Thursday, September 21, 2017

Enough About Rights, Let's Talk About Duties

As liberals, we're fond of focusing on 'human rights', 'fundamental liberties', 'legitimate expectations', and all that snazzy jazz. Nothing wrong with that. It's natural to feel that we should be gifted certain basic needs in life. It's what we're entitled to. It's what we deserve. It's what justice requires.

Yes, everyone has needs. Physical needs, mental needs, emotional needs, social needs, cultural/religious needs, and so on. You and me, we all have needs.

But someone, somewhere, somehow, has to fulfil those needs, right? Things don't just drop from the sky. Even if you're the religious sort, there's someone in charge up there who gave the all-clear signal to release the manna (Gods, angels, whatever you call them), right? Right?

And that someone has to be listening. Deciding on whether to help (or not). Assessing the claims if they're legit (or total BS). Setting down a list of criteria of what can be considered 'needs', and the process on how to apply for those 'needs'.

And then, regardless of how great your 'need' is, you have to do something. That someone up there doesn't just give out freebies automatically. Even if you're the religious sort,you have to put some degree of effort into getting what you want... um, I mean, need... like, you know, praying, being nice to neighbours, not doing unto others what you wouldn't want others doing unto you, and all that mumbo-jumbo.

Work It - Or No Bread For You!

The point is, you can't get what you 'need' if you don't work for it.

And essentially, when you come right down to it, the world only works when people help each other fulfil their needs. We all depend on each other.

As the legal jurist Bentham once said: "hunger is not bread, want is not supply".

Need something? Want something? Then you bloody have to make sure you've done all you can on what you're required to do to get that something.

As some religious dude once said: "God help those who help themselves".

The point is, you can't speak of rights, without also speaking about duties.

Need bread? Want bread? Either you be nice to the baker, or make your own damn bread. The choice is yours.

(Sure, you can wait, hope and pray for bread to fall down from the sky. But in my experience and humble opinion, it's not an option that works with enough reliable regularity that keeps you from starving to death.)

My Duties

Everyone owe duties to someone else. The list differs from individual to individual. If you're a baker, you bake bread for people who want it (and can pay for it). If you're a doctor, you heal people (and do no harm). If you're a lawyer, you fight for truth, justice...

Look, don't laugh! It's what they're meant to do, I'm not saying they all do it...

Anyways! What I'm getting is that you and I, we each have our set of duties. Not sure about yours, but here's some of mine.

1. Empathise with the feelings and opinions of others

2. Help friends and strangers alike, regardless of their gratitude and returning of favour

3. Take the time to understand someone

4. Cherish the good side of people

5. Give people a second chance - and a third, and more - to mend their errors and flaws

6. Do not impose your moral code on others

7. Do not hold grudges

8. Do not be quick to judge people based on first - or even second, third and more - impression

9. Do not characterise people purely or mainly based on their bad side

10. Do not write people off, whatever the reason

Look, don't laugh! It's what I've set myself to do, I'm not saying I've done it all yet...

It's not a complete list, but a good one to start with. In time, it'll grow. I wouldn't dream of asking anyone to adopt them (that would breach Rule #6), but it's a nice guideline if you're ever looking for one.
And if everyone just do their 'duties' right, they'll be no longer any need to talk about 'rights'.
To talk about 'rights' rather than 'duties' is to be selfish. To make up rules that rewards you gifts by simply existing, rather than rules that require you work for it and earn it. To expect others to live for you, rather than to live for others.

Instead, what makes us human should be our drive, rather than our desire. Our acts of giving, rather than receiving. Our capacity to love, rather than to be loved

Monday, September 11, 2017

MasterChef: Feast For The Eyes, Food For The Soul

I can't get enough of MasterChef. I'm glued to the show whenever it comes on TV. This means a lot for someone who (a) is not a foodie; and (b) doesn't watch much TV. So why the fascination with MasterChef?

Firstly, it isn't really about a food - we as the viewer can't actually taste the food, and can only admire it visually. And secondly, it's not a piece of fiction - the participants are ordinary people facing off in a real-life competition.

Ultimately, what I like about MasterChef is that it celebrates diversity and inspires dreams. And those two ingredients make up for a pretty tasty treat.

Your mushroom is so raw... it said that the princess is in another castle!


Everyone has a fair shot at MasterChef. White, black, Hispanic, Asian - all are welcomed. In fact, given that culinary creativity is one of the skills that the judges look for, it's one of the rare competitions where having exotic roots pays off.

There's also zero discrimination in terms of age, sex and social class. MasterChef draws in people from all walks of life - college students to retirees, accountants to yoga instructors. Cooking is a skill that everyone can pick up and master. It's not magic, or a talent that only some are born with.

And unlike other reality TV shows, MasterChef showcases minimal drama. Sure, there's always one or two oddballs with an overly competitive streak shit-talking and bad-mouthing others.

But by and large, the atmosphere is positive. Those safe from elimination will cheer loudly from the top rail at those sweating it out below during pressure challenges. One by one, they exit not with anger and bitterness, but with grace and gratitude. They hug and cry, whether in victory or defeat. Genuine friendships are formed. The show overflows with joy.

Maybe some parts are scripted? Maybe some contestants put up an act for the camera? Maybe the producers cut out the ugly bits? Possible, it's a show, after all. What we see on screen may not be all that happens behind the scenes.

But as diverse as the characters are, they are not caricatures of cultural stereotypes. There are no dumb blondes, no openly hyper-excited gays. Westerners cook Chinese dishes, Chinese cook Western dishes. The only time contestants speak of their cultural roots, it's usually done out of misty-eyed nostalgia over a long-kept family recipe.

As diverse as people are, they are still as ordinary as you and me. And that's the simple truth about life that MasterChef so artfully and subtly reveals to us.

Sarah (left) and Diana (middle) flying the Malaysia flag in MasterChef Australia Season 9


MasterChef is also about the power of dreams.

MasterChef Australia has been running for 9 seasons. Two of the winners are Malaysians - Adam Liaw and Diana Chan. Their success stories make my chest swell with patriotic pride. Malaysia Boleh!

But the most inspirational award surely goes to Christine Hà, winner of Season 3 of the US version.

Christine's blind.

A blind chef! Mind-blowing! That's a superhero ala Daredevil story right there! Doesn't her loss of sight hold her back from cooking? Nope, she simply sharpens her other senses. Shouldn't she stay away from sharp objects altogether? Nope, she's tough as nails. "Since I've lost my vision, I've cut myself once," she explains. "And it was minor. I've never had to get stitches. It's really about being organized, careful and using my other senses."

To be the first ever blind MasterChef contestant is admirable itself. To win it all under the steely glare and nasty words of Gordon Ramsay - now, that's epic.

MasterChef isn't just an inspiration for home cooks. No, MasterChef inspires us to chase our dreams - whatever they are.

Sure, some dreams are much harder to reach than cooking. Some dreams require natural-born talent, abundance of resources, and lots of luck.

But as Christine has shown us, no dream is impossible to reach, even if the odds are stacked against us.

Every story in MasterChef carries a simple, cliché but all-important life lesson: where there's a will, there's a way.

Blind but bold

Recipe To Success

I'm not a die-hard fan of MasterChef. I've not watched a full season, maybe about 20 episodes in total.

And that's good. I'm not addicted to keep watching it. I'm inspired to shut the TV, stop making excuses about the unfairness of life, get out, and live my own life to the fullest.

I won't be a MasterChef, at least not in the present universe. Like I said, I'm not much of a foodie.

But I'll be a master of something. Somehow. Someday.

Friday, September 1, 2017

If You're Not First, You're Not Lost

Ricky Bobby is a winner.

He wins races, lucrative sponsorship deals and the hearts of adrenaline-pumping fans. A NASCAR champion who blazes through the screeching tarmac with daredevil manoeuvres that leave all others biting his dust-cloud. He throws tantrums like a spoilt kid whenever he loses - which rarely ever happens. Either he's standing tallest at the podium, or he's crashing against the wall. Such is the life of one whose credo is "If you ain't first, you're last!"

Thankfully, Ricky Bobby isn't real - he's a fictional character played by Will Ferrell in the epic comedy 'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby'.

But sadly, his credo does ring true in our world today. If you don't score full A's in your exams, you won't get a spot at a top university. If you don't win gold, your name won't splash in tomorrow's headlines. If you don't land a smash hit, your songs won't be featured on the airwaves.

Life is indeed cruel. All the spoils of war go to the victor, none to the loser. If you're not first, you're last!

All I do is win, win, win...

If You're First, So What?

Some may say that's what competition is meant to do. To separate the winners from losers. The bad from good. The deserving and undeserving.

Except that it doesn't.

In any competition, luck and chance are always at play. So happen all the chapters you spotted came out in exams (and those you skipped didn't). So happen your closest rival caught a cold before the race. So happen your uncle works at a recording studio.

Winning is overrated. Winning is deceiving. Winning doesn't mean you're a winner.

Sadly, society celebrates winners - not those who came oh-so-close to winning and overcame insurmountable odds to reach as far as they could. People are too lazy to read beyond the headlines. So true grit and quality goes unnoticed.

And this is sad, because we reward winners excessively and ignore the losers unfairly.

If You're Not First, You Keep Losing And Drifting Further Behind

And the unfairness builds up.

By fluking your good results, you end up in a top university. There, you get taught by the top brains in the field. A degree from a top university looks good on the resume, regardless of your mediocre CGPA.

Spare some thought for your classmate who caught a cold before a critical exam, missed out by a single A, and ended up in an inferior university. No matter how well he does from then on, companies just don't look at him and treat him the same way. He'll always be a class below. He'll always have to work doubly - or triply - hard to gain the same kind of recognition and rewards you enjoy.

All because he caught a cold a day before the exam.

He should've known better, you may say. Why did he not take care of his health better?

He lived in a cramped apartment with parents who couldn't afford to fix the heater, that's why.

Yeah, life can be cruel as f**k that way.

Don't be like this loser, kids!

If You're Not First, It's Not The End

But life doesn't have to be this way.

If only society took the time and effort to read through the fine details, to distinguish between the true fighters and lucky bastards, to judge others by taking account all relevant factors, to appreciate that the line between winning and losing can often times be blurry...

... then life can be fairer to all, especially those born shorn of privileges.

Life can also be more efficient and exciting, too. Undeserving winners hogging the podium prevent forsaken losers from driving even faster and breaking more records - if only they were given the equal opportunity to succeed.

Humanity, as a whole, loses out when we crown the wrong champion. And therein lies the true tragedy of inequality. We could have bred true winners, if only we stop and looked harder beyond the A's, gold medals and smash hits.

If You're Not First, You Can Still Be Fifth

Halfway through the movie, Ricky Bobby realises his life motto is all but a cruel joke. He got it from his father Reese Bobby, who later confesses he was "high that day" when he blurted out those words. "That doesn't make any sense at all," the now-sobered-up Reese stares incredulously at his son, "you can be second, third, fourth... hell, you can even be fifth!"

Yes, we can even be fifth. It's no failure finishing fifth.

Ricky Bobby isn't real. But his cautionary ballad is as real as the story of our own fragile lives.

So remember, kids. If you're not first, you're NOT lost....