they consider the Outsiders’ actions overly sensitive, incomprehensible or delusional.
ONCE IN A blue moon, the Mainstream champions the cause of the
Outsider. Or so they think. When Rihanna launched her
Savage x Fenty fashion show featuring her lingerie collection worn by
dancers of all races, shapes, sizes and sexual orientation, including
the disabled, under its inclusive theme, all of a sudden,
the Mainstream jumps on the bandwagon to celebrate inclusivity. Why?
During the fashion show, Victoria Secrets models grace the collection. Not surprisingly, you need someone considered cool by the Mainstream to be the ambassador for the uncool (i.e. the Outsider). Would the Mainstream be ready to embrace the uncool Outsider if the Fenty brand wasn’t launched by Rihanna, an icon considered cool by Mainstream audiences?
For how can the Mainstream truly embrace an Outsider's yearning for inclusivity if they've never themselves experienced being alienated? The experience of alienation is something they either know they don’t know or worse, don’t know they don’t know. The Mainstreamer who does not truly seek to understand the struggles of an Outsider yet waves the flag of inclusivity comes across as an opportunist who exploits the trend for his own gain. He is being disrespectful towards those who are truly displaced.
To the credit of the Mainstreamer who embraces inclusivity superficially, at least he has elevated himself from not knowing what he doesn’t know to knowing what he doesn’t know. Social change happens in gradual increments. Not leaps and bounds. In a way, we got to start somewhere.
WHEN AN OUTSIDER and a Mainstreamer form a close relationship, it is
at the risk of being not “equally yoked” to borrow a
phrase from the Bible. In the Bible, being “equally yoked”
refers to having the same values and the same spiritual goals.
A possible origin for this phrase may be the term “yoke” - a device fitted on draft animals to make them work the fields. It is a symbol of oppression which the Outsider is familiar with but which the Mainstream may neither recognize nor comprehend. Because you don’t know what you don’t know.
Consider artists, musicians and human rights advocates who spend years fighting for a cause with little likelihood of success, and possibly no financial gain. Their cause is their “yoke”.
Why Outsiders would voluntarily yoke themselves confounds the Mainstream. And the Mainstream is not to blame. After all, from their perspective, why squander your time on a cause that yields a bad ROI? Why seek the tough answers when there are easy ones available?
If the answers came easy for them, perhaps they won't be struggling
with their existence in the first place. To be fair, the Mainstream
is under a different "yoke" - the yoke of conformity.
Not being free to pursue their calling, if they even attempt to
discover what it is.
If the Mainstreamer who is outspoken about embracing inclusivity doesn't take the time and effort to understand the Outsider’s “yoke”, the Outsider may feel marginalized and announces her doubts about an Outsider-Mainstreamer relationship.
The Mainstreamer may blame the Outsider for not being open-minded. Naturally, the Outsider who has been yearning for inclusivity wants to believe she is open-minded. Unknowingly, she has become the target of "gaslighting" in a toxic relationship. Gaslighting refers to the act of covertly sowing seeds of doubt in the subject's mind via denial, misdirection, contradiction or misinformation, thus causing the subject to question her own beliefs, memories and judgments.
When the Mainstreamer insists on viewing open-mindedness on his own terms, (i.e. on Mainstream terms), is he making a genuine effort to be inclusive? If the Outsider’s perspective is so hard for the Mainstreamer to empathize with, it begs the question,
Note: The Outsider vs Mainstream argument is meant to provoke thought regarding the two extremes. It's not meant to deny the existence of the grey area in between. And most certainly, there are exceptions - Mainstreamers who make the effort to identify with the struggles of the Outsider and succeed in doing so.
A CORNERSTONE OF being a good conversationalist is being good at listening. A good listener is far from someone who listens passively without contribution. But one who actively listens and
The following are certain guidelines for when to interrupt the other person during a conversation.
To clarify what they just said if it sounded confusing.
To express curiosity about what they just said.
To summarize what they just said.
There are other guidelines as well but the above three never fail in most, if not all conversations. Why? What do they all have in common?
People enjoy talking about themselves. A good listener lets them. A good conversationalist encourages them.
CONVERSELY, THE FOLLOWING are certainly when not to interrupt the other person during a conversation.
Never interrupt to criticize how confusing they sound.
Never interrupt to insist how flawed their opinion is.
Never interrupt to display the superiority of your opinion.
Doing any of the above engages the ego. Their ego. Anyone who has their ego engaged, subconsciously become defensive. They become preoccupied with determining whether the environment is safe for them to express their views. Thus making it hard for them to evaluate anything you say objectively.
You can still be truthful about something the other person said that
you disagree with. But doing so via interrupting comes across as not giving
them a chance to be heard. It comes across as disrespect.
It also gives them the impression that the entire time they were talking, your mind was preoccupied with ways to put them or their ideas down, instead of keeping an open mind about their contributions. Open-mindedness stems from and breeds social intelligence. To quote Brianna Wiest from 16 Signs of a Socially Intelligent Person,
When you express curiosity or summarize what the other person has just said, you're giving them feedback on how their ideas are interpreted on the receiving end - the impact and consequences their words have on others. More importantly, you're letting them know that you're listening. That they are heard. And that's what a good listener does.
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY IS concerned with the motivation behind choices people make. And there are two kinds. Intrinsic motivation is about doing things or helping others purely because you like doing them. Extrinsic motivation is about doing things because you’ll get something in return.
For instance, if I make a film for the pure love of it, I’m being
driven by intrinsic values whereas if I make a film for money and
to win awards (i.e. status), I’m driven by extrinsic values.
Same activity. Different values. Why is this important?
In Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections, American psychologist Tim Kasser’s research on materialism and well-being determined that people who focused on extrinsic goals didn’t experience any increase in day-to-day happiness despite spending a huge amount of energy chasing these goals. Whereas...
Study to get better grades. Work for the best paying job. Display our wealth through clothes and cars. Display our status on social media. Status has a double meaning and displaying both are supposed to make us feel good. But are we?
I’M NOT A puritan who claims to reject extrinsic goals and pretends
only to be motivated intrinsically. I'm a filmmaker whose work is
built around moving and inspiring the everyman. For that, I need to
empathize with my audience’s point of view. One that is constantly
inundated by advertising that makes them feel inadequate about not
achieving enough extrinsic goals.
In finding a reasonable compromise between being a sellout and being a recluse, I've decided
Psychologist Russ Harris created a simple exercise for us to
determine if we lead purposeful lives.
Imagine you are 80 years old (or pick an older age if you’re already 80). Then complete the sentences “I wish I’d spent more time on…“ and “I wish I’d spent less time on…”
This is a surprisingly effective way of getting us to focus on doing the things that truly matter. For me, I always knew I was pursuing the things that mattered most to me. Film.
So I took this exercise one step further. I listed and ranked the top 3 motivations behind why I’m making my feature films Sheepwolf and Garage Spacemen. They are
EVER SINCE MY disillusionment and departure from a corporate world
driven largely by extrinsic goals, I developed a vision -
for all human beings to discover and act on their life’s calling.
This naturally became my primary value: to serve others (intrinsic).
When Chye whom Sheepwolf is based on, urged me to get the film made so that I’d have a stream of income (extrinsic), the multi-millionaire had momentarily forgotten that the real estate portfolio he amassed over the years may have given him a sense of achievement, but not a sense of fulfillment. Not until he founded his self-defense movement to serve others.
Because Sheepwolf is a story that’s larger than Chye himself,
I told him I needed the time to figure out how this story created value
for our audience. One that goes beyond satisfying his urge to get it
made. One that goes beyond satisfying my ego of gaining recognition.
Film festivals, with their awards and recognition, celebrate the filmmaker's ego (extrinsic). I need to be cautious of that. At the same time, I must not deny that the extrinsic goals of awards and recognition, enable me on an industry level, to fulfill my intrinsic goals. Here, intrinsic and extrinsic goals co-exist and are symbiotic.
So if I’m 80 years old, I wish I'd spent more time on moving and
inspiring my audience to a higher cause. I wish I'd spent less
time worrying about gaining recognition, which is nothing more than
a means to allay my insecurities.
I learnt this from experience, making earlier films such as Prescient where I failed to question my values. But if it sounds hard to ignore our insecurities gnawing at us constantly, one way maybe to
The following exercise shows how.
A FAMOUS SCEME from the movie “The Matrix” has Morpheus offering Neo the choice between a blue pill and a red pill. If Neo takes the blue pill, he goes back to sleep in a state of unawareness; a metaphor for blindly accepting society’s doctrines. If he takes the red, he actively questions those doctrines. In other words,
In the movie, Neo takes the red pill once, becomes enlightened and
eventually goes on to lead the rebellion against the Matrix. In real
life however, is taking the red pill once sufficient?
Everyday, every decision we make that we don’t question, we’re unconsciously popping a blue pill - applying a default solution to a default problem. We’re saying to ourselves we prefer the status quo. Operating within our comfort zone. Because beyond that lies the unknown. And our fear of it. So most times, we survive by taking blue.
If, however, just as we’re about to default to the standard solution, we imagine Morpheus appearing in front of us, presenting both pills…
Where blue grounds us in status quo, red launches us into the next
phase. The unknown is characterized by a whole new set of problems.
And a whole new set of opportunities.
What are the side effects of popping red?
1. Uncertain outcome.
2. Quantifiable downside.
3. Unqualifiable upside.
The downside exists. There's no avoiding it. It's likely greater than the downside of the blue pill. But we already know that. What we don't know is how much upside. And whether we're able to reframe our minds to perceive and embrace the unknown upside.
EVERY PROBLEM IS only as challenging as we allow ourselves to define it. Define it simply (i.e. blue pill) and it’s a walk in the park. Define it complexly (i.e. red pill) and it becomes an obstacle course. Instead of waiting passively for challenges to show up in our lives, what if we turn every non-event into an event?
In fact, taking the red pill is what characters in movies do all the
time. They take red so that we, the audience don’t have to. We want
to live vicariously through them. We want the drama without the
consequences. We want to avoid paying the price of risk. But what we
end up paying is the price of conformity.
When we pop the red pill, the downside is the drama. The upside is we get to find out who we really are from the decisions we make when shit hits the fan. In other words,
Done often enough, when we encounter a crisis, our minds become adjusted,
maybe even addicted to the side effects of the red pill. Our appetite
for a different perspective, for an uncertain outcome, has increased.
So has our appetite for risk.
Even when taking red becomes the default, it isn't automatically blue pill behavior. On the contrary, when our tolerance for unexpected outcome compounds, we build the necessary confidence for taking risks. We are now a step closer to fulfilling that bold vision we once dreamt of.
“YOU DON’T EVEN know what you want. I’m a grown-up, okay?” The
quintessential scene from the film Up in the Air where George Clooney’s
character, used to a philandering lifestyle, finally decides to pursue
his love interest only to discover she’s married with kids. She later
berates him for his irresponsible behavior and lack of direction in life.
To be fair, there were no clues that suggested she led a double life. Besides, isn’t his willingness to commit to a relationship an indication that he finally knew what he wanted? And so what if he didn’t?
If you’re a grown-up mired in the search of that elusive passion
project aka your life’s calling, well-intentioned friends and family
may well be questioning your lack of direction in life.
These are often down-to-earth individuals with impeccable work ethics. Some even have successful careers and the necessary paper qualifications to back up their achievements. Social reputation maybe validating. But is it fulfilling?
What’s my true potential?
What is it I truly want?
Have I been living a lie?
Sometimes, you wonder if these are the questions they don’t dare ask
themselves for fear of the answers they may find if they were being
honest. So they unconsciously slip into confirmation bias -
interpreting information to confirm their existing choices.
They subscribe to template answers in an attempt to justify their career path and choice of partner because they can't deal with uncertainty, missed opportunities, and the truth. After all, who wants to admit that all that time and effort invested in establishing recognition, building status and securing stability is for naught? They may not realize but they have, in an unconventional sense, settled.
IRONICALLY, ACKNOWLEDGING THAT you don’t know what you want, in a
career, in a partner and in life, can appear foolish. Dangerous.
But it’s not enough to not know what you want. You must then reach.
That’ll set you on a path of questioning. Of self-doubt. A lifelong
struggle to understand yourself better. To craft solutions customized
to fit who you really are rather than compromised cookie cutter
templates that in today’s fast changing reality, fits no one really.
Not knowing what you want is also the first step in relieving yourself the burden of justifying any life choices that are incongruent with who you are. You open yourself up to a red pill moment where you can be true to yourself and
Perhaps I got it wrong with Up in the Air. Perhaps the
film seeks to highlight the pretentiousness of modern society -
professionals thinking they know exactly what they want and have
been doing that to get to where they are.
Modern society places such a high premium on us developing the illusion of confidence, control and certainty about our choices that when the curtains are down and we’re all alone, how many dare ask ourselves,
GASLIGHTING. AN UNINTUITIVE term for an unintuitive phenomenon that is often the culprit of relationships mired in a history of poor conflict resolutions.
It is commonly assumed that gaslighters are effective communicators
conscious of their manipulation. While this maybe the case,
ineffective communicators can be equally masterful gaslighters
by virtue of their unconscious manipulation. For instance,
Under the radar gaslighting happens when ineffective communicators misunderstand and misinterpret their counterparts. Yet insist otherwise. Consequently, a default way of coping for both parties is to subscribe to platitudes.
Note: Gender roles used in this blog post for effective and ineffective communicators are purely for illustration purposes only.
PLATITUDES ARE BAND-AIDS that many of us subscribe to that have no purpose other than becoming a crutch in the long term. Consider some common unquestioned platitudes:
I'd like to think I'm open-minded and self-aware.
Relationships are about compromise.
Just be yourself.
You deserve better.
Just because you say or think you're open-minded, doesn't make you so. The victim, the effective communicator, wants to believe he is open-minded enough to accept the views of his partner who also claims to be open-minded.
Bad behaviour is exemplified by effective and ineffective communicators alike bulldozing their way through arguments like dirty fighters.
An accusatory tone. An indignant claim that the other party is wrong.
Just plain wrong. Or it could be a habitual snub. A seemingly harmless
smirk. Part of the dirty figher's repertoire of non-verbal cues that
aren't intentional. Yet such defensive and contemptuous cues
short-circuit the other party's thought process and subconsciously
discourage any attempt at healthy communication. It is underhanded.
It is hitting below the belt.
It is gaslighting regardless of the fact that it is unintentional and unconscious. It is still psychological manipulation that results in the victim questioning his own judgment.
Because the effective communicator is in love, he can’t think straight. He recognizes his partner’s unintentionality and wants to believe she is a clean fighter. His judgment is clouded. He is being gaslighted.
It may never cross his mind that he can become a victim of gaslighting. Admitting being the victim of manipulation not only threatens his ego, it also undermines his ability as an effective communicator.
While his friends dish him the platitude, "You deserve better," he reasons that relationships are about compromise. Hence, he gives in. He doesn't say his piece. Afterall, that's a convenient platitude he has subscribed to. Whilst he conveniently ignores the fact that it contradicts his other platitude, "Just be yourself."
Unsurprisingly, resentment builds. The crux of the problem, gaslighting, is never addressed. And Cognitive Dissonance ensues.
COGNITIVE DISSONANCE IS a blind spot for even the best of communicators, especially when it involves their lovers. It sets in after extended periods of giving in, failure to say their piece and subscribing to platitudes that provide them a false sense of morality.
The effective communicator wants to accept his partner's opinions.
Because doing so serves to confirm his own open-mindedness. This
only ruins him in the long run when it dawns upon him one day that
by accepting her behavior, it conflicts deeply with his own
values and beliefs. Subscribing to the platitude of open-mindedness
has made him a resentful person!
Because he has tolerated her behavior for such a long time, it stands to reason that he must have been okay with it. After all, from the ineffective communicator’s perspective, surely an effective communicator is capable of communicating his own displeasures?
But communication is a two way street - transmitting and receiving. When the ineffective communicator demonstrates an impatience and a subsequent failure to receive the other party's communication clearly, yet mistakenly believes in the platitude that she is open-minded, her partner is already too exasperated to transmit his thoughts and feelings.
ONE POSSIBLE SOLUTION to circumvent this issue is to introduce the concept of gaslighting early on in the relationship. Whilst things are still rosy, have both parties acknowledge the possibility that they may gaslight one another in the future. In fact,
Yet who wants to acknowledge that we could be manipulators or that
we’re susceptible to manipulation?
With this approach, should conflicts evolve in the future where gaslighting is without a doubt the culprit, the concept can be revisited and hopefully both parties can be open-minded enough to admit gaslighting without coming off as overly accusatory.
Another possible solution is a test of true open-mindedness.
WESTERN WOMEN LIVING in Asia have on occasion, expressed disappointment
seeing Western men with Asian women. They conclude that Western men
prefer Asian women because they are submissive. Now, why would
they think that?
And if you ask these Western women what they like about Asia, they may occasionally mention that with the exception of India, Asian countries are generally safer. What makes a country like Singapore safe for women to jog outdoors at 3am? Is it because Asian men are safe to be around?
LET’S TAKE A detour into the dating dynamics of an Asian couple. An Asian girl growing up in an Asian society is imbued with Asian values, generally more conservative and repressed than Western ones. Her parents may subject her to rules that are stricter than Western parents. In a way,
But as author of "The Way of the Superior Man" David Deida observes, the feminine moves in many directions at once compared to the masculine that choose a single goal and moves in that direction. They are free of the masculine need to live in a world governed by reason and control. Because
When an Asian girl dates an Asian guy in an Asian society,
the Asian guy, due to his conservative Asian upbringing
is to a certain extent possessive (more on that later), ensures that
his date is contained in that cage. This is achieved via financial
(i.e. paying for most dates). To the reserved Asian girl, a partner’s
overt display of possessiveness and providership is desired. Even
when it borders on jealousy. For it seeds a false sense of security.
Unfortunately, an insecurity that needs to be assuaged regularly
ultimately undermines her autonomy. That is,
Until one day, a Western guy comes along and asks the Asian girl out. Owing to his liberal Western upbringing, he shows her a good time and encourages her autonomy. Now, he has let the bird out of its cage.
It should come as no surprise that Asian and Western notions of love are quite opposing in nature. Where
NOW CONSIDER A date between an Asian man and a Western woman.
The Western woman is by nature, free as a bird. Autonomous. Then
comes the Asian man who wants to put her in a cage. No way! The
Western woman fears losing her financial independence would threaten
other areas of her autonomy.
Ironically, what makes the Asian society safe for the Western woman is precisely the type of masculinity she’s not used to. Raised in a Western environment, the Western woman is accustomed to
It’s no wonder the Asian man falls short of this standard. It's not because he's not White enough. Not tall enough. Not macho enough. It's his lack of aggressiveness that makes him unattractive to Western women. Yet behaviorial patterns are hard to change. Because Asian culture is about maintaining a visage of harmony. About conflict avoidance. Hence,
With her pool of eligible men drastically reduced, it’s no wonder
the Western woman operating in an Asian society is bitter that
her male counterparts develop Asian fetish. Rather than concede
that these Western men find Asian women more physically attractive,
they rationalize that the Western men are not man enough to
handle independent Western women such as themselves, hence their
desire for submissive Asian women. Isn't that all too convenient?
Unfortunately, embracing this rationale logically implies its corollary. That
Because if this wasn't the case, they'd have to admit what they deny
Western men of, which is they are gauging the attractiveness of Asian
guys based on their looks. Which in some circles may be interpreted
as borderline racism. And since most women embracing the feminist
banner have been on the receiving end of some sort of discrimination,
it would be tough to admit subscribing to another form of discrimination.
Yet once in a while, we come across a fella who defies the odds and scores. And big time he scored...
WHAT PERPETUATES THE notion of the submissive Asian woman and the docile Asian man? Why does the Asian man, more than his Western counterpart, derive his ego from his ability to provide for his woman?
When men offer to pay for the first few meals and occasionally
pampers his partner, it's chivalry. When men are obliged to
pay for most things in perpetuity to sustain his partner, it's
CONSIDER THE SLOGAN of the 1789 French Revolution, “Liberty.
Equality. Fraternity.” A significant turning point in the
history of Western civilization and a cornerstone of modern Western
society and its values. This has led to the development of welfare
European nations’ egalitarian approach towards life.
The pursuit of equality not only in terms of gender and class but also across occupations recognizes the importance of developing a holistic and humanistic society.
This is in stark contrast with Asian countries where pragmatic professions such as banking thrive while artists are marginalized. Especially in tax havens such as Singapore and Hong Kong, the inadequacy of a fiscal mechanism to redistribute wealth leads to home prices becoming inflated and hence out of reach for artists. In the long run, this forces Asians to consider career choices not out of passion but out of pragmatism.
Broadly speaking, a fundamental difference between Asia and Europe is
THE ROOTS OF Asian pragmatism can be traced back to paternalistic (not to be confused with patriarchal) Asian governments who enjoy telling their people what to do instead of how to think. Thus breeding a culture of conformity. Of not questioning the system. Of deference to elders and other “wise” decision makers to make decisions on their behalf.
But as Asians expose themselves to Western media and influence, the men become more aware of gender equality and the women more empowered to assert their independence and autonomy. However, owing to centuries of social conditioning where Asian masculinity is defined by providership and Asian femininity by dependence,
This inner conflict serves as fertile ground for cognitive dissonance - a phenomenon where one’s actions is out of sync with one’s beliefs. For instance, the Asian man who doesn’t desire to provide, nonetheless does so out of male pride. The Asian woman who doesn’t desire to depend on her man deludes herself that she shouldn’t deny him of chivalry, not realizing that allowing him to provide takes a toll on her autonomy.
Simply put, there's no free lunch! Pun intended.
The lack of critical thinking within the Asian education system foments blind acceptance of outdated social norms. It is easier to sweep problems under the carpet than to question the status quo. See no evil, hear no evil. Which in turn breeds cognitive dissonance. Ultimately leading to poor self-awareness. Thus
THE WESTERN INDIVIDUAL, having equality ingrained in their values
since the last few centuries, experience less of such cognitive
dissonance. Thus enabling their actions to be more in line
with their beliefs.
Moreover, higher taxes in welfare European states create social safety nets that not only allow Europeans to pursue passion over pragmatism for their careers, it probably also relieves women's dependence on men.
Yet there persists some Asians embodying traditional Asian values of hardwork and perseverance who remain critical of hedonistic European values that are about "enjoying life" whilst these very Asians indulge in materialistic pursuits the likes of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, BMW and Dyson, to name a few. Not realizing
Values are neither inherently good nor bad. They just are. There’s no onus on Asian education to be less pragmatic, on Asian governments to be less paternalistic, on Asian men to be less providing. But
Whether you're living in an Asian or European society, if your values are misaligned with your partner or the society you live in, you'll find yourself operating with more and more cognitive dissonance. As your autonomy is threatened with compromise and conformity, it becomes increasingly difficult for you to conduct yourself with the integrity you desire.
HAVE YOU EVER been in a relationship where either one or both of you
professes to be open-minded yet communication has reached an impasse?
It’s highly likely that you’ve subscribed to the platitude - “I like to think that I’m open-minded.” After all, have you ever encountered anyone who admits to being close minded? Probably not. The following statement is by no means conclusive but is worth considering.
Not articles. Not current affairs. Not book summaries. But books.
Let's consider the creation of books from the authors' perspective.
Authors of published books with great insights to share usually take
years to research their material before publishing their theories
Now we consider the consumption of books from the readers' perspective. Readers of these books take five to ten hours immersing themselves entirely in the world of these theories and ideas. Thereafter they emerge from the authors' world transformed.
Imagine avid readers who read book after book, cover to cover and getting transformed on a constant basis. These readers unknowingly develop the notion that there are many ideas in this world that they have yet to discover and that they remain unaware and ignorant of.
Such transformation is virtually unattainable by spending ten
minutes reading a book summary. But is it a matter of time? Or
a matter of patience? And even if transformation is desired and
indeed it happens, will it be lasting?
Unsurprisingly, people without patience usually want band-aids and quick fixes. But
ADHD READERS OF news and articles often have a daily habit of consuming copious amounts of bite-sized information. They are well informed and up to date with what's happening around the world. But are they truly open-minded? Are their minds prepped for transformation?
Back to the communication impasse in a relationship. Wouldn't it be nice if you've discovered a solution within a book that you can simply hand off to your partner?
If your partner has a habit of reading books, it's likely his/her mind is already receptive towards being transformed. Also more likely to accept and admit their understanding to be incorrect because
A CPA ONCE lamented to my friend about how her business was adversely affected by the rise of online tax preparation software such as TurboTax. My friend thought favourably of the situation considering that the CPA was now free to pursue tasks that were strategy oriented instead of those that required rote work. The CPA, a human being, remained unconvinced that the ability to finally rid her life of machine-like tasks was a godsend.
In the not-too-distant future,
states may disburse a
Universal Basic Income
for all human beings so that those whose jobs are displaced by A.I.
do not end up homeless. While this solves major socioeconomic issues,
it generates others.
Where our identity, behaviour and mindset used to be defined by our profession, what happens to our identities when our jobs are usurped by identityless robots?
When Universal Basic Income provided by the state surpasses the threshold of subsistence, we may no longer have to work for money.
When we no longer work, what happens to our role as providers? What happens to our self-esteem? More importantly, where does value lie?
When we can no longer motivate human beings with money, we can only
appeal to their sense of purpose. Likewise, time will no longer be
money. Time will become a measure of purposeful activity.
Purpose, meaning, fulfillment and calling may well define the human condition in an A.I. prevalent world.
I FOUND MY life’s calling when I was 25 and an aspiring filmmaker in New York. But I failed to act. I got mired in my family’s ailing business. I did a two year corporate stint. I started a trading business. Ironically trading my calling to keep up with the Joneses. Until I saw a friend act on his calling when he started his fashion label. That got me acting on mine.
How many of us have yet to discover our life’s calling?
How many of us have discovered our life’s calling but like me, got sidetracked and decided to keep up with the Joneses?
27 July 2007 marked my last day in the corporate realm. In a world increasingly driven by A.I. and financial security provided by the state, what we lose in our jobs, we gain in our purpose.
Exactly twelve years since that fateful day, the vision I woke up with, the reason I choose to tell stories about the human spirit, the drive that has all along been fuelling my why is
THE STAIRCASE IS a Netflix series about the true story of how novelist Michael Peterson returns home to find his wife lying in a pool of blood and is subsequently on trial for murder. Because the victim’s death could’ve been an accident that involved no foul play, it is reasonable to assume that
But this is not about how to prevent something unjust like this from happening to you. This is about the life lessons gleaned from how Peterson deals with the aftermath. The following contains spoilers. You’re recommended to watch the series in its entirety before reading on.
PETERSON IS FOUND guilty in 2003 by the jury and he serves a
life sentence. By 2011, Peterson, then 68, has aged considerably.
He knows he is wrongly convicted. He believes in his own
innocence. Yet by this point, having already served 8 years, he
has come to terms with the fact that he is going to die in
prison for a crime he didn't commit.
Then in 2011, in the face of new evidence, an appeal is filed and the possibility of a retrial surfaces. The following is what we can learn from his traumatic life experience.
MOST FAMILIES BREAK up when fathers end up in prison. For Peterson, his side of the family (2 brothers, 4 children) remains intact the entire time. Granted that in Peterson's case, it’s not as if a non-existent spouse could simply take the kids and leave. It also helps that his children were at least in their late teens when he was tried. Nonetheless, it attests to their fine upbringing that the children never failed to be there to support him at almost every hearing. It truly speaks volumes when
In 2011, the victim’s sister, Peterson’s sister-in-law rails against Peterson in court when she finds out he is going to be released. Later, Peterson tells his daughters, “Don’t hate. Don’t get caught up in that. You can see that in her face. Her eyes. Her hands.” No matter how unfair and unjust life is,
While being locked up, Peterson kept everything inside of him for years and years. Upon his release under house arrest, he notices that everything for him in his new world is so emotionally powerful. Everything is making him cry. He can finally grief for his wife. Then he realizes he is crying not just for what he lost, but also for what he regained. And that
During his house arrest, Peterson declares himself legally indigent. The legal process has drained him of his financial resources. In reminiscing his younger days, he remembers wanting to live a life with no regrets. Yet now as an old man, he admits that his
By 2016, Peterson desperately wants to be free from the “bondage of the judicial system.” He wants his lead attorney Rudolf to end it without the hassle of a retrial. Rudolf advises him that it’s not the best time to negotiate after they just got their ass kicked. He surmises that the state probably doesn’t want a retrial either but is forced to because they have to be accountable to Peterson’s sisters-in-law who still believe he is guilty. Like a game of poker, Rudolf suggests filing a couple of motions to bluff them. Because it’s not always about justice. It’s about
When they realize they can’t get the state to reach a resolution and a retrial is unavoidable, Peterson's family is disappointed. They get together to discuss their options. Peterson’s daughters want to put up the good fight for the sake of principle. To clear their father’s name. For justice. To point out the system is flawed and needs to change. His sons disagree. For them, victory is not about beating a flawed system. It’s about being with family. In the end, Peterson comes to the realization, “I lose. But I don’t care. My kids are not going to lose. Because they don't care.”
Many people in reaching old age, reflect on their lives and conclude what life is all about. It’s human nature to want to rationalize. To impose a certain logic. To explain life. Yet for Peterson, there’s no such profundity.