Category Archives: reflections

Politically Correct Monsters


I was reading a post on a friend’s blog on “political correctness” and thought that I wanted to post on that topic too.  But I am also late with my annual Halloween post! Oh, what to do…..what to do……..ah, do both!

So Happy Halloween boys and girls!  Hope it was a good one!

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(thank you John Atkinson for that cartoon).

Political correctness seeks to stop forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.  And I totally agree that in a civilised society, all of us should be against the marginalisation, abuse and denigration of the disadvantaged or the disenfranchised or discrimination based on religion, gender or race.

In fact, that used to be just good old common sense civility and good manners.  Something that does seem to have become a rare commodity these days – we just need to look at the current gutter rhetoric being used in the current U.S. presidential race.  The name calling, the lack of respect and bigotry on display is truly soul sapping.  The Trump is a bully (amongst other things!)

However, I do believe that in this topsy-turvy world, some craziness is also being enforced on people, in the name of political correctness, by a small minority who seem to feel their voice deserves to be greater and their easily offended feelings or views more important than others. They are bullies too.

What is needed is a change of heart, a need to have mutual respect and the development of empathy for others.  These are things that are achieved by developing relationships, awareness, putting ourselves in others shoes and by having leaders who demonstrate it by example.  Trying to achieve it by a list of don’t s does not achieve this change of heart.

Here are some examples where I think we have thrown common sense out the window.

  1. Cultural Appropriation:-  Hilary Duff and boyfriend recently had to apologise for dressing up as a Pilgrim and a Native American for Halloween.  They were accused of disrespect and cultural appropriation. What happened to “imitation is the highest form of flattery”?  What is important is whether they intended by their action to marginalise, abuse or denigrate anyone – I think they did not.
  2. In Australia, a boy wanted to dress up as his football hero.  The boy put on the sports gear with the appropriate name and number.  But the boy is white and his football hero is an Aborigine.  To complete his costume for the school event, he put on black face paint.  He and his mother was roundly criticised for disrespect.  Is the message that young persons of Caucasian descent are not allowed to emulate heroes of other ethnic backgrounds?  (notice how I was careful with my wording of the last sentence).  Which is more racist?
  3. When I was at University, we used to celebrate our different cultures by having international nights and festivals where we get to try each others food, learn each others cultures, and dress up in each others national and ethnic costumes.  Now it seems that in some places that is viewed as cultural appropriation and insensitive.  This attitude will only increase problems and not improve race relations.
  4. Just this month in Malaysia, certain authorities tried to force food outlets to stop using the word “dog” as it is offensive to a portion of society.  Specifically words like “hot dog”, “Coney Dog”, “corn dog” and “pretzel dog” were to be removed.  It was a move that would have cost businesses tons of money as they would have to change their menus, printed materials and ad campaigns.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed in the end.
  5. Many years ago in UK, a local council voted to ban the use of the word “pet” to describe our cats and dogs. These valuable members of our society were to be referred to as “animal companions”. This still did not please everyone as some objected to the word “animal” as derogatory. There were also attempts to ban the use of words like “blacklisted”, “blackballed”, “black magic” and “black death” as it offended “black people”.Yet these same people thought it was ridiculous when someone pointed out (sarcastically) that we should also ban words like “whitewash” and “yellow bellied”.

    Another sharp wit said that he would follow the council’s decision on cats and dogs even though he thought that the council was being “animal companion-ery” (translation: petty)

  6. Some words have been used cruelly like “retard” or “basket case” and they should be avoided because they do cause hurt.  But again, some changes are of dubious value. Like saying “sanitation engineer” instead of “garbage collector”.  The problem is not which title we use for the job but that we somehow view a garbage collector as someone beneath us.  I think I have no problem being called a garbage collector if I am treated with respect as a human being doing a valued and necessary task.  In this case, the problem lies in our heart not in our words.

Let me just end on a personal note.  Recently my doctor was very politically correct and did not want to use the word “obese” or “overweight”.  So he told me that I was weight challenged for my height.  I immediately replied that I prefer to think of it as vertically challenged for my weight.

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The Clouds are Gathering


I had wanted to have a cheery post for you today but the dark clouds  over the world have been creeping into my little corner of life.  Truly, there seems no end to the troubles this year.

Bloodshed, cruelty and conflict in Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Kenya, Somalia and Pakistan.  Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

And what is it with all the plane disasters.   MH370 remains missing and then we had the shock of the loss of MH17 over eastern  Ukraine.  Then, there was the TransAsia ATR 72 crash in Taiwan; the Air Algerie AH 5017 crash in the Sahara and finally a young teenager and his father perish when their plane ditches into the sea on the last leg of their round the world  flight as they raised money for schools in Pakistan.

When we watch all these news on TV or on the internet, we cannot not be affected by the sense of tragedy and suffering.  Generally  though, it is happening to people we don’t know and in a place distant from most of us. Still, there is a degree of separation between us and the event.

However, in the last week, that degree of separation was greatly reduced.

It turns out that the daughter-in-law and grandchild of someone I know perished on flight MH 17.  Another friend’s family was on a different flight but was due to have flown over that same airspace at that time except that it turned back to the terminal after experiencing some technical problems while they were on the runway waiting to take off.  Yet another friend  had been working in the Netherlands and had tried to book a seat on the ill-fated  flight to return to Kuala Lumpur.  He eventually flew the next day on the flight with the same call number.

And then, there was the news from Afghanistan.  Two Finnish aid workers with a Christian charity were killed by gunmen in Herat, Western Afghanistan.  Just last month, we played host to a friend visiting from abroad.  He stayed a few days at our home.  He knew both these women.  They had both served and lived in Afghanistan for a few years.  The organisation has been there since 1966 working to providing eye treatment, mental health treatment, and helping communities.

And so, in this way, some of these recent tragedies became a little more real to me.  My response is to pray for God’s mercy for us all.

There is a Graham Kendrik song that always reminds me the need for such a prayer.  Here are just some of the words of the song;

O Lord, over the nations now
Where is the dove of peace?
Her wings are broken
O Lord, while precious children starve
The tools of war increase, Their bread is stolen

O Lord, dark powers are poised to flood
Our streets with hate and fear
We must awaken!
O Lord, let love reclaim the lives
That sin would sweep away
And let your kingdom come

Have mercy Lord, Forgive us Lord, Restore us Lord, Revive your church again

Let justice flow like rivers and righteousness like a never failing stream.

Happy Place


After sharing with you, dear readers, some of the upsetting things going on in my neck of the woods, a few of you wondered how I could remain positive.   Well, I guess I go to my happy place.

Do you have a happy place to go to when things are bad, the cold wind is blowing and the wolves are at the door?  What is your happy place, I wonder.

When I was a child, my happy place was an isolated cove on a beach where I could play amongst the waves, the sand and the rock pools – far away from other people.  This was a real place but one that I would also visit in my mind when I needed some sunshine in my soul.

That sufficed for me until I was a University student in UK.  Now as all astute readers will know, there isn’t a whole lot of sun and sand in the UK.  Instead, there was a great abundance of cold, damp and wet weather.  Somehow, it suited my melancholic phase and during this, my “blue” period, my happy place was a little fir tree covered lookout point in the Lake District with a wonderful view of the valley and lake below.

When I started work back in Malaysia in nature conservation, my happy place where I could escape the pressures of working life was a very special spot by a pristine river deep in the rainforest.

All these places allowed me to rest in the presence of God the creator and enjoy the wonders of His creation.   They were all my happy places cause I was having one-on-one time with God.

Psalm 33: 8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

On a related note, a posted once  about “My Dream Home”.  I thought I would share that post with you again here,

MY DREAM HOME

I do not think that I am fussy nor demanding. In fact, I am fairly content and easily satisfied. I am not one of those who desires the fastest or most luxurious cars. Where some may pant after a Lamborghini or perhaps a Rolls-Royce, my dream car is nothing more exalted than the Volkswagen Golf Convertible and I am absolutely content with the Honda City that I do drive.

The same applies to houses. Sure, it would be nice to own a mansion or even just a large house but that really isn’t important. Home is where you make it and a small studio apartment can be as happy a home as a big mansion. I do like water though. It would be nice if the house would be near water. I would sit on the porch and just watch the seasons change.

Nevertheless, if any of you kind folk can find a way for me to live at any of these places, I’d be much obliged. Thank you.

A riot of color somewhere in the Laurentians
A riot of color somewhere in the Laurentians, Canada

 

Splendid isolation with the sound of howling winds and lashing rain on an island off Iceland.
Splendid isolation with the sound of howling winds and lashing rain on an island off Iceland.

 

Or tranquility and silence on a Norwegian Fiord
Or tranquility and silence on a Norwegian Fiord

 

Life and Death Three Ways


Warning! Super long post!  The Squirrel is in a philosophical mood.

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Brompton Cemetery, London (Picture by LGS)

Last weekend was Easter and thoughts of all Christians (including me) was focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   However,  two other deaths occurred over that weekend that made me ponder the whole issue of life and death.  Or more specifically, how our view of life affects our view of death and vice versa.

First Way

At my church’s Good Friday service, one of the thoughts that we meditated on was the fact that Jesus told his disciples that when he went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, he would be arrested and he would be killed but in spite of that, he went anyway.  A death wish?   Christians sometimes say that Jesus was born to die.

All of us die, eventually.  If we are born then we will die.  But of Jesus it is believed that his whole life led to one purpose and that was to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind.  (of course, on Easter, we celebrate his rising from the dead, victorious over death itself).   But my point was that Jesus lived his life with the knowledge that his life’s ultimate purpose would be fulfilled by his death.

Please note that death was not something pleasant even for Jesus.  He knew his death was going to be terrible and costly  physically, mentally and spiritually; that is why he prayed  “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  That is why he wept for Lazarus, his friend who had died, even though he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead.  Death is not a good thing.

However, Jesus willingly laid down his life for others because he saw his life purpose fulfilled with his death.

That led me to my first thought:- that we could face death with with more peace if we believed that our lives had purpose and we have lived it to the full.

Second Way

Last Friday, I also learned about the death of one very sweet and very inspiring lady.  Her name was Sharon and she died of cancer.  The doctors had given her less than 6 months to live but she fought on for 21 months.  She had her chemotherapy and suffered through the hair loss and nausea.  She had periods when she was desperately ill and others where it seemed like she was almost untouched by the disease.  But through even the worse of it, she was always ready with a smile and encouragement for those around her.  In fact, her friends say that she smiled with her whole face.

And giving encouragement to others was just what she did.  During those 21 months, she took care of her family and friends, ministering to those who had come to minister to her and she used her energy to set up a Cancer support group for patients and care givers that has been a blessing to several hundred people already.

This was a very special woman and I must add that her compassion for cancer victims did not start only when she herself was stricken by the disease but some 30 years earlier, she had already started to do voluntarily work which included raising money for disabled and abandoned children, and providing support for cancer patients who had their life savings swindled by con men offering fake cures.  Her efforts made such an impression that she was given the keys to the city.  Amazing achievements, I am sure you would agree but I never heard about any of this from Sharon herself.  I only learned about it from the eulogies at her funeral – which only emphasizes just how rare a life Sharon lived.

She had fought the disease as much as she possibly could but she never stopped living life as she wanted to.  She spent her last days spending time with her loved ones (including a couple of holidays), going out to eat her favorite foods (even when she was not able to eat more than a spoonful) and most of all, still serving  and encouraging others.

But, as her life spark began to ebb for the final time, she was at peace.   Death did not scare her because she was confident  in her faith that God who had been with her though it all was ready to lead her to everlasting life after death.

This led me to my second reflection;  if we have hope beyond death, we are able to enjoy life to the full and still be able to let go when the time comes and not cling on to life in desperation and fear.

This is the antidote to the unhappy state that is referred to by  the poet, Dylan Thomas, when he wrote these poignant but sad lines about his dying father;

Do not go gentle into that good night,  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Third Way

The tragedy of the sinking of the Korean ferry is very much in the news; a tragedy made worse by the fact that so many of the victims were young students from a High School near Seoul.   At the moment of this posting, 104 have been confirmed dead and  198 are still missing.   This is so very sad.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of all who have perished.

However, it was the story about the school vice-principle that really touched me.  He was one of the 174 fortunate ones that were picked up and rescued from the sinking ferry.  He had been brought back on land.  He had been given a second chance at life.

He was found a couple of days later hanging from a tree.  Apparently, he had committed suicide.  He was given a second chance at life and he chose to end it.

Why did he do it?  I am sure he felt he had his reasons.  It  could have been from  a sense of responsibility as he had organised the school trip.  It could have been through a sense of fear of the anger of the bereaved parents; how could he face them?  It could have been through a sense of guilt; why did he survive when so many young people died?  I don’t know what was going through his mind that he thought he had to end his life..  It may seem that he had wasted his second chance but I don’t blame him or judge him.  I am just sorry that there was no one there for him at that moment when he needed help.

But as I thought about it, I came to my third reflection;  when we have no more hope in life, then death is welcomed.

Now most of us don’t think much about death and dying cause we are too busy with living and death seems distant.  But I think death sets the context and helps us understand life just as we cannot really understand and appreciate light if we have not experience darkness, sweetness if we haven’t experience sourness etc.

I know I have been incredibly reflective and sombre.  Thank you for sticking with me if you have made it this far down the post.  I guess what I have been trying to say is that we need to examine our understanding of the end of life so that we can live our lives wisely.  I always say that my one wish is to “die happy” cause that must mean that I look back at my life without regret and look forward with hope.

Our Place in the World


Not too long ago, I was having a deep conversation with a young man in his late twenties.  I guess you could say that I was playing the role of the supposed grizzled, battle-wizened, old veteran of life’s challenges to his young man charging up the corporate ladder role.  Let’s call him Ben (after Ben the Rat from the movie “Ben“) because he felt like he was caught in the Rat Race and being swept along by the surge of fellow rodents.

He is an up and coming star in a well known accounting firm.  But he has discovered that the more he impressed his superiors, the more they wanted him to handle more portfolios.  His working hours began to increase.  He now works with increasing regularity to about 10 at night and I know it as a fact that he was working late even on New Year’s Eve.  All the time, he is being told that he is paying his dues and he had to make sacrifices if he wished to go up the corporate ladder.

Like many young men, Ben is thinking of getting married and setting up a family but two things stand in his way.  First, with his working hours, it is hard to have much of a social life let alone try to woo a young lady.   Second, he is concerned about having enough financially to build his dream nest.  It was on this matter that he was seeking my advice or insight from my experience.  He felt insecure with his current financial situation.  He felt inadequate.  He was compelled to work harder to achieved higher positions within the company.  Yet, he also recognised that his life outside of work already sucks.  Like many of us, he wanted to know how to balance his life; the need for financial and job security on one hand and on the other hand, the need for more time for himself, his friends and his growing relationship with God.

It so happened that we both had an opportunity, not too long after,  to visit a friend who had given up his job and home in the city and took with his family to live in a remote village to be a Christian missionary to a marginalised forest tribal people.  We visited them in their new village home and what struck us was that the house they now lived in was very basic.  The floors were bare cement, there was hardly any furniture, forget internet or wifi or cable TV.  However, there was water and electricity and the house was large by comparison to the tiny apartments many big city people live in and the children had  wonderful space to play in.  There were other advantages of living in the remote area such as plenty of fresh fruits and fresh fish caught from relatively clean rivers, clean air and a more peaceful and slower pace of life.

Ben realised that our missionary friend was very happy and content in his rural home.  That made him wonder if he could be happy there too.  If he was willing to quit his job, he had more than enough already to live this simple country life right now.  But if he wanted the grander house and all the bells and whistles of modern city living, than he would also have to cope with the soul-sapping working hours, the traffic jams, hurried pace, ulcers etc.  If he could be content with the rural life, he could get out of the rat race right now.  It’s something that Ben is still trying to work out in his life.

Contentment is quite illusive for many of us.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:12; “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  I think it is an important secret to happiness in this life.  To help us all realise just how much most of us (especially if you have a computer, access to internet and are reading this blog) already have and should be thankful for, please view the video below which seeks to show us our place of privilege in the world by picturing the world as a village comprising of 100 people and challenges us to help those less  fortunate than ourselves.

This second video shows how a celebrity music artiste, Sarah McLaughlan, made a difference.  Maybe we can all make a difference if we realise how rich we are and how much resources we waste – resources that could mean so much to others.

Where Profit Can Be So Disappointing


Headache, headache, headache, HEADACHE!!!!

Okay, I may not be the smartest kid on the block, the sharpest knife in the drawer or the greyest of the grey squirrels but I am a graduate of LSE (no, not London School of Economics but the Lone grey Squirrel Elementary).  In my simple world, you buy and sell;  you make a profit and that’s good; you make a loss and that’s bad.  Or…..if you have one nut, that’s okay cause at least you get to eat.  Have two nuts and you eat one and you bury the other – that’s called “saving”.  Have no nuts and you are a dead squirrel. See, simple.  In my simple world, 1 + 1 =2 (I’m fairly sure that is right).

So what is this rant about?  It’s about how the world is greedy and is run by GREED economics.

My tiny brain first began to rattle in my skull when I read the news headlines last week which said, “Apple Posts Disappointing Profits”.  Now please paws, I mean pause to think what a disappointing profit might mean to you.  For me, my salary is pretty disappointing cause I seem to be able to buy less and less nuts with that amount.

Now to be fair, it wasn’t Apple who said that their profits were disappointing but it was analysts and shareholders.  So just how bad was the disappointing Apple profits?  Was it a mere million? Was it down 50% from the same period before?  Well, apparently, Apple reported its third quarter earnings last week and it showed  profits up 21% year-on-year to USD 8.8 billion  and revenues up 23% to USD 35 billion.

In Haiti, people are fortunate if they can get USD 2 per day to live on.  Do we really live in the same world?

And then, there is the report earlier this year of Verizon. It is alleged that the company  made record profits in 2011, raking in more than $2 billion, while using tax loopholes to get out of paying any corporate income tax.  To celebrate, they apparently then laid off 330 workers citing declining use of one of their products!

And this is not an isolated case.  For example, there is Merck – a pharmaceutical giant!  It was reported that Merck’s second quarter report for 2011 showed that profit rose to $2.02 billion, or 65 cents a share, up from $752.4 million, or 24 cents a share, a year earlier, helped by a $1.34 billion tax benefit.  In the same breath, the company announced the axing of an additional 13,000 jobs.

And there was another recent case of an Australian Mining Company that posted record profits but is also downsizing to maintain their profit margin ( I could not re-trace the story but I did read it somewhere).

So, okay.  I just don’t understand this sort of economics; nor do I think I want to.  Something is amiss with the GREED economy.

 

 

Not Even a Year has Passed


It wasn’t even quite a year since “Hell Came to Norway” and we mourned for the youth slained at Utoya and those murdered in Oslo, Norway.   Before we had even the opportunity to remember the victims on the first anniversary of that attack,  a new tragedy of the same ilk has stricken the small community of Aurora, Colorado.

I noticed that among all the blogs that I normally visit, only two mentioned this incident and only one had a specific post on it.  I think many of us are becoming numb to the increased frequency and atrocity levels of these incidents.  I was away for the weekend at a friend’s wedding and I wanted so much to shut out all the bad news and I didn’t even feel like posting anything on it.

But in the end, I could not allow myself to let it pass unmarked.  The victims and their families need our prayers and support.  Those who lost their lives deserve to be remembered, to be celebrated and to be mourned.  All of us need to be healed.

The picture at the top of this post is of the memorial service held by friends of one of the victims,  AJ Boik. (Photocredit: Reuters).  I think the picture points us in the right direction by focusing on celebrating the many beautiful lives that have been affected and celebrating that beauty; instead of giving the gunman the attention that he might crave.

Finally, I just want to repeat the prayer I made a year ago and extend it for the newly fallen in Aurora, Colorado.

 

O Lord, over the nations now
Where is the dove of peace?
Her wings are broken
O Lord, while precious children starve
The tools of war increase
Their bread is stolen

O Lord, dark powers are poised to flood
Our streets with hate and fear
We must awaken!
O Lord, let love reclaim the lives
That sin would sweep away
And let Your kingdom come
(lyrics from the song, "O Lord the clouds are gathering" by Graham Kendrick)