Saturday, 6 October 2018

Elder suicide : Meaning of life.

Sometimes death is better than life. The mortal tilt to oifene side does not come suddenly. 

It comes over time when hope is starved of living daylight. 

In the papers, the issue of elder suicides surfaced once again. This time it is about real life, Mr Ho. He is 70 years old. Twice he tried to end his life. 

Janice Tai and Rahimah Rashith, the journalists who interviewed Mr Ho, wrote that he wanted to throw himself off the top of a 10-storey hotel "because of financial and domestic woes."

He changed his mind when he realised that 10 storey may not be high enough to ensure immediate death. That was years ago.

Then, in 2014, Mr Ho went up to a 22-storey HDB flat to end his life for the second time. 

What stopped him was a physical barrier (he could not climb over the railing) and a psychological wall ("he did not want to bring shame to his family").

In the interview, Mr Ho said that "his problems seemed endless and life held nothing to look forward to." 

He said: "I thought death would be the solution."

Lesson? Just one long sigh I guess.

It has to be said that there is more to Mr Ho's contemplation of suicide than meets the casual eye.

It reports that "for Mr Ho, death seemed alluring when all the central pillars of his life collapsed. His family business went into bankruptcy and he had multiple chronic diseases. His home life, with a wife who was herself burnt out, and an intellectually challenged son, was not happy."

That's not all. 

"In the meantime, Mr Ho's friends got older and died. Lonely and depressed, he would check himself into hospital, saying he was suicidal."

At the present moment, Mr Ho is on the emotional mend, existentially. He's being counselled by hospital staff from IMH and Tsai Foundation. He is living in a nursing home near his house where his family members can visit. I pray for his recovery. 

Of course, this has to be said: suicide is not restricted to the silver-haired. The young and middle-agers may contemplate it as an escape route to a life they find unbearable at that moment.

But what compounds the issue for the elderly is their failing health and the feeling of redundancy (worthlessness coupled with meaninglessness) as a result. 

The reality is this, the moment we are born, we start our march towards the grave. Every tick of the clock means that we are getting older (not younger) and the road is a uphill climb for those with health issues after 60 when the kids have all grown up with family of their own. 

The reasons that an elderly person commits suicide are not unknown to us. Think of the end of the road and I am sure you can identify some of these reasons that experts have come up with that pushes a man or women off the edge. They are:-

"Mental illness such as depression, a lack of social support, physical illness, financial problems, fear of becoming a burden, social disconnection, and a lack of knowledge of avenues of help." 

Sadly, the suicide rate for the elderly has been increasing. Last year, it peaked to 129 cases. It was the highest since 1991. 

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: "While a large proportion of young people are likely to have access to the financial and social support of family, in particular their parents, and see themselves at a stage of life where they believe they have some control over how their future will turn out, the same cannot be said of the elderly."

In fact, Wang Jing, a coach and counsellor from Tsao Foundation, said that "when the elderly feel overwhelmed by changes and losses, fear nothing will get better and find it meaningless or useless to carry on struggling, that's when thoughts of suicide may arise."

I sincerely believe how we organise our society has an important effect on how we think society will see us as we age. And how we perceive society would perceive us can have an adverse effect on how we view our worth in society. This may contribute to the ominous push-factor to committing suicide. 

Currently, what is leading society is largely economic in nature. 

Notwithstanding earnest effort to equalise the results, level the playing field, our society is nevertheless hitched to the performance bandwagon and most of our worth is pegged to how much we own or possess. (This even has the endorsement of the current spiritual fad that is the prosperity gospel). 

Admittedly, culture is insidious, and like the Midas' touch, it changes everything it touches. 

In our case, it does not only change it to gold, but it turns all values into materialism (or a penchant for being materialistic). 

Just as introducing a new non-native species into a nation's ecosystem would disrupt its delicate balance in the long run, our society's relentless pursuit of economic growth and benchmarking everything to competitive performance and academic excellence have also disrupted its balance over the decades - with the good together with the bad. 

As it stands, it seems like the bad (in terms of widening inequality, class divide and high cost of living) is coming home to roost (and eclipsing the good of being recognised as First World Economy, amongst other accolades). 

The Sunday's article about casual snobbery by Chua Mui Hoong shows this insidious side effect of the society I believe we have unwittingly and collectively wrought over the years of nation building. 

Ms Chua defines "causal snobbery" as "the thoughtless, unspoken assumptions about class and social distinctions that leak out in jokes, off-the-cuff remarks and stereotypes." 

She warned us against that kind of elitist attitude because it "shows contempt for ordinary folk.” This is the unknowing and imperceptibly small cultural drops that eventually poisons the whole social well. 

Alas, the truth is, we can't be operating on one level (economic) and expect that the other levels of virtues will invariably follow or complement that level leading the charge. 

When we pursue market driven goals, what comes with it are short term, market driven values, which includes - whether we like it or not - materialism, consumerism, fierce competitive spirit, kiasuism, looking out for self and self-enrichment. 

The young at that age, when they are caught in the economic grind to prove themselves to be better, faster and smarter than their competitors have no time to hide away from the centre of the market driven storm to reflect deeply about what is timeless values like enduring fulfilment and lasting contentment. 

To them, to lose is to be left behind and to be successful is to have titles to one's name and possession to one's title. Their existential myopia is I believe the progressive culmination of our insidious economic culture. 

This inevitably brings me back to the recent social trend of elder suicide. 

I feel that some of the reasons that pushed them off the edge are related to how we have organised our society (in a way that primes our values towards market driven values instead of timeless principles - that is, materialism vs meaning/purpose, consumerism vs contentment and economic success vs valuing one's worth beyond the economic). 

Some related reasons cited in my view are depression arising from our perception that society sees the elderly as being at the tail end of their productivity, financial problems partly arising from the high cost of living, and fear of becoming a burden and social disconnection in a generally materialistic and consumeristic culture that values short term over long term and instant gratification over delayed gratification.

All these factors one way or another add up. And for this reason, I earnestly believe that the issue of elderly suicide has a deeper root worth deeper exploration. 

As things have developed, I think the issues are all connected in some entrenched way and it is time to take a closer, more detailed look at the problem at hand, and as a whole. 

For there is more to casual snobbery in our society than we would like to think. Cheerz.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Ford v. Kavanaugh - Who's telling the truth?

How do you deal with a 100% sure thing when it happened more than 30 years ago? Mind you, the 100% surety is on both sides of the divide.

As far as Dr Christine Blasey Ford (from Stanford) is concerned, she is sure about the following narrative. 

It happened one summer of 1982, after a day of diving at a country club. 

On a spur of the moment, she attended a gathering at a nearby house. She is sure Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge were drinking, intoxicated at that time. 

She is sure Kavanaugh pushed her into a bedroom and both of them locked the door behind them. 

She is also sure that one of them turned on the music to drown out the sound in the bedroom and Kavanaugh got on top of her and started “grinding into (her).”

After that, she is sure that Kavanaugh covered her mouth when she started to yell and he struggled to take off her clothes as she was wearing a swimsuit underneath. 

Then, Mark Judge hopped into the bed and “they all tumbled off the bed.”

It was at this time that she escaped by locking herself in the bathroom.

She recalled this: “I waited until I heard Brett and Mark leave the bedroom laughing and loudly walk down the narrow stairway. I waited and when I did not hear them come back up the stairs, I left the bathroom, went down the same stairwell through the living room and left the house.”

Dr Ford concluded by saying: “I remember being on the street and feeling an enormous sense of relief that I escaped that house and that Brett and Mark were not coming outside after me.”

All of that, she said she was 100% sure. 

Now, it’s Kavanaugh‘s turn. What then is he so sure about?

Well, as a Supreme Court nominee pending senate’s approval, he is sure that he was not at the party as described by Dr Ford. He even had a calendar (of that summer of 82!) just to prove he wasn’t there. 

In fact, he is so sure about it that he “angrily, tearfully and unequivocally denied sexually assaulting Dr Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers.” 

He even threw his chastity into the ring saying, “he had no sexual intercourse until well after high school.”

He then added: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fuelled with apparent pent-up anger about President (Donald) Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside, left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus. You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.”

Wow, that’s a lot of conspiratorial yarn to spin or political axe to grind targeted at a Supreme Court nominee and it paints a picture of how insidious and even juvenile a place of high politics can be.  

Indeed, Trump is a lightning rod for, well, lightning to strike not once or twice, but almost anytime when there is some political ”baby showers” nearby. 

So, where do the senate stand now? Both sides are 100% sure. Did it happen or not? 

I know you can’t prove a negative, but what if it is a positive that is beyond proof? 

Or, what if truth is not the holy grail here, but something more is at stake because everyone drinks from the same poison chalice in a political showdown to the detriment of the electorate writ large?

Alas, unless it is captured on video, and the identity of parties verified to a high standard of proof on an event that happened more than 30 years ago, none of us will ever be the wiser. 

I also know there is no smoke without fire, but what if this is a case of mistaken smoke from a fire elsewhere (not coming from Kavanaugh’s pit)?

Mind you, the fate of a man’s career and reputation (and possibly his life) is now hanging in the balance on the testimony of his accuser, who is hard pressed to prove what she alleges because it was some event in the distant past she’d chosen (with great reluctance and agony) to let dead dogs lie just as long as her attacker’s prominence in society doesn’t reach a level where she feels strongly (out of duty) that she has to kick the dogs back to life again. 

You see, Dr Ford had 30 years or more to make the complaint, make it public, pursue her attacker, but she kept it to herself, hoping that each day would become easier to move forward, and the pain would be further buried. 

But alas, to her, it seems almost bearable in the long shadow of silence and quietude until Kavanaugh‘s career culminated to the top judicial post of the land. 

This is when her levee of tolerance broke. This is when she came out of the buried heap of pain concerning a memory of that horrid day that never left her. This is when she felt viscerally that her attacker cannot and ought not to get away with what he did.  

And this is also the part where Dr Ford‘s accusation had bedeviled or split the senate panel in their bid to approve Judge Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court Justice to replace the outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy. 

This position for the top judicial post is no small matter because in the event of a split at the highest judicial level on issues concerning abortion or euthanasia for example, someone like Kavanaugh (with his conservative leanings) might just tilt the scale to the delight of the republicans, the evangelicals and the other traditional sections of the country.

Such importance attached to the role as the deciding voter in a split bench seems to be the tipping point for Dr Ford to come forward after more than 30 years of hidden woundedness. 

But then, what if it is true - because Dr Ford’s recent testimony before the judiciary committee was reported to be authentic, believable and highly persuasive? She came off as sincere and devoid of any discernible motive - in fact, there was no reason for her to come forward (at all) at such a heavy social and emotional toll on herself and family. 

So, based on her testimony, what if Kavanaugh had a past he would rather not remember so that the same would not threaten a future he would rather not let go? 

And what if in his mindless youth he did things he regretted but not to the extent as Dr Ford had described it? Don’t we all have skeletons in our high school or teenage’s closets? 

But of course, if blow by blow, what Dr Ford accuses is true or close to the truth, then this is no teenage angst, truancy or prank. It is criminal, period. 

The truth is, we will never know. And when asked why he seems resistant to invite an FBI investigation, Kavanaugh said, “You know that’s a phoney question because the FBI doesn’t reach conclusions.” That only thickens the plot further for the republican side. 

So, in the words of the series ”X-Files”, the truth is out there, and it is still out there, whether Kavanaugh is eventually selected or not to represent truth, justice and freedom at the highest court of the land.  

But let me leave you with one thought from Kavanaugh, which has nothing to do with his judicial appointment but has everything to do with the divided nation and divided leadership that is the United States of America and the world. 

Kavanaugh said he intends “no ill will to Dr Ford and her family.” It reports that “he choked back tears while saying that his 10-year-old daughter, in saying her evening prayers recently, told his wife Ashley that “we should pray for the woman.””

Now, while I can’t say much about Kavanaugh’s purported magnanimity since he is personally embroiled in the whole senate drama which Senator Lindsey calls it an “ethical sham”, but on his daughter’s prayer, her heart is definitely in the right place.

It is a heart that the world ought to pay attention to. Her message ought to give the world reason to pause, stand back and think real hard amidst their busy running around to outbid, outdo and outrace one another. 

At such time, what is lacking is the courage to do the right thing, to stand up to be counted. We need this more than ever in a post-truth world where power, wealth and fame are often conveniently associated with truth, integrity and humility. 

Everywhere we go we see how they are being played out. When two powerful, rich and famous men come together for purported peace and denuclearisation in a summit in Singapore recently, and all of a sudden, one deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and the other whose sordid past consists of murder and oppression is exalted as the emblem of peace.

In a world where priests are supposed to be the shepherds of hearts, they turned into sexual predators of innocent children. In a world where democracy and equality are supposed to assure us of a better future, what we get is concentrated wealth in a handful with scraps for the rest. And in a world where many look to religion for refuge from the world, what we get is a glittering haven that differs little from the world. 

I can imagine the current state of things through the eyes of a little girl like Kavanaugh’s 10-year-old daughter. It must have been a very confusing and conflicted one. It must have been a world where we are no doubt young once, but we can be immature our whole life. 

So pray we must, not just for the world out there, for the people we have hurt, but also for ourselves, for the change in ourselves that we are so eager to see in others. Because anything short of that is nothing more than a kind of insidious hypocrisy that doesn’t escape the eye of our children. Cheerz.

Hadi's arrest and reform.

Let's start off with this lesson first: Never write off a life. 

Most are shocked by Hady's arrest. He had so much going for him. 

The 38-yr-old is currently being held in a drug rehabilitation centre. 

It reports that "he was hauled up at a land crossing in Singapore...(and) CNB officers are stationed at the land crossing and conduct specific checks when a suspected drug offence is involved."

This was a shock to many because Hady was not only our Singapore Idol, he was also Asian Idol. 

His singing career undoubtedly launched off after that with great fanfare. He went on to release two albums and won several awards at regional Malay music awards. 

Hady even became a youth mentor at a young age, forming FRHM Youth, "which organised religious classes and sports activities."

He had so much going for him at that time. 

He started an F&B business selling snacks and beverages in 2016 and was famous in social media. He even collaborated with Singapore first Idol, Taufik Batisah, to produce a joint album.

This is what Taufik Batisah said: "No matter what I pray for the best for him and his family and I do hope everyone will too."

Taufik's hope and prayer sum up what I mean by never write off a life. 

If the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice (MLK), then the arc of a man's life is long too, unfailingly lifelong, and it bends towards redemption. 

A man's life is three scores and ten (70) or more (if you are a woman, actuarially speaking), and such a trajectory comes with the expected rise and the fall, the smooth sailings and the hard knocks. 

While the world conveniently looks to a rise as success and a fall as failure, a redemptive mindset however sees both rise and fall in a life as a journey, with neither classified as success nor failure. 

The journey doesn't end with a fall, and it sure doesn't plateau after a rise (unless the heart stops beating). It goes on with whatever that a life has experienced and it moves forward from there with the growth and maturity the life has gained. 

We tend to forget that the most enduring rise comes after a serious fall, and there is always the risk that an easy rise is the prelude to an imminent fall. 

As such, how we rise matters much more than how we fall, because a careless or wanton rise may be the makings of heart-shattering fall. 

For this reason, we only undermine or sabotage our own growth and maturity when we treat success or failure as an end and terminate the journey prematurely and even unknowingly.

Ultimately we make our rise and fall meaningful because they are not polar ends of a stick. They are in fact the handle we hold on to in our journey of learning, growing, transforming and overcoming. 

There is therefore no greater collaboration than the collaboration of our many rises and falls to nudge us to growth. 

Alas, the issue with us is that we don't see it that way and are thus forever tormented by the convenient categories of success and failure that the world pigeonholes us into. 

Take poverty for example. It is said that poverty is an invention of civilisation. The rich are rich because they own so much, carry so much power and are adored by many. 

And the poor are poor because they own so little, struggling to make ends meet and shunned by many. 

But that's the script of this world, that is, the perception of the civilisation we have created. 

In truth, I believe there is no greater poverty than the poverty of character, of hope, of joy, of imagination and of love. As such, a rich man may have everything he desires around him but has nothing of substance within.

So, what is to be feared in this life's journey is not so much the poverty of possession, but the poverty that is a life that goes on living to enrich only himself, leaving a trail of broken lives behind. 

Likewise with a rise and a fall. The success and failure associated with it is also an invention of civilisation. The world tend to see a fall as a failure, but what if a fall is part of the journey of a determined rise, and a rise is however a future fall in disguise. 

When we see them as polar opposites, we tend to discriminate one against the other with extreme prejudice, and miss out on the full context of how they can collaborate together with flourishing results. 

In the end, I have learned to never write off a life. Even more than that, I have learned to always give space to a life to write his or her own story. That is, to start on a fresh page, to complete that page, to move on to the next chapter with the expected rises and falls, and to end with dignity, hope and character. If anything, that comes closest to being a successful life in my book. 

And most importantly, I have learned to always be the supplier of ink whenever I am called to provide so that I can be a small part of this unfolding and inspiring journey (or personal narrative) that takes a lifetime to fully bloom. 

So, I end with joining the heart of Taufik to pray and hope for the best in Hady's life, because his story is yet to be written in full. Cheerz.

A learning journey into religion with my son.

My son came home last week and told me a strange occurrence. 

He said he was invited to a shrine - a HDB flat - and a man in his early fifties started to talk to him about the way of Tao. 

My son was with two of his classmates and he said the session lasted for about two hours. 

That night, he came home more keen than ever to know more about this Tao. He was seriously intrigued.

He asked many questions about Christianity and was told by the man that all religions are the same. That is, they say the same thing, teach the same virtues, establish the right morals, and inspire us to be and do good. 

At that time, I listened by nodding and asking sincere questions. 

Within me, I was a little jaded from work but I told my son that what was important to him is important to me (although the more he told me about the teaching of Tao - in particular - the part about Jesus and his teachings are the same with that of Buddha, with Confucius', with Mencius' and so on, the more I find it disturbing). 

Then, at this time, my son asked me to attend the next session to hear for myself. He seemed eager for me to attend. He wanted to know how I would feel about it. 

With great reluctance (although I did not show it outright), I said ok. Before I know it, the meeting was held last night. 

We met and after the initial pleasantries, the man started with this line: "Jesus is the only way". 

I smiled and said, "Only?" or "one of the ways".

He said something like well you believe it that way, so he is the only way. 

I then asked, "if he is the only way, I should then be the one telling you about him rather than you telling me about Tao, right?"

There was a short pause and he said, "But let me share with you the similarities between all religions. They are all the same, they teach the same things..."

I nodded and for about one hour or more, he shared and drew diagrams to tell me where the teachings of all religion including Islam, Judaism and Buddhism overlapped. 

He drew a Cross, he placed virtues like faith, righteousness, propriety and wisdom around the Cross, and below each virtues, he wrote water, fire and earth and said these elements from other religion corresponded with our Christian understanding of faith, righteousness and so on. 

He then shared with me about Jesus declaring that he is the way, the truth and the life, and related the Way with teachings of Tao's virtues, with Buddhism's and Hinduism's dharma. 

As for the truth, he corresponded it with the balance of yin and yang and reminded me that all other religions preached about truth. 

He said that the God we worship sent different messengers to different part of the world with different cultures to spread the truth. 

In Middle East, he sent Muhammad. In Jerusalem, he sent Jesus. In India, he sent Buddha. In China, he sent Confucius. 

And Singapore, LKY? (The last part is all mine - just jesting).

There were much more things that he shared and some of them were plain spooky to say the least. 

He said there are thousands of Tao masters everywhere in the world. They are real human beings loitering the globe to hold secret meetings and only students of Tao are invited. 

And my son (and I) have to be trained for a few months with him before we can be invited. Before that, he said he can't reveal much. 

But what he can say is that the meetings are held in nondescript locations (even in his house which he called it a "shrine"). 

In the meeting, the master will appear before a crowd of 20 to 30 devotees and he will conduct some ceremony, which he was not comfortable to share with me. 

After the ceremony, the master will carry out some baptism-like altar blessings where devotees are supposed to kneel before idols and three sources of light lit by candle fire. 

He told my son as a Christian that he need not worry about bowing down because for him, since he is a Christian, he can remove the idols and just kneel down before the three sources of light as it represents the trinitarian gods or some principles/virtues they represent (my recalling here is a little vague). 

To add to the suspense, he said the master will impart three things to the believer. 

For the life of me, I could only remember two of them; that is, some mystic cavity and a secret chanting code. 

He said the mystic cavity is wisdom to guide the individual and the code is a life-saver. Just chant it to avert misfortune. 

I asked him what misfortune. Is it like a car travelling at break-neck speed towards me or some financial disaster that is imminent? 

No, he said. And of all examples, he actually told me earthquakes. He said when it strikes, chant and the believer will be saved. 

But earthquake in Singapore is as rare as a Trump-like character being elected in our GE, right? I muttered beneath my breath. 

Now, I know I have said enough about his teachings, and this was where he turned to me and asked whether I have any questions. 

To be fair to him, he was willing to listen and was humble in many ways. We did not argue and at some points, we exchanged knowledge and he said he was willing to learn too.

With the mic in my hand (as he had been speaking for one hour with no interruption from me), I ask him how different is Jesus. 

He said he died on the Cross. That's the main difference. He even said Jesus was great for that act. No one ever did that. Not Buddha or Confucius. 

But he caveated that, and gave me two illustrations. 

He said look at Orchard Road. You can get there by bus, train, taxi or private car. From the east way, west way or south way. 

Then, he pointed at me and said his finger is Tao pointing to the sun. My finger is Jesus pointing to the sun. My son's finger is Jesus too and pointing to the sun. 

Different routes, different ways, and different fingers, so different religions but one truth.

I smiled and asked: "Can Jesus be Orchard Road or the Sun? One Truth?"

He said that if that is so, then it would be unfair to other religions. They all also seek the truth. 

Yes, I said, but there is a big difference between seeking the truth, however earnest, and being the Truth, embodying the Truth, walking with us as a historical person, leading us, guiding and dying for us." 

At this moment, my intention was not to evangelise but to state facts, at least facts recorded in Jesus' own words and chronicled thru the centuries by different scholars and experienced by billions in their own unique ways. 

For if the truth sets us free, maybe the facts, the historical facts, may just set us thinking. This was what I truly wished for my son that night. 
Now, it was his turn to smile and he said okay. 

So, I asked him whether any religion talks about a historical person, establishing a 3-year ministry here, impacting lives up till today, sacrificing on the Cross, claimed to have resurrected after three days, and announced that he had overcome, so can we?" 

He then admitted that there are similarities to that in other religion but what I had described is certainly unique to Christianity. 

"So, this uniqueness is why Jesus so boldly said that he is the way, the truth and the life, right?" I asked. (This was also where I turned to my son, and said to him, "He is unique. He is different"). 

At this time, he went on to talk about other things, still emphasising on the similarities, but everytime I brought him back to the Cross, a man hanging there, the promises he had made, the life he had led and the death he had overcome, he could not say that other religions or teachings share the same saviour in the likes, purpose and life of Jesus. 

At this moment, my son was nodding and I detected that he was quite content to leave the conversation or discussion at that. 

After we left the meeting that night, my son turned to me and said: "Thanks dad, I needed that. I needed to know that ours is different."

I asked him whether he will be going back to hear some more from the man. 

He said quite firmly: "No dad, I don't need to."

Well, that night, many things were said, many things that were from the teachings of great philosophers, religious teachers and sages of all time.

I respected them all and am keen to learn from them in the way they had taught and lived their lives.

But, I have to admit that the greatest satisfaction I had from last night was not so much what was shared and discussed. 

It was on the contrary how we were able as adults to present the facts to my son in our friendly discussion and how he was able to apply critical thinking to them and come to a decision he can now defend with even greater assurance, faith and hope. 

And the icing on the cake is that our bond is deepened even more because we had learned together as father and son that there is only one way to stand upright, that is, at right angle, just as there is only one Orchard Road and one sun that we travel or point to in faith, hope and love. Cheerz.

Ps: Son, daddy loves you enough to respect your choices; but loves you even more to never leave you alone with them.