Sunday, November 21, 2021

Birds Of A Feather Flock Together (MY Eng #32)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', and 'darkest before dawn' and 'empty vessels make the most noise'.

Ever seen a sparrow chilling out with an eagle? Or a turkey and chicken being BFFs?

Animals are territorial by nature. They rarely inter-breed. Not even talking about prey and predator out in the wild here. Even domesticated cats and dogs don't get along.

Humans, being sentient creatures, are more naturally more social. We keep pets and tend to well-trimmed gardens. Aside from chomping down meat and vegetable, we're generally quite kind to other living creatures on Earth.

That would make us equally nice to each other as well, yes? Right? RIGHT?

* * *

Alas, humans have our own "feathers" as well. We all don't look alike. There's diversity in our species. We come in different shapes, shades, and sizes. And that makes us tending to flock along with those who share our feathers...

Let's not beat around the bush (another idiom!), shall we? The keywords continue to crop up in the news and social media: discrimination, bias, and a host of words that end with "-ism".

Things are better than before in many places in the world, of course. No one is getting burned on the stake for the way they look and sound. No one is shunned from society simply for swearing piety to a certain deity.

But even in modern societies, lingering primal instincts remain. Natural appearances still create a first impression - the colour of our hair, size of our eyes, accent in our voices, fluency in our language.

* * *

We're taught from young not to judge a book by its cover (another idiom!).

Sadly, that's not how the real world works - even among the most enlightened circles. College admission. Student assessment. Job hiring. There's always a margin of irrationality and unfairness at play. True equality is a pipe's dream.

The sky's the limit for humans. We have reached the stars. Yet, we are still picky on who gets to fly along when we take the skies.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Empty Vessels Make The Most Noise (MY Eng #31)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place' and 'darkest before dawn'.

Ever prepared so hard the day before - burning the midnight night oil and being the early bird to catch the worm - only to be outspoken by a loudmouth at the presentation who gets all the applause?

The loudmouth just read from a sheet of paper furiously filled with unintelligible scrawls scribbled at the eleventh hour. He deftly dodged the assessor's questions and repeated the same slick one-liners. He never even batted an eye when caught out with a blatant error that anyone who's spent a good hour of prep would have avoided.

In contrast, you addressed every concern of the assessor with razor-focused precision. Every brave attempt to dive deeper into the analysis draws even harder questions and repelled by the odd assessor (who obviously did as much prep as Mr. Smooth Operator).

Yet, in the end, Mr. Smooth Operator gets the panel of assessor's vote, advance to the next stage of assessment, and you're left packing your bags and homeward bound.

* * *

The experience happens all too often to my students. I can understand their frustration. Their sense of injustice. Why bother even trying when the competition favours people who look and sound in a certain way? Ultimately, the prize goes to the loudest empty vessels of the world...

I can't describe more details, because most of such frank opinions and bitter confessionals have been divulged to me in confidence. But those know me well, will know what I'm talking about. And those who don't, I'm sure you face the same type of experience in your daily life, whatever your vocation is.

It's a universal problem, really. People are superficial. People are too lazy to think straight. People want to be entertained.

Why does society care more for style over substance? How do we keep out of our emotional bias from rational thinking? What can be done to restore justice for the full vessels of the world?

* * *

I don't have a perfect solution. All I can do is play my role as a fair-minded assessor when duty calls. Sometimes, I will speak up nicely to my fellow peers on why, we as role models, need to be more thoughtful when deciding the fates of young apprentices vying for awards and affirmation.

The rot starts from the top. And the top is where a change has to happen.

We need to be able to better filter mindless noise from soulful music. We need to see pass the veil of ignorance and discover the rough diamonds hidden away behind the dirt and grime. We need to reward substance over style.

Until then, the world will always be mired in mediocrity, and all of us will be trapped in a vicious cycle of idiocy. The youths of today is full of promise. So let not the noises of empty vessels drown out their voices of true reason.


Monday, November 1, 2021

Darkest Before Dawn (MY Eng #30)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup' and 'between a rock and a hard place'.

Where do we draw the line between today and tomorrow?

How do we know when's the time to call it a day and lights out?

What does the sky look like before we wake up in the morning?

As far as expressions go, this one seems rather obvious. Night. Sleep. Darkness. And yet, matter of factly as it may be, this idiom carries much profound weight, as we trudge through our everyday labours.

* * *

At some point during 'The Dark Knight', the good guys are close to breaking point. The Joker's on loose in Gotham City wrecking havoc and turning its people against each other. Batman himself is under hot pursuit and intense pressure. All hopes seem lost.

And then, the gallant white knight Harvey Dent gave a rousing defiant war-cry: "The night is darkest just before dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming"

That's how life works. The toughest part in the race is the always the final leg. When we're almost out of breath and running on empty. When our muscles cry out in pain, and our mind starts to fade away.

It's always at the final moments of truth that the best of us crumble and fall. We botch up the last 1% of our work which ruins the perfection of the first 99%. A single typo can cast what would've been a masterpiece into a mass of mediocrity.

That's why it's important to maintain our focus from start to finst - even more so when we're close to the finish line, the heavy lifting is done, and all that's left is one final push.

* * *

Sadly, things didn't turn out quite well for poor Harvey Dent at the end. Despite his best efforts and noble goals, the great White Knight himself fell short at the last hurdle, damning himself to oblivion.

Even the purest of heart can turn corrupt. Even the strongest of mind can break. Even Batman has limits.

Perhaps the wisest of words are best said by the good old butler Alfred Pennyworth: "Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up."

Yes, it's always darkest before dawn. It's always hardest to keep fighting when the battle seems lost.

But even when we fall over and over again in the darkness, just pick yourself up and keep walking. Dawn will break, the sun will rise, and success will come.