At 20, Nizam had 12 hours to do the right thing. From 7:30 pm to the next morning 7:20 am, he knocked down a pedestrian, and caused the death of a friend. At every turn, he had a choice to turn the situation around. But each time, he chose otherwise. Here is how the events unfolded for him within that 12-hour period.
It started with a red light. Nizam, driving a company van and being a probationary driver, beat the red light. That was less than 10 hours before his second offence. At 7:30 pm, "he hit 18-year-old Chua Shun Zhi at a crossing outside Bedok Green Primary School." Chua was thrown at a distance and lost consciousness. He needed 10 stitches to his forehead.
That collision and beating the red light should have awakened Nizam up. But he continued to drive his van with a shattered windscreen nevertheless.
Still within the 12-hour timeline, he was asked to repair the van by his office but he ignored it. Again, a choice made most defiantly. Instead, it is reported that "he used it for an all-night outing with friends at Changi Beach." Here's the final tragedy at 5:30 am.
His friends, Ms Norfatin and her younger sister, got into the back of the damaged van for a ride. Ms Norfatin was about to close the van's door when Nizam shot out from a stationary position and made a sharp right turn. This caused Ms Norfatin to be thrown out of the van. Her head hit the ground and his friends asked Nizam to call the ambulance. He scolded them. Another missed opportunity to make the right choice gone unheeded.
Instead Nizam carried her up and put her in the back of the van with a male friend. He then drove to another car park and went off to chat up with a female friend. All this time, he left the unconscious Norfatin with her sister. At 7:20 am, "Ms Norfatin was cold and her fingers were turning blue." She was pronounced dead in hospital at 9:25 am.
All this culminated to Nizam pleading guilty to the charges and was accordingly jailed 13 months.
Lesson? Just one. It's interesting how on the same Home section today, you will also read about teenagers (about Nizam's age) making wholly different choices.
In the article SUDS OF HOPE (insert below), students from NUS college engaged in a project to reconstitute used soap bars from hotels for migrant workers in Singapore. Ms Chang-Koh, the college director, said: "A 400-room hotel produces 3.5 tonnes of soap waste annually. We wanted to create a project that finds a useful way of utilizing this waste that would otherwise be sent to landfills."
Todate, "more than 1,000 migrant workers have benefited from the Soap for hope project."
Then, in the same Home section (see insert), it reports that student Gracia Ong, at 17, "was among 26 participants who sat within an orchestra during a concert." The project started by the Orchestra of the Music Makers was to "allow its audience to appreciate classical music at such close proximity to the performers."
Gracia remarked, "It was an eye-opening experience. I felt my spirits soar with the pulse of the music."
Here, I always wonder, "what makes kids like Nizam so different from kids mentioned in the other articles?" How does one nurture life-affirming values as compared to reckless ones?
At this juncture, some experts will tell you about the four "Fs" of human motivation (or basic instincts for survival). They are Fight, Flight, Food and Reproduction (Sex). Compromising on any one of them and the survival of our species would hang on a knife edge.
But that's for survival, which we have done not only exceedingly well over the thousands of years, we are also currently at the top of the so-called food chain. We have in other words beaten all odds and are now shaping the world to suit our needs and aspirations - for good or bad.
However, asking deeper and further, what makes us more than just about fighting, taking flight, filling our stomach and reproducing like rabbits? Let me offer my two-cents' worth here.
In addition to the 4 "Fs" above, I add these four "Fs" to the mix - Family, Friends, Future and Fulfillment. Family and friends are self-explanatory. They play a part. However, I do not know Nizam's background. So I will move on with "future" and "fulfillment".
I believe that we will not feel that we have stake in our future if we cannot see how we can find fulfillment or meaning in it. Without meaning, we will live our life on a day-to-day basis relying on our baser instincts (that is, the first four "Fs").
Undeniably, we are all meaning-makers. It is in our existential DNA. A child asks tough questions all the time. When confronted with death, they ask more about the "whys" than the "hows". It is the same when divorces, retrenchment, poverty and terminal illness happen. Kids want to know the meaning of it all, the purpose of why they are born. As such, successes and failures are not so much about how-we-do-it, but ultimately it is about why-we-bother in the first place.
So, between teenagers like Nizam and the others in the Suds and the Orchestra projects, each of them tells of a life struggling to find meaning and fulfillment, and a future where all that can be realized.
For the kids in the Suds project, it is about finding meaning in making a difference. For kids in the Orchestra project, it is about finding meaning in appreciating the beauty of life in the arts. And even for Nizam, it is about finding meaning in a future they can have a stake in and be fulfilled in the roles they will be playing as a husband, father, son and citizen.
As such, I believe leading a purpose-driven life makes all the difference and it keeps us all contributing meaningfully to society - a way of giving back.
So, let me end with this quote: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him a lifetime." I guess the same goes with meaning and fulfillment with this tweak: "Tell a kid to behave and he will last a day. Instill in him a sense of purpose and he will last a lifetime, and most likely influence many lifetimes." Cheerz.