Saturday, 30 June 2018

Vigilante Justice on the net - Caltex Driver.

Something good came out of it. 

Facebook user Kelly Yeo did the right thing to raise the matter to Caltex. The pump attendant does not need to bear the balance of $115. Caltex assured the public that they will bear the balance.

It was a good ending for all except the driver of the BMW. 

I don't know whether is it because he drives a BMW or is it a case of the perceived rich-poor divide, but the driver was not spared the public humiliation and harassment. 

What should have ended there and then sadly spilled over to a police report. 

The driver yesterday filed a police report, stating that he was "worried for the safety of his family after netizens identified him online." 

This is what the police said:-

"We have looked into the matter and established that no offence was disclosed. It was a case of miscommunication between the pump attendant and the vehicle owner on the amount of petrol to be pumped at the petrol kiosk in Tampines. We have verified that the vehicle owner was due to trade in his vehicle on the same day, and would not require more than the necessary fuel."

The police advised the parties to settle the matter amicably.

But amicably was not what the netizens were looking for. 

Somehow, they did their own sleuthing around and did it rather well and thorough. They managed to suss out the target, troll his workplace address and position, display his family photo, and even stiff out his personal handphone number. 

No private detective could match the online detective in timing, information and details.And that explains why the BMW driver now fears for his safety and his family's safety. 

He noted with trepidation that "since the Facebook post went viral over the weekend, netizens have plastered (his) personal details online, including his purported name and occupation."

He said: "After reading some of the comments on the Facebook post, I decided to lodge a report as I am afraid that these people will come to my house."

He added that he had received "many nuisance calls, SMSes and WhatsApp messages".

Lesson? Three.

If there is one thing I can "fault" the driver, it may just be his lack of magnanimity (I am just thinking aloud). 

In my view, he should have just paid the $125 and walk away. Live and let live. I know I would (on good days). 

But that's a form of moral imposition on my part. He is not me, and I can't expect that from him. 

He was just about to trade in his car and it was more likely than not that he had told the uncle that he only wanted a refill limited to $10, and not full tank. 

It is thus likely that it was a miscommunication. No one was to be blamed by society's standard of social norm. 

Alas, we may expect a kinder society, but what's more crucial here is an understanding one. 

Personally, I can be a rogue one day, impatient and even crude, depending on my mood, but on another day, I may be exemplary in my thoughts and deeds. No one lives with monastic goodness 24/7, 365, all year round. 

I know myself, and I am far from perfect. Too far. 

This brings me to my three lessons.

1) Justice. 

Sadly, I can't expect much understanding from media justice. When we hide behind technology, performing our panopticon surveillance for self-perceived culprits and crooks, what most are going for is sensation, popularity ("Likes") and controversy. 

Honestly, I don't expect much mercy too. Forget about moderation, think overdrive and overkill. 

The justice meted out by the social media is more blind than the blindness of that lady holding up the scales of justice. 

Think many sledgehammers busting a nut to smithereens, and I hope you get the picture. 

There is also no perimeters to such vigilante justice either. You can't ringfence it, reason with it or control it because it is essentially faceless, restless and tactless. It spreads like virus and leaves no stones unturned. 

Unlike a judge who sits in the court and is accountable to a high enacted standard he or she has to abide by, the media justice is accountable to no one. They are out there and are on the prowl. 

They are "ringfenced" by their anonymity and it is an invisible wall made up of a lot of hot pent-up air. 

And if you happen to be caught in their crosshair for even the slightest transgression, it is not the transgression that is severely punished, it is the transgressor - it is you. 

2) Privacy. 

It is said that privacy is partly a form of self-possession. You are most yourself when no one is watching and listening. 

It is our sacred space for reflection, correction and redemption. Take away our privacy and we are essentially dysfunctional ("not of our own").

We lose our sense of self. We are effectively dispossessed of our true identity. We become what the society (who is watching and listening to us) wants us to be. We are walking fake. 

And in a world of media justice, where the Police's ballad comes glaringly alive (that is "Every breath you take and every move you make, I'll be watching you"), our privacy, our sacred reforming self, is the white elephant in an e-fortress of god's eyes (in the form of spontaneous handphone cameras and trigger-happy internet postings). 


3) Dignity. 

To be fair, public shaming via the media has led to exposure of acts that deserve to be exposed. And the culprit like molesters, bullies, cheats and fraudsters deserve the comeuppance. 

But it can also go the other way and strip many less deserving, or the misunderstood, of their dignity, privacy and worth. The damage can be lifelong.

While the media honours heroes and shame crooks, it can go overboard by punishing those who happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong crowd, and in the wrong mood (which can be anyone of us!).

Unfortunately, it can also lead to hypocrites taking all the credit and the hapless taking all the blame. Recall that media justice with no filter and discernment is more blind?

You see, everyone of us relishes being the self-appointed judge of society, and none of us enjoys being the accused. 

But as much as we love to judge and preserve/project our rightness to others, we also stand guilty of being the accused in the many vulnerable areas of our life. 

That is why I sincerely believe that for a society to be kinder, gentler and compassionate, we first need to understand and be understanding. 

We need to understand that every Internet finger pointed at the target on our private screen is more than one finger pointed right back at us. 

Surely, we do not want to live in "an Orwellian world where tastes, relationships and pinpoint GPS locations are public knowledge to whomever is manning the server," but a world of understanding with the protected right to be forgotten. 

Kindness without understanding is superficial and understanding without kindness is hypocritical. 

And privacy means that our past no longer haunts us in the form of a playback locked in a thumb drive or recorded for posterity in the Cloud. 

Our right to be forgotten in this media age is as important for us to be human as our right to social justice and security. 

So, I return to the BMW driver with a family. I hope he will be left to his own to reflect. I hope that what has happened is soon forgotten. 

For there has to be a secret garden we go to to be alone, unharassed, that is, a quiet spot, so that we may learn to be human, to be self-aware of our vulnerabilities, and to make amends for them without being forced to do so. 

That is, a sacred space we can be ourselves. Cheerz.

Love conquers All.

When a title in the papers today is "Love conquers all," you tend to want to read it yourself to be encouraged.

Theresa Tan's generation grit has put the life of Miss Diana Goh into much perspective. 

Expect nothing cheery when you discover at a young age that you were adopted because you were born out of wedlock and your parent for whatever reasons could not keep you. 

No more than eight years old, Diana found a birth certificate for a baby girl named Diana Tan while spring cleaning for CNY. Her surname (you would recall) is Goh, not Tan.

That kept her wondering. 

The intrigue deepened when she discovered that her blood group was B+ while her parents' blood types were O+ and A+, totally unrelated.

Her parents tried unconvincingly to deny that she was adopted, but Diana struggled with the truth. 

She said that: "Everyone in the extended family knew I was adopted, except me. My sense of the truth was shattered, not knowing who I was and where I had come from. Every day, while taking the bus, I would look around to see who looked like me, hoping to find my birth parents."

That was her first broken heart experience. The second broken heart to come was literal. 

At 12, she "awake one day to find her heart beating wildly, leaving her breathless and dizzy. The doctor said her pulse was 240 beats per minute, well above the normal range of 60 to 100."

Diana was diagnosed with what is called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, "a rare condition in which there is an extra circuit in the heart, leading to episodes of rapid heart rates. It can be fatal, resulting in heart failure or sudden cardiac death."

At first, she refused surgery due to the cost, that is, $10,000 then. Her parents were fruit sellers in a market and she as their only child did not want to burden them financially. 

But her racing heart did not slow down. At times, it became so unbearable that she "could not even sit up, let alone go to school, for weeks."

Diana said: "I could not do anything. I could feel my heart palpitating very fast when I tried to sit up, so I had to lie down."

At 13, she went under the knife. It was to be the first of three operations. And she found reprieve but only for a season.

At 15, her father suffered a heart attack and had to stop working. It reports that "her mother took on odd jobs, such as cleaning toilets, to make ends meet."

It was at this time that Diana "collapsed" while taking part in a debate in school for her heart gave way. That was to result in her second operation. 

Diana subsequently went for her third operation when she was 19, and ever since then, she did not experience any problem with her heart. 

Now, the encouraging part of her struggles was that despite the two broken hearts - adoption and endless palpitation - and that her father passed away in 2012 after another heart attack, Diana managed to score eight distinctions in the O-level exams, four As at the A levels and graduated with first-class honours in life sciences from NUS. 

She did all that while giving tuition after her A levels to pay for the family finances. 

She is now 28 and is a teacher and she said she has made peace in her heart about her parentage. 

Diana tracked her biological mother down and has come to terms with her adoption. She declined to say how the meeting went. But she has found closure, most deservingly.

At present, besides teaching, Diana also gives back to society. She said: "I feel I owe my life to my parents. That was one of my biggest reasons I entered teaching: I want to love other children and impact lives as mine has been impacted."

Lesson? This morning is not going to be an easy one. There are other two news that caught my attention, and they are sad news. 

Both are about broken hearts. One is about an accident, and the other, about a heart that could not let go. 

Here's tthe first news...

Miss Kathy Ong had so much going for her. She was an undergraduate in NUS, young, spirited and full of life. Her heart brimmed with hope and joy. 

Yet, last Thursday, she met with an accident as a passenger at Clementi. She succumbed to her injuries. 

Her father (Keith Ong) posted on Facebook (on Monday) saying that "he initially felt it was so weird and inauspicious when he learnt that his daughter had written about her own death." 

Keith added: "Now, looking at you...I am thankful you wrote it. It's the closest I can get to hearing from you because I never had the chance to have a last word with you."

Keith recalled that the last time he met his daughter was last Tuesday evening "when he took fruits to her and they hugged."

Here is Kathy's piece about how she saw her own death. 

She wrote that she imagined her parents standing close by at her wake and remarked that they were her "biggest sorrow".

Then, she penned: "Time is merciless, they think, not at all fair, let alone too fair the way their daughter had lamented, because how could enough be given to them yet so little to their child, such that they lived to watch her die?"

However, Kathy "added that if one believes in destiny, then maybe there could be fairness, as every moment of time had felt longer to her than it did for them."

She wrote: "Everything in this hall has a time limit - the blooming of the flowers, my physical body, people's presence and their memory of me."

The second news is about Hour Glass founder Jannie Chan, 72. The High Court sentenced her to 2 weeks' jail for flouting court order. 

The backdrop is that last year, she was given a last chance "to avoid prison by suspending her sentence for a year, provided that she stopped defaming and harassing (her ex-husband) Dr Tay" who is 73.
Unfortunately, she didn't. 

She was supposed to attend psychiatric treatment and keep Dr Tay informed about each session. 

However, she breached the condition, and posted "allegedly defamatory comments on Facebook."

That's not all. "She even turned up at Dr Tay's new home, took photos of it and forwarded them to others."

Jannie tried to explain to the Judge that the emails were meant to "elicit a response from Dr Tay and others about the plight of her daughter," as their daughter was facing criminal charges and diagnosed to have psychiatric condition."

However, the Judge was puzzled at how disseminating the emails to other people would help the situation, some of the people she sent to previously included friends, employers and even Cabinet ministers.

Mind you, theirs was a 41 years old marriage which sadly ended in unresolved acrimony. 

The three news of Diana, the Ongs and Jannie collided this morning for me and hit me like an existential ton of bricks. 

My wife was talking to me over breakfast and I was hearing her but not exactly listening as I somehow felt a numbness in my heart. 

Three lives - Diana, Kathy Ong and Jannie - yet their fate are so different. 

Ironically love was at the center of it all. 

One conquered all despite the heartbreak (one after another), the other broken into pieces because of undying love, and in Jannie's case, love could not let go and turned into a state of helplessness, a desperate cry for help. 

When I look around, and search my own heart this morning, I felt numb because I could not find an answer to all the questions I am bombarded with, that is, love conquers all but love also breaks you and tears you apart, right?

Every morning to night, we run on a schedule, a routine of sorts, that is, sending the kids, going to work, beating deadlines, rushing from here to there, returning home, and then kissing loved ones to sleep, and then we start all over the next day. 

Nothing seems amiss. Nothing's out of the ordinary. Nothing unusual. 

But when fate or life or a force to be reckoned with (whatever and however you wish to label it) grabs you without warning out of your blissful circle of routine, and bombards you with a revelation that you were adopted, or a call from the police about a tragedy, or a betrayal that cuts so deep you can't accept or recover from, suddenly, you find yourself in a furnance of fire and trial that seeks to destroy all that you hold dear, or all that you deem as inviolable, unbroken-able, sacred. 

Yet, invulnerability is such a heart-wrecking illusion. 

It is never a consolation to be told that no-pain-no-gain (or growth) advice when what you once thought could never happen to you somehow happens to you in a way you thought could never be to such an unimaginable extent. 

But life as such gives no warning, and when it happens, it takes everything you thought was safe from you - your heart, your mind and your soul. 

That's what I mean by an existential ton of bricks falling on me when I read the three stories in the papers this morning. 

Of course, amidst the bad, that is, the circumstances that seek to destroy a soul, there is a love so overwhelming that it can never let go. 

I witness that in Diana's parents who gave their all for her. Their love is beyond blood relations, and their intention was to protect her and give her a life that may not be a wealthy and cushy one, but one defined by unconditional love. 

And then, there is the demise of a young life that left the parents broken. Yet in the midst of all that, love seeks to reconcile and heal even when love was the reason the pain is so deep. 

And in Jannie's case, my heart goes out to her. 

Nothing in this world matters when the heart and the soul are still seeking for meaning and hope. 

Not wealth, fame nor power can ever hope to bridge the gap. And I sincerely pray that she will eventually find peace and love again. And most importantly...closure. 

Let me end with the empowering words of Diana:-

"I have learnt that a person's most useful asset is not a head full of knowledge, but a heart full of love, an ear ready to listen and a hand always willing to help others. If I were not adopted, I could have been in an orphanage. I feel so lucky to have a home and that my parents loved me dearly."

Indeed, love conquers all, ultimately. And it may take much from one, initially. Yet, it gives back even more, eventually. Cheerz.

Pursuing a Punctuated Life.

I desire my life to be defined by punctuation marks.

I desire it to be guided by commas, full stops (or period), exclamation marks and question marks.

Here is how the collective works.

Commas will remind me that I need a good break from the routine. I can't be working with no end in sight. My soul can't be tethered slavishly to the profit margin dictated by another. 

This break can be a break from the loaded mind, and not space (or physical location). It doesn't need to be a holiday away, but a holiday within; that is, cultivating a clarity in the mind, a new perspective in the heart, and a freedom manifest in the spirit.

In any event, richness in life is not in a number, whether in the red or black. It is in the relationships I do not take for granted along the way, and that is the only way my soul is truly enriched and fed. 

Next comes full stops (period). It will remind me that I will not be here forever. I have no illusion about that. It's that taxes and death thingy. 

For billionaires and paupers alike will one day return to the soil space no bigger than their body can shape. 

It is thus strange that I see myself rushing from one place to another, sometimes in between breathlessness. It is as if I can extend my life with every quota or deadline I meet or with every increment, promotion and accolade I receive.

No, I can't. And the sooner I realise this the better.My life like a battery shell life is fixed. It has an expiry date. It dries up. 

Sure, I can recharge with commas, go on a break, rest and relax for a period, but soon my time to go will come. 

And when it comes, I want to be sure that I have diligently transformed my commas into a legacy my loved ones will be proud of. It is a legacy that leaves a trail of touched lives, inspired souls, emboldened spirits, and loved hearts behind.

More importantly, it is a legacy that ends with a fully contented period. 

Then comes exclamation mark. He is the tireless muse of my life. He is my buddy of fun, surprises and wonders. 

Exclamation marks are easy to miss in my hectic schedule. I missed many of them in my life as a husband and father already. 

I missed the exclamation marks of my son's wonder as he was growing up. I missed the exclamation marks of my daughter giggling at what I find most childish. I missed the exclamation marks of my wife when she invited me to hold her hand, walk on the beach alone, and share an unhurried kiss as the sun sets behind us. 

These are moments that enrich me beyond what money can ever do. Yet, I let them pass by because I am too busy to make ends meet. 

But how can ends ever meet if all I do is to enlarge the circle of my endless appetites for more of that which can never deeply satisfy?

So, I strive to live a life that is always exclaiming in wonders, that is, a life that treasures every moment and not squeeze them for every material gain exploitable. 

As such, I will let exclamation marks lead more, to allow it to open new worlds for me, even worlds that are seemingly childish, and to savour the unhurriedness of many of life's refreshing moments I have missed out. 

Lastly, there is the question mark. It is said that true wisdom is to know the extent of one's ignorance, and question marks will show me the way here. 

I am a stubborn man with a leviathan ego. And instead of exploring the territorial mindscape of my ignorance which is almost infinite, I often invade the mental estate of others with my hubris. 

Admittedly, I deplore such times and plead for question marks to rein me in, that is, to humble me with an open mind, not a closed one. 

Towards this end, the light of my question marks shall be curiosity and her soul shall be understanding; that is, seeking to understand rather than expecting to be understood. 

So, there you have it, a life defined by punctuation marks with commas as my rest, full stops to remind me of life's impermanence, exclamation marks to pursue wonders, and question marks for curiosity and deeper understanding.

And if my life is an open book, I cannot do without the punctuation marks. 

In a team, they work together to add meaning to every sentence and paragraph of life's stories. 

They guide the pages along with flow and direction. And they leave behind a consistent narrative for all to read, and hopefully, to be inspired too. 

As a master wordsmith weaves a novel of the highest standards so it is with a man (or woman) who lives his/her life in line with the highest virtues. 

And a punctuated life, in the right place and time, and given their due credit, grows me towards such virtues of hope, contentment, and love - the very things that make life worth living, and pursuing. Cheerz.