Vanity Wipe Part II: the How’s

In the last part of the Vanity Wipe series, we’ve gone through some reasons why vanity should be wiped out, or at least smudged to the best of our ability. Not only might it stand between you and mastery, caring excessively of others’ opinions (whether consciously or unconsciously) might lead to you waking up wide-eyed at 5AM twenty years from now, breaking a cold sweat because you have no idea who the person in the mirror is. (Read it more in-depth here).

So now you’re ready! You have the sponge in your left hand and gel in the right, ready to wipe this beast of a pest out of your life. I’m grateful for your enthusiasm, but maybe hang that sponge up and put your shower gel down for a moment. Bring out a comfortable hammock, and some mju because we might have to sit down and think… for quite some time. Because you see, in order to wipe out vanity, you need to figure out what will inherit its place first.

Like I said in the previous article, vanity is here because it benefits us. It gives us a sense of self-worth, albeit from other people. So before you think of going off life-support from applause, think first of what nectar your life will be absorbing next. The best answer, as anyone who has had some casual brushes with self-help books know, is to get that love from the well of our own hearts.

And as anyone who has tried could testify, getting approval from your own damn self is capital-h-a-r-d-HARD! However, before you kick off the sponge and shower gel to the corner, and storm off the bathroom accompanied by ugly sobbing, let me just say, it’s hard, but not impossible. It might take quite a long time (and I’m saying years and years of exploring, analyzing and making heaps mistakes), but it’s indeed achievable.

When Descartes realized his education was built upon false hand-me-down knowledge, he dedicated years of his life to examine all of his beliefs and put them back in (or out) one by one. That’s dedication for ya.

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Source: The School of Life

Start now. Begin observing your own actions. Ask yourself what you think about certain controversial issues.
“Do I agree with the current political discussion?”
“Is white skin the ideal beauty standard for me?”
“Do I find fit people more attractive?”
“Should pineapples be allowed to be put on pizzas?” (they should definitely not, just FYI)

Examine your beliefs and likings from topics as big as world politics to something as small as liking thin paper as opposed to rough paper, and anything in between. Then ask yourself, why? Why do I find people with six-pack abs better than a whole belly? Why did I spend 200 bucks on a plain white T-shirt with a five words on it? Why does thin paper feel so much better than rough paper?

Also ask yourself, would I still like people with six-packs if I could not show them off to my friends? Would I have bought that expensive T-shirt if no one could know about the brand or price? Would I still like thin paper if everyone around me hated it? Asking yourself thus can hopefully make things done for the sake of vanity visible. After seeing it for what it is- a mere trick to get the world’s attention- you should ask yourself further, of other reasons you might want to continue doing it. If the only main reason is applause, I’m sorry, buddy, but it’s time to put on the brake. It’s better to make space for what you genuinely enjoy than crowding your hours and headspace with mere attention-seeking actions.

Let me give you an obvious heads up, it’s going to be very unsettling, to say at least. I mean, when you question an activity that is central to your identity, it’s a discomforting experience, for sure. I used to think of myself as a visual art hobbyist, occasionally producing a sketch of a white nose here, a watercolor of waterfall there. During the questioning period, I suspected I was producing sketches, not because I enjoyed the ordeal, but instead because I wanted to get the attention of my perceived social media “followers”. Nothing to distinguish yourself among the rest like showing you’re a sensitive artist wanna-be, you know?

So I took a break from drawing/painting to really ascertain if I liked the craft for the sake of the craft, or for vanity. More than a year later, the dawn finally broke. I came to conclude that drawing added another dimension (pun-intended) to my existence, and it’s worth doing even without the “likes”. So I grabbed my old 2B pencils and began sketching squiggly faces again! The paintings probably have not changed much, but the painter is newly-colored with self confidence and a tad of detachment from public opinion. Whatever people may say of my craft, I know for certain now that I enjoy the brow-scrunching concentration needed to draw a straight line, the soul relief from heaping bold colors on top of one another, and the mind-blowing capacity (or more realistically, the hair-pulling frustration) to realize what’s in my head.

Now, it’s time for you to embark on your own journey. Again, the journey will probably take a lot of time and energy, but believe me, it’s worth it. This will be the foundation of how you’ll judge EVERYTHING from now on.

Would you rather be a dandelion swept left and right by the winds of public opinion, a swaying body devoid of soul, going where the current tells you, or would you rather be a willow seed, toiling for nourishment under the soil for a period of time, but end up growing on your own trunk, with healthy roots and ability to withstand the blowing storms?

This is also where the world outside, including and especially the fictional world comes in handy. When you know of a story- whether a piece of gossip from a celebrity magazine, the backstory of the much celebrated batman, or a piece of philosophical thought from some major thinker whose name you can’t pronounce- ask yourself, what do I think of this issue? Try to draw the parallels and contrasts between your life and the lives you know of. If your memory is not to be trusted, as most youths’ are, try out journaling. It’s an excellent means to maybe learn to express yourself better, and also make sense of what you are and what you want to be!

Now, the solution above might work for people who have little clue of what they like doing, but how about those for some reason, (most of the time embarrassment) dare not do what they would like? Well, here are some things that have helped me (and believe me, I’ve done some pretty embarrassing stuff):

  1. build a support system:
    it’s hard to go through the world alone, like a young bald bird, cold and flightless. Again, we are social animals, and we DO want approval from others. As Bertrand Russell put it:

    Head, Alfred Ernest, b.1923; Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
    Painter: Alfred Ernest Head 

    “Do not attempt to live without vanity, since this is impossible, but choose the right audience from which to seek admiration.”

    The trick here is to choose whose approval you want. I am fortunate to befriend some people of the same values and so have benefited from their strong trunks through the storms of public opinion when mines are too feeble to withstand the rushing torrents. Seek out people with the same values, befriend them, and validate yourself with them when you’re unsure.

  2. Think about loss:
    yes, pretty morbid stuff, and a good morning to you, good sir!
    People of all ages have realized the danger of being attached to our possessions, as Seneca, a rich statesman frequently slept on the floor in a poor house just to assure himself that he could survive even without his riches and influence.
    Power corrupts, ‘tis true, so try to imagine yourself without the power -and power here can mean anything that makes you feel worthy: your appearance, riches, fame, heart or brain- will you survive? If all the wars in the world taught me anything, it’s to distrust a charming man with a toothbrush mustache, but also that humans are capable of surviving so much loss and grief without losing hope.
    No friend? I can find some more.
    Money got burnt? I only need some for basic survival anyway.
    Getting disfigured? My wit will still be intact.
    Everyone hates the sight of my face? My dog still loves me.
    Losing my wits due to schizophrenia? Well, I won’t remember it anyway.

    memento-mori-18
    Photographer: Kevin Best

    If you want to top it a notch, go all the way to the silky road where we will all end up in: death. I’ve written once about the benefits of visualizing death (read it here), but here’s the gist. Nothing is worse than death. It’s the end of your life, most likely forever as we know it. The riches, fame, or knowledge you have earned will be worth nothing in the face of death. The true but often neglected fact is, you will die one day. So why not do this one thing you have always wanted? Will the opinions of irrelevant people matter when you’re gasping your last breadth? I suspect not.

  3. The “I’m going to do it even if all these people will hate me” game.
    I came up with this game when I was unwilling to perform a pretty suggestive hip-thrust routine for fear of seeming improper, though through my thorough research it’s the most effective workout for butts in the gym. I had had an internal debate for days and days, until one day, I flat-out asked myself, “Say you do it and all these people end up concluding you’re an improper pervert, but you have amazing butts, what then?” The answer was obvious. It’s time to thrust, thrust, thrust. No one commented, and the weird coach still talked to me occasionally, so I guess I over-dramatized everything after all. Take note though, this game will only work if you have a clear purpose behind what potentially embarrassing thing you are about to do.
  4. The 5, 5, 5 question.
    Now before you let the fear of public opinion scare you from doing a certain thing you’re sure you want to do, ask yourself, “Will this matter in 5 minutes? 5 months? 5 years?” Most of the little things we are embarrassed about, like getting caught speaking to ourselves in our helmet, or having a slip-up during a presentation, or voicing the wrong views with confidence, are erased from people’s memories the minute after it happened. Even if it’s shocking, people rarely stay shooketh for 5 months, much less 5 years from then. Think back to something embarrassing you’ve seen a stranger done. Can you recall the face of the stranger? You can probably recall the details of the event, but the stranger’s face will most likely be left blank in your memory. You should take comfort that this also happens with other people. What’s the big deal if you tripped, slipped a half-eaten donut to the ground, picked it up and continued savoring it? The people who have seen it probably only remembered you as the disgusting donut dude, but not your face!

So there you go. Now, pick up that sponge, squeeze some gel and scrub, scrub, scrub away!

Vanity Wipe Part I: Why Wipe it out Though?

“Be your beautiful unicorn self!”

“I don’t care what people think! I am who I am.”

How many times have you said, posted, and shouted this into the void of your heart yet still find yourself affected by people’s comments at the end of the day? As much as we want to embody the cool-hippy-I-don’t-give-a-flying-frick attitude, we often find ourselves hurt by other’s indifference or hostility towards us; or feel elated when people agree or even admire us. A good example of that would be an edgy youth posting “I don’t need others’ approval.” online just to get the rush feeling of acceptance when others like this status.

To put it more simply, we, more or less, crave the acceptance from others around us.

To crave acceptance or even admiration from other people is called vanity (as opposed to pride). In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen made a very clear distinction between the two.

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Jane Austen, author. (Credit: Wikipedia)

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others thing of us.” ~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.

Well, you’d say, that’s good and all because if the peer pressure is for the good of the society, then it’s not a bad thing. For example, rich people might be pressured into charity which means well, more money for the poor. Some Berk Sloy kids might even be pressured to finally spend 10 minutes a day in a rational manner and realize they are Berk Sloy for no good reasons.

That’s good… isn’t it?

Well, not really… because:

  1. Vanity is not honor. 
    when you do something solely (or mostly) for the sake applause from others, it’s not “real”. You might think it’s honorable for a rich woman to donate to charity, but if she’s doing it for the applause of her social media followers, then that’s not honor, that’s just vanity. The same rich woman, had she done the deed because her conscience told her to would have been honorable. Vanity needs applause while honor does not. You might ask yourself, well, what’s so wrong about doing something for applause (*side-eyeing Lady Gaga)? If you are in the habit of doing that, you’ll one day end up with a mucky sense of self no matter how many good things you have done. They will feel hallow because satisfaction comes from doing what you believe in. And to believe in something takes a great deal of deliberate thinking, feeling and comparing on your part until your heart and mind see the decision as right for the sake of being right.Cambodia has witnessed a rise in volunteerism. As long as you have a long experience of volunteering, you are deemed as cool in the eyes of younger people. They aspire to help the community also, but how many of these volunteers would still do the dirty work if they couldn’t talk about it or post it on social media? If the whole society is against volunteering, how many would still do what they do? I imagine it won’t be much.
  1. Vanity leads to mediocrity and rarely mastery.
    Vanity can give you application but not real “taste”. Some people, especially artists and volunteers, grow more and more discontented in their work because they are doing it for the society, for the likes, or for the needy instead of truly enjoying their craft, instead of working for the sake of enjoyment from their work and creation. That means you can be good at something, but probably never master it or derive the most satisfaction you should have gotten from it because you might not like it that much after all.How can you develop a real “taste” that truly makes your craft unique? Well, that needs a lot of love from your part.To master something needs commitment and hours and hours of hard work to achieve a certain vision, and in this age of easy likes and admiration from the online community, I feel it’s hard for someone without maximum love for their craft to break out of mediocrity.

    Take, Vincent Van Gogh, for example. Though his work is celebrated all around the world today, he was a nobody, well, a broke nobody during his life time. His paintings were seldom recognized, and his family was pretty much opposed to his decision in being an artist. If he had succumbed to vanity and social pressure, he might have been able to provide for himself comfortably as a commercial artist (the modern equivalent of a graphic designer perhaps) or an art dealer. However, he had a better vision, a vision of colors that he lived and died for. The extent of love and beauty he found in his craft (even when the world was indifferent to it) is truly shocking in this collection of letters to his brother.

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Vincent Van Gogh, aged 19. Photographed by Jacobus Marinus Wilhelmus de Louw.

“[…] and I also have nature and art and poetry, and if that isn’t enough, what is?” ~ Vincent Van Gogh, Ever Yours: The Essential Letters.

 

Might I emphasize the fact that he was living on a shoestring budget that was mostly sponsored by his brother (an act which plagued and made Vincent guilty his whole life). Again, he could have abandoned his particular style of art, and embraced the commercially-prosperous popular style (which was more realistic) at the moment because he could pretty much draw this at the age of nine. NINE!

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The Dog – 1862. Made when Vincent was nine years old. (Credit: WikiArt)

Had he embraced the public opinion’s of what constituted a good painting, he would have had Vincent the realistic and well-off painter rather than Vincent Freaking Van Gogh, the master of impressionist colors.

  1. Knowledge vs. wisdom.
    To be very susceptible to the opinions of others around you means you are less likely to dare to break off from the norms even when it’s necessary. And I’m not only saying this to old conservative people, I’m also side-eyeing, you, the young millennial who thinks you are untouched by social conventions. You might think you’re not controlled by Khmer society, but I bet you are more or less affected by western standards: 6-pack-abs, traveling, entrepreneurship, environmentalism, yoga, fitness, tanned-skin, art-loving. Ring a bell, anyone?I’m not saying you shouldn’t be into any of this (God knows I’m like half of these already myself), or that to be inspired by an idea is bad. No. I’m just saying that you need to take a closer look at your desire to do these things. Have they been sufficiently digested to make them your own, or did you adopt them because you thought it was the right thing to do (because westerners are doing it)? For that’s when knowledge and wisdom depart. Knowledge is merely knowing something whereas wisdom is something you get by reflecting and digesting the knowledge you have gained. Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin puts it very clearly by saying:

    51ewf4mndml-_sx403_bo1204203200_“Even when what [beliefs] has been handed down is true, it is not your truth. To merely accept anything without questioning it is to be someone else’s puppet, a second-hand person. Beliefs can be handed down. Knowledge can be handed down. The goal of philosophy is wisdom. […] Wisdom requires questioning what is questionable. Since everything is questionable, wisdom requires questioning everything. That is what philosophy is- the art of questioning everything.” ~ Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, The Experince of Philosophy 

    “The cool white people are doing it; therefore, I must also do it.” That’s as bad as “My parents have done it; therefore, I must also do it.”

  2. Vanity leads to status anxiety.
    Now as if the previous three effects are not bad enough for our satisfaction in life, vanity or caring excessively of others’ perception of us causes a type of anxiety termed by Alain de Botton as status anxiety. (Check out his documentary and short video on the subject). Status, you should know, is your place in society and it subsequently dictates how you should behave, and treated by other people.Before democracy and capitalism, status was pretty much a fixed thing. You could not do much to change your status which was probably assigned to you by birth. If you were born into a wealthy or a royal family, you would be automatically deemed as honorable and worthy of respect. Praises would be sung in your honor and people would bow when you walked by. Your neighbour would not dare to let their dogs shit on your lawn. If you were born into a peasant family, there was nothing much you could do other than to farm, maybe slave for one temple or two, have 8 kids and die. All of its disturbing and unethical effects aside, this sort of society had one benefit ours do not. It decreased the anxiety we had regarding our status in life. We KNEW our places and was forced to be contented because there was nothing much to do about it anyway.Well, that’s obviously not the case now. The self-made-person is all the rage these days. Our new trend is to make your own life no matter where you came from. We have the power to become successful, the self-help authors tell us. While that’s liberating, it also leaves us with a sense of uneasiness and fear. Above all, it left the definition of success pretty much open.

    If you were born as a peasant 1,000 years ago in Cambodia, you would be deemed successful if your fields were fertile, you married well, and your children survived. If you are born as a peasant now, what would be called success? Some would say if you could care for your fields, you would be successful. Others would say, ditch your fields, become a business-person and make a million dollars. Some would tell you to become a scholar and write poems about how much you miss the green fields. The problem lies not in any of these choices, but in your justification for the choice. If you mostly depend your choice upon what others praise, then it’s problematic.

    To illustrate this, let’s say this happened during the golden 60’s when being teacher was the most honorable thing a Khmer citizen could be. They said being a teacher, you could inspire the next generations of kids, you could serve your country and culture. These seemed reasonable enough and so you decided to ditch your fields, and made for Phnom Penh to become a teacher. All was well and good until you time-travelled and arrived in 2017 when teaching has become a minor thing and a successful entrepreneur is what everybody is told to aspire to be.

    You decide to continue teaching, but something is missing now. Teaching becomes less of an enjoyment, and more of a chore. You see? We fall into this trap very easily because if you look hard enough, there are always good reasons to do one thing or another. Teaching has its pros; so does being an entrepreneur or an artist, or a hermit. When you choose something (because it’s popular) and justify your decision by listing all the good things you’ve heard others said, you’re falling into the tricky trap of disguised vanity and status. You’re making yourself vulnerable to the changing tide of public opinion as to who deserves what level of “status” in this society. This makes you more prone to want to be in the “loop” as to what’s popular at the moment, and more and more anxious to stay relevant.

    You start posting selfies with long motivational captions. You record yourself doing ridiculous stuff for fame and a few likes from your friends or a thousand from your fans. You slave yourself away everyday to work on something you have no real passion in for the sake of being called “inspiring”.

    See? Falling trap to vanity leads you status anxiety which in turns leads to a lack of life satisfaction, and many many embarrassing photos online and maybe even years of toiling in the wrong field.

So what then? If vanity is so bad, then why can’t we seem to get out of it? You are vain, I am vain, we are all vain. That’s because we are social animals. We’re literally wired to feel good when we fit in and bad when we’re isolated (because that would mean dying out of the pack). Does that mean we can never escape it? Maybe, but I believe we can always become aware of it and consequently decrease vanity’s influences on us. How? Read part II of the series here!

How to Not Be an Existential Crippling Little Shiz

It’s 7 in the morning. Sunshine has completed its slow invasion into your bedroom. Outside, you can hear the regular hum of the traffic, of the usual faceless people who are like bees, always buzzing, always have places to go and people to see. As for you, you are lying quite unmovingly on your bed. The ceiling has been the target of your stare for the past ten minutes. If you tilt your head at just the right angle, those three dots on the ceiling actually resemble a smile. But you don’t want to smile, or cry. You’re just lying numb. Compared to the bee people outside, you feel like a rotten tree bark, rooted to one place, slowly slowly wasting away.

Sounds familiar? This is usually my friend’s usual “Oh, my God. What do I do with my life now?” episode after finishing a very good game, but to some people, this can easily be their every morning. You know, to the people who cannot help but constantly think about what they are doing with their life, and always on the lookout for ways to improve.

These people are natural tinkerer. They like to take apart a system, and then figure out how to improve it better. Involve them in a project, and before you know it, you are bombarded with observations and suggestions to make it run smoother.

And they have the same attitude towards life. They like to contemplate life from the outside and would like to ideally find ways to make it perfect. You see these people reading self-improvement books, trying out all the crazy yoga classes, and talking about “finding the meaning of life” with a person they just met 10 minutes ago, or reading this post. (I mean… if you read my blog, admit it, you’re one of us. Welcome home, Tinkerer #205, your spot of the ceiling is there from 5-6pm.)

Jokes aside though, even if it feels very satisfying and undoubtedly helpful to reflect upon your life once in a while, it can become quite inconvenient once you’re in the mood for it for a whole month and cease to be able to function normally in your life.

“Hey, you wanna grab breakfast?”
“No, I can’t. I don’t even know if breakfast is good for you or not, and I have to think about whether to quit my part time job to finally establish that goat farm I’ve always wanted, or should I quit school and become the next Bill Gates? Or…. maybe I should just sell everything and spontaneously move to Thailand and resume a new identity.”

“Uhmmm… okay… Maybe breakfast tomorrow then?”

Weirded-out friends aside, this constant contemplation of life also depletes your energy.

“To being with, it (work) fills a good many hours of the day without the need of deciding what one shall do. Most people, when they are left free to fill their own time according to their own choice are at a loss to think of anything sufficiently pleasant to be worth doing. And whatever they decide on, they are troubled by the feeling that something else would have been pleasanter,” said Bertrand Russell.

It also leaves you with a feeling of guilt because what are you doing with your life by just staring blankly into the air? You decide on something, say, you would like to become the next tortured artist, and you have a goal of improving your sketching techniques.  Day one, you watch a YouTube tutorial and sketch for 30 minutes. Day two, you sketch for another 30 minutes. Day three, you are looking up at the three dots on your ceiling, and spend 30 minutes wondering if you really wish to be an artist after all? What if being the owner of a dog shelter is really your dream?

And so you go back and forth between setting goals, feeling insecure, giving up and feeling guilty.

This is an extremely depressing process because as a tinkerer, you want to be better in life, but you seem to be caught in this perpetual cycle of setting goals and not completing them and stuck staring at nothing for hours on end and the lights at the end of the tunnel seems so far away.

But don’t you worry because there is a simple yet elegant system to keep your daily crisis at bay. The idea is originally from this post, and you should definitely check it out because damn, that person could write!

Anyhow, the idea is to stop yourself from thinking about life. Descend from the cloud of contemplation and actually live out your life.

Think of it like this, you are in a dark room and the only way to get out is to find a hidden door. You can either sit in a corner and think and think and think of where the door should be, or you can get up, feel around and figure it out along the way. And life? Life is a beautiful little dark trap. I don’t think anyone has ever found a door out successfully by just thinking about it (except for Buddha, but that’s a rant for another time). Most people learn to live a better life by groping shakily in the dark and gradually accumulate wisdoms on where to go and what to do. The point is, live life. Stop thinking about what to do and just do it! You will figure it out along the way and you can always take a new turn.

“But how about life contemplation? Is life even worth living if we don’t get to think about it?” you scream. Yes, Tinkerer #205, I hear you. I knew you would feel very irky if I told you to stop thinking, and just living which is why you should incorporate what I call a Meta Day in your month. A Meta Day is the day that you stop living and just do your thinking.

This is how it works.

These past two months, I’ve actually had a routine set up, you know, wake up at this time, do laundry at this day, and sketch at this hour. It’s so regular that my new breakfast place has my order and no-plastic-straw-request memorized. The goal is to free you of as much decision making as possible. You just KNOW what to do most of the time.

I have also chosen the 15th of every month as a Meta Day just because I fancy the fact that it’s the middle of the month. You can choose any day of the month, really. On Meta Day, I use my saving for the month to have a small getaway from town, preferably alone. Needless to say, you don’t have to flee town, but it does help make the Meta Day more exciting. On that day, I just lounge around and think about life. That’s it, none of the usual routine. Then I write down what I should change and/or try out (like maybe I don’t want to improve sketching for now).

After Meta Day, I descend from the cloud and live out my life with newly altered routines to accommodate the changes I have written down (like changing my sketching session to blogging). And the most reassuring point is that I won’t be allowed to change the life direction or routine until my next Meta Day comes around, so suck that, three dots on the ceiling!

I have been doing this for the past two months, and it still amazes me at the amount of help such a simple set up can bring. There you go! Try it out a month or two and see for yourself!

Sugar, Spice and Everything Logical

For a society whose children pretty much memorize the four Prum Viha Thor (roughly translated as the four Brahma’s houses, or good knowledge to house your mind), and for a country which has, through toil and sweat, built literally hundreds of enormous statues symbolizing those four principles (the Bayon Temple, everyone?), the lack of its practice, even in the most “cultured” of citizens, is astonishing.

Meta, Karuna, Obekha, Mutita.
Meta, Karuna, Obekha, Mutita.
Meta, wait, what do these mean again?

When recited too often, with not much explanation, and even less examples in reality have made these concepts too abstract, so abstract that they remain mere letters strung on a paper, rather than practices where you mind should reside in.

Now try blanking your mind, and take a long look at the people you see for a day:

  • How many of them scowl at passer-bys in traffic with their brows knotted, eyes suspiciously screwing, with a barely noticeable sigh? I’m absolutely certain that you’ve been one of them. Or maybe you are looking at these scowling commuters with a scowl firmly fixed upon your face right now! Would you feel this annoyed if you tried to be a bit more understanding?
    “Yes, he’s cutting the line. But then again, he’s probably never had a proper education and was never really taught to think about the little things he does on the road.”
  • How many of the gossips you have overheard would be non-existent if only these people were more open to the possibility that *gasp* maybe they are not the only credible judge in the universe? That others are entitled to have their own motives, struggles and choice as well?
    “She’s so fat…. and that is probably because she feels too helpless in trying to change the way things are.”

When the news of a tragic young teen suicide reaches the public, you bet your ass there are going to be an unending stream of comments which resemble these:

“That kid had everything one could wish for. What a shame she killed herself! Such a waste of space.”

“She was so young, so fresh. I just don’t understand. She shouldn’t have done it.”

“Just a spoilt kid who didn’t know how to handle life.”

Now, how many of the “judges” put the efforts in trying to understand the circumstantial evidence, motives, and influences of the case before handing out their verdicts?

This is an unpopular opinion, but I believe even the government deserves our empathy. What sort of fucked up thing happened to make some of them this corrupted, selfish and so woefully incompetent? As much as I want to dish on the 2017 New Year road sign, if you really think about it, how many competent people are really working for the government? What were the alternatives they had? Or maybe… Maybe that was all they had learnt. Some time before this new year, an official ended his/her day with a sense of pride in his/her chest, believing he/she just made a great contribution to the celebration of his nation’s coming new year.

Of course, at this point, many simply give up on being empathetic altogether because it makes them wushy-smushy. It makes sense that when you are constantly trying to glimpse from others’ viewpoints, there’s this threat of losing your own footing, and the sight from your stance. That’s the risk of not putting your equally valid wants and needs on the agenda.

If you just charge straight from empathy to decision without adding more digits, you might find yourself transformed by your decisions (or lack thereof) into a passive little weed, swaying hither and tither by the wind of people’s perspective, unable to hold a firm stance and introduce any change.

  • That old cocky guy who cut you off in traffic might never learn he’s not as smooth on the road as he thinks he is
  • Your overweight friend who keeps chomping down an alarming amount of weight might never have the push to finally don the gym armor and work out
  • Kids might just get influenced by romanticized suicide (born out of too much empathy, I dare say), and choose to reach the light at the end of the tunnel by themselves instead of braving the road bumps when some minor inconvenience happens
  • and probably the worst of all, our government might just stay slothy, corrupted and continue to produce eye-jarring designs year after year after year.

 

This is exactly when logic comes into play.

After thoroughly (as thoroughly as you can) analyzing the problem from others’ standpoint, zoom out, and zoom back into your own flesh just to make sure you don’t become that boneless little weed. Many nice people run the risk of burning out by being overly compassionate, helping people all the time without taking their own needs and wants into account (we can’t all be Buddha, you know).

Some altruists might claim to be eating just for the sake of having energy to do noble services to others. Well, wouldn’t it be a nicer world to live in, if those altruists also enjoy eating and still able to help people?

Come back into your own perspective. What do you think of this? How does this action affect your wellbeing? For example, you might see where an abusive friend of yours is coming from. They might have had a terribly abusive childhood. Their efforts in building a codependent squad might stem from their insecurity and abandonment issues. Yes, you can see all these motives and past heartbreaks, but how about your side of the sob story? How have you been affected by their actions? Are you willing to put up with their problematic behavior?

And after that, assume you are a floating eye connected wirelessly to a mob of consciousness somewhere looking down at the issue. In case you didn’t catch that totally awesome simile, it’s to look at the issue more objectively (well as objectively as your human flesh allow, anyway). This is done to determine the best course of action which would be in the best interest of the both of you. By doing so, you might:

  • end up creating a workshop, or a social media campaign which aims to educate older people of the little do’s and don’ts on the road.
  • having a heart-to-heart with your friend, and maybe also become her gym buddy.
  • donating to mental illness organizations who provide consultation for suicidal folks.
  • ending a friendship on a relatively good term
  • or when next year comes rolling around, you might try to create a petition for the government to hold a bid for the best design firms for their logo because you’re sure even you can beat last year’s record.

Or… you can just do nothing. But this doing of nothing, laced with empathy is, I believe, still better than doing nothing laced with bitterness and hatred. Buddhism says that to hold onto anger is like palming a burning charcoal. Continue doing it, you burn your palm. Throw it at people, it scorches their bodies. Why not just throw it into the bonfire of life and invite others to join the dance?

In this case, at least one person in the world is less annoyed (hint, hint, it’s you). Now, go get that wall of empathy built. You’re already one fourth of the way to completing your house of mind!

 

For the Sake of Shakespeare, Cross Speedreading out of Your Resolution

Anyone who has tried to build their reading habit has had this one thought, “What if I can read it faster?” and then your mind launches into this dreamy fantasy of you breezing through War and Peace as if it were a boring celebrity magazine with a huge library of books that you’ve finished in the recent years.

It certainly is a sweet fantasy because to be completely honest, reading takes time, a lot of time, the same time that can be spent sleeping, earning money, or hanging out with your family at your back porch.
But should you entertain this fantasy? Should you want to read faster?

I think not. I mean, some things should be sped up for the sake of your sanity, i.e., reading assigned textbooks that were actually written by your professors, but meaningful activities should not be sped up! Do you wish to be at the end of your life, and say with a self-satisfied smile, “Phew, now that’s a quick life. I’m glad I got that over.”

If you have the urge to speed read through your current book, then either you’re reading the wrong way, or the wrong book. It takes time to dig depth and forge intimacy. It doesn’t matter how soon you can breeze through a book, it’s the impact of the book upon your life that counts. Books are not trophy for you to hang upon the wall.

“But I can actually remember the essential information from the book I’ve speed read, so speed reading is not that bad” you said. Well, does that matter? Information can be looked up pretty easily in this age. Books are supposed to make you think, to make you evaluate your life, to see things in a new light. Information gained from books might be enough for you to survive final exams, but to add flavors to your life? That requires more than a few simple hours of leafing through pages. It demands digestion, comparison, and explanation. It demands that you should have an intimate dialogue with the author through the work and ask questions, life-changing questions to your assumptions. And that simply cannot be achieved through speed reading.

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Don’t fall into your ego’s trap and try to surf your way through reading just to increase the amount on your “read” list. And if you’re halfway through the trap already, well, ask yourself, of all the hundred books you’ve boasted of having read, how many can you really recall? How many still emits a warmth in your heart just by thinking about it? Because great books? Great books that you’ve thoroughly read on the pages and between the lines? They stay with you. They might not always float through your consciousness, but just like a beautiful childhood memory, they will visit you from time to time and leave a trail of perfume scents on its wake.

“But.. but, this book is too long. It’s 700 pages! How can I possibly enjoy reading it slowly?” you ask. Well, if it’s a great book, you will have to bear it. Great lives have boring period and great books have boring sections. Would you rather read 3 mediocre, plot-driven books that you are likely to forget 2 months from now instead? That’s like wishing to have 3 acquaintances whose names you will only remember for a week instead of a close friend who knows all your woes and happiness. A deep friendship takes lots of time and struggle to form but once it’s established, it adds so much more value to your life than three acquaintances whom you occasionally party with. Books are the same. If you really wish to gain wisdom from the compacted thought of a person in the form of a book, to savor the enjoyment of pacing a new world, then I’d suggest you to not speed read. Take your time. Look at the cover. Spend time with the characters. Study their motives. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Appreciate the author’s way of constructing a new world through a dozen squiggles on the page. Soak in the sunshine of metaphors. Now, even if you’re not big on fiction, you can do the same with non-fictions. Don’t just pace through the book. Read it and spend some time turning the concept over. Prod it from several different angles. Draw your own examples. I assure you, reading is much more satisfying and helpful in the long run that way.

The irony here is that, as you spend more time soaking up books in the appropriate pace for you to comprehend, you will actually increase your reading skills and be able to read faster. Don’t believe me? Read a few of these blog posts about the flaws of speed reading techniques and do your own research!

https://www.wired.com/2017/01/make-resolution-read-speed-reading-wont-help/

https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2015/01/19/speed-reading-redo/

http://lifehacker.com/the-truth-about-speed-reading-1542508398

Say Hello to Ambiversion

Although I hate being labelled as much as the next 90’s kid, there come times when you discover a word and find yourself hugely relieved and validated- as in, “I knew I was not the only one to miss winning ឆ្គិះសត្វ and watching badly-translated cartoons in the morning this much”. *Hint hint*, the label, 90’s kids, anyone?

There is also another label that recently made its way into the cold bottom of my heart and snuggled in close. And that label is ambivert.

For those of you who are not sure, an extrovert is defined as someone who actually get energy (mental and physical) from being around people. They mostly get their inspiration from interacting with things/people outside of themselves.
In contrast, introverts get energy from reflecting. Large social gatherings sap their energy, and they think best when they’re left alone.

But then there are people, like me, who like to spend time alone (very much) but also have no problem getting excited for a huge event. And those people are called ambivert.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s obvious no one can be strictly extroverted or introverted since it’s a continuum. We’re all ambiverts, somewhere in between, to a certain degree.

However, if you, like me, who like parties, but also have down days. Who like to talk to new people, but sometimes would rather binge-watch a show for three days straight. If after several attempts at the 16-personality test, and you still get like 52% extrovert, then you, my friend is quite strictly an ambivert.


Here are some social life hacks I’ve found that suit the ambivert personality and can hopefully give you some ideas:

1. Seasonal fog:
There are times when you just want to get out and party every single day. Then there are times when you want to wrap yourself up in a big blanket and not meet a single soul for a month. That’s what I call seasonal fog. You just have to let go and accept that it’s part of your cycle. The moon has days when it’s full and days when it’s not. You’re also part of nature; it’s only normal to have your own cycle as well. I find it very helpful to just accept and go with the flow. Feeling social? Let’s click “going” to all those Facebook social invitations. Feeling introverted? Time to lost yourself in the glories of shows your friends have been nagging for you to see for months.

2. Social quota:
Apart from the seasonal fog, most of the time, you are both introverted and extroverted in the same freaking day. You might get up, full of energy, ready to socialize. Then 6pm comes, and suddenly the thought of you rotting in your coffin is more tolerable than running into an acquaintance and having to make small talks.
And that is perfectly acceptable. Try to observe your daily social energy pattern and you’ll come up with a quota time soon enough. For me, it’s mostly at 6pm. Schedule dates and meetings when you know your social quota will be full. And put all those writing, and reflecting activities when your social quota is down! Win, win.
3. Gathering with a large group of strangers:
When you are contemplating if you should join a new social gathering with complete strangers, it’s helpful to ask yourself if you’d have a common goal/interest to discuss or not. I bet if it’s just a casual party where everyone is there to get drunk, then you might not find yourself all that comfortable in repeating the same “Hi, how are you?” to ten different strangers. Make sure the group of strangers have a common purpose. Maybe it’s an art gathering, or social politic café. I find myself extremely charged whenever I get to talk to strangers who have the same concern/common interest. Also, if the place has a dog, you’re good to go.
4. Party:
Maybe, I’m being in my comfort zone here, but sometimes it’s great to be comfortable, you know. Parties can sometimes be your best goddamn time, or your worst cringe fest because you will be meeting all these beautiful, interesting or down-right crazy people, and what should you do? For me, I like to make it absolutely sure that I either have a close friend with me, or that more than 30% of the attendants are my acquaintances, or again, that there’s a dog there.

Well, there you go! Small tips that have made it much easier to not judge myself for my crazy social energy spikes and fall. Would appreciate it if you could also give me some of your coping strategies as well!

Worshipping Idols

“You’re so cool, idol. I love you.”

“I’ve seen you in that video today. So idol!”

“I. D. O. L.”

“អាយដូល!”


Here are just variations of how people have been jokingly employing the term “idol” repeatedly for about 300 times to me now. I know it’s all a trend and show because honestly? I’ve done it to quite a few handful of unsuspecting victims too. You have to admit it’s refreshing to be creating this culture of admiring and shamelessly admitting your respect and pride for someone. I mean, what sort of people DO NOT want to be praised for their efforts and hard work? However, just like with many things, if done wrong, this mere idolizing can mean serious trouble because if you have not noticed already, idol doesn’t just mean someone whom you have considerable admiration for, it also means this.

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 6.07.34 PM Yeah, that’s right. It also means something that you pray as part of your religion. If there’s one thing I know for sure about this implication, it is this, you think of someone as FAR, FAR above you- this enlightened know-all being who’s leisurely hanging out in the clouds spewing one genius work after another without so much as a sweat. Lowly earth-worms like you can never aspire to be half that successful.
So what do you do? You idolize them. You say, oh, he’s born a genius. That’s why. She’s been doing it for 10 years; of course, she’s fluent in it. I can never ever be that committed. Oh, you know, his mind is extraordinary. It just can’t be explained.  No, of course, he doesn’t have any flaw. There’s nothing that she can’t do; maybe save for being a failure.

You call them gods. You do whatever it takes to convince yourself that no matter how much you work, you, a chanced mortal can NEVER achieve that level of excellence.

You know what you’re subconsciously doing by practicing this sort of idolizing? You’re setting a huge air cushion ready for your future fall. Instead of crawling your way to success, you’d rather label that success unattainable; thus, relieving you of any blame for not attempting. And the result? Without the goal of achieving success, instead of practicing, instead of putting in the work and time needed for improvement, you waste your life burrowing from one hole to another, convincing yourself all the way that you can never be a god after all, so why try?

Besides demotivating you to achieve greatness, this idolizing of humans also means you are effectively removing yourself from their friend list. there-are-two-ways-to-dehumanize-someone-by-dismissing-them-and-by-idolizing-them

By idolizing someone, you’re choosing to see them as immortal instead of blood and veined humans with flaws, biases, emotional distress, and childhood trauma (everybody has those; especially artists). That’s why many fans lament about being disillusioned after getting to meet their favorite idol (mostly celebrities).
“I don’t know who he thought he was. He was not all that impressive.”
“She didn’t even know what piece of writing I was quoting! And I’d thought she was smart!”
Well, can you blame them though? You set up this perfect standard for someone, and then blame them for not fitting into the cloud-pacing goddess image that you’ve created for them?

And without leaving room for them to be flawed, to be irrational, to be dumb, you’re effectively cutting all bridges to connect with them on a deeper level. You may be able to hold a decent small talk with them every once in a while, but without giving them the chance to be vulnerable, good luck getting close to them.

Conclusion? I think what I’m trying to get across is this: it’s very tempting to put labels on people, to give them a two-dimensional mask and write them off as perfect or dumb, but humans aren’t nearly always so neat, are they? Before calling someone your idol again, ask yourself, am I merely respecting one aspect of their life, or am I effectively shining their statue and putting it on my shrink?