Category: Uncategorized

Guidelines For Navigating Crowded Spaces

Here’s some guidelines meant to help people on how to navigate in crowded spaces.

These “Guidelines” is meant for anyone who has to navigate around crowded spaces. It is meant to provide a framework for anyone who has been clueless about how to respond to situations of crowdedness whenever and wherever they are encountered. The Guidelines comprise of the following statements:

  1. Everyone is struggling to get to where they want to go, including other people. You are not the only person with somewhere to go. There are other people too!
  2. You have 2 eyes and 2 ears. You can choose to be aware about what’s around you. You can still choose to be immersed in Candy Crush or IMing, provided that they do not hinder your awareness of the immediate surroundings. This principle is absolute crucial for the next principle, which is…
  3. You have 2 legs and 2 hands. You can choose to move (with 2 feet) and you can choose to signal your intentions to move (with 2 hands). You can point to where you are heading; you move to space from a crowded area. Which leads me to the next principle, which is…
  4. You need not be where you are! This is absolutely crucial. You can choose where you want to be, instead of being ‘stuck’ where you are. Even if you feel you are stuck, you can always use the next principle, which is…
  5. You have a mouth. You can use your mouth to say “excuse me”, or “sorry” to indicate that you desire some space to move into.

There is one rule that is the foundation of the other rules. And it is thus:

That, “I shall not be a bad person” on public transport.

Without this rule, all other rules fall apart. This rule means that you do not hinder the spaces of others, especially the elderly, the pregnant, those with special mobilities (wheelchairs, crutches, and so on). The rules do not restrict when one should have to give space; even if you are sitting on a non-reserved seat, one can still give space to the above categories of people.

We might not know the suffering others are going through, and we can always lessen the pain a little by giving up the space that we have to others.

 

I invite people to illustrate, make jokes, adapt it and have fun with this. I believe that we can learn to negotiate space, both literal ones and metaphorical spaces. Maybe when we learn how to share literal spaces better, we will learn how to share other spaces with others – metaphorical, emotional, and social spaces, among others.

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What is a social space?

There is a sense in which Singapore does not have enough metaphorical social spaces. But what is a social space? I’m referring to the conceptual version of the term, not the literal “spaces or places to hang out with people.” 

A social space is a gathering of people in physical and virtual environments in which they can talk through, and act on, the things the gathering are interested about. More importantly, a social space is also a promise or a commitment. 

Why do I say that? I say that because it is assumed in the gathering of people, that they will commit themselves to rules to get the conversation started, that they will be constructive, and that they will to varying degrees, agree and support to further actions that might arise out of the gathering. 

What does it mean? It means that a social space is constructed, by the people who are together, and who can get to know one another, and share common interests. A social space can grow, to take on more people. 

The social spaces that I take part in all have some rules, or guidelines on how to be, to be a member of these spaces. And they have gone on to take action of some kind. I have also seen other social spaces too.

I have seen a social space for inter-faith dialogue, for people to talk through their stories of faith experiences. I have seen a social space to talk through the concepts of financial management. I have seen a social space to talk through initiatives in the social sector.

A social space is open. What I would like this to mean is that: these spaces are not structured spaces in which there are hierarchies and in which you need permission to enter. These are open spaces, where entry is based only on sharing common interest. 

A social space is participatory, which I would like to mean than anyone can come in, and provide their own views about how it could be, subject of course, to the views of others. This is neither chaos or complete order, but social spaces are also often spaces of negotiation, not just for the topic of interest, but also about the form of the negotiations. 

There are of course, loads of social spaces on other things; on human rights, on the environment (and further subdivisions exist). I think social spaces are one key requirement for addressing the challenges to come, and I hope to see more of them soon.

Singapore: hope, fear, faith, abundance

The poem below, is a first draft, of perhaps a more polished piece.

I wrote it, putting together some ideas I’ve had for a long time. A rambling, almost a stream of consciousness, about some ideas I’ve had for a while. To go with hope, and not fear.

Singapore: hope, fear, faith, abundance.

===

I know the limits that SG has.

I know the constraints.

But the constraints have not defined us.

We have gone so far on the bases of fear.

How far more can we go on the basis of hope?

There is a vast expanse before us,

No matter the world, no matter the circumstance.

===

If only our hearts are big enough,

Our eyes bright enough,

Our minds open enough,

To chase rainbows,

Or better,

To make them ourselves.

===

Even the dips and downs that come will not unsettle us. 

A people with courage,

And the resourcefulness,

Will not flinch (or not for long)

and come back stronger,

More determined to be in the world,

For the world.

There is still so much to do.

To save, to create, to bless, to repair, to restore.

There is still so much of the world,

Still deprived of the blessings of modernity.

Le Guin’s Omelas is here and present,

But it is possible,

To free the child,

And still live with abundance.

This Faustian bargain, 

I do not believe.

===

The things we use and wear,

Create jobs, though some foul.

The jobs that can fill stomachs, and give dignity – 

this world is possible and can come,

If we will it to.

===

We do not need to move to more abundance per se,

because we are already rich.

We can share our abundance with others.

As we remember,

This world is not our own.

It was built by others, by pioneers,

And ours is the task,

To preserve and add to it,

so that others can come and do the same.

===

This is no mere naive,

cosmopolitanism,

of a world of sentimental kumbayas,

This is a matter of belief and hope.

That Singapore can be,

Far brighter, far greater,

As the dot the world looks to.

===

From a little something to something so great,

is no small feat.

And here we are,

Dithering about our next steps,

Looking inwardly at ourselves,

A little over much.

When the world beyond,

Beckons us.

To make it kinder, fairer, greener, even richer,

More beautiful.

===

Sure, the world is not ours alone,

And laughably so – not ours to save – alone.

But the world is also us.

At our best – we shall move the world.

===

Are we not already rich?

Are we not already abundant?

Consider what we have.

A people now endowed with much comforts, and abilities, and talents.

Yet surely there still are in our midst –

yes, needing assistance – and that we can.

People in acute need, of fault of their own, and not their own,

They can have grace, 

to find their feet again.

No one chooses to fail,

though some may choose idleness,

though some may even have cause to.

But who truly knows?

And who can truly know their hearts?

And grace we still can yet give.

===

This abundance we have,

has to flow; amongst ourselves.

And we can still have much leftover,

to give to the world.

By our will we have –

created our reality of abundance.

And we can again do so,

Not from fear, but from hope, and from faith.

===

We have met Destiny

and we have in our grasp.

And we can choose to turn it, by our will.

Not just from fear, but from hope and faith.

By our will we can do so, if we choose so.

===

We are an audacious country,

to take the world on its terms,

and still prevail.

We shall be audacious again,

and now more so,

and now to move the world,

and again prevail.

===

Not about parties or manifestos,

but about us and all of us.

About we the people,

living not for ourselves,

but for the lives of others.

to uplift a country for those who are,

for those to come.

==

Us in service for Singapore,

Singapore in service for the world.

===

Yes, this comes from someone who has,

the privileges, the time and the space,

to think like this,

Yes, this privilege in part,

the same privilege to watch

dramas and games on end.

The moment we have data on the go,

that privilege is open, no longer closed.

And this is no condescension,

This is an invitation.

To choose with intention, to go.

===

Am I dreaming?

Too unrealistic?

Too hopeful? Too naive?

So what, if they are so?

And are they truly so?

We are not defined by circumstances,

and neither by nature.

All we have been are due to our choices.

And these are choices we can choose.

To be a people of intention, of a largeness of heart,

In all things: the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday, the sacred, the exciting, the interesting.

And so we can choose,

Exceptional forevermore.

I/We Choose

We have grace

To live better lives.

Not the life of riches and luxury and leisure,

but the life of grace,

To find contentment in the present,

And ever trying to improve.

This grace we have,

To be kinder, better selves,

For others.

===

We have kindness,

to take a look around

(wherever we are – the train, the bus, the crowded streets)

to be gentle, and to smile.

We have grace to live well,

Not by the size of the bank balance,

But by the size of our hearts.

In the day’s end

tired we may be,

But grace we still have,

to remember the battles of others,

and then to be

Gentle and kind.

===

We have grace,

to let things be.

Not just to look for our on interest,

but also the interests of others,

not to be offended,

by the rashness of others.

This grace we have

To be with others,

Regardless of:

race, language, religion, countries

of differences galore.

Grace we have.

We choose to have.

===

We work, not for ourselves,

but for our dreams, families and friends.

We work together,

We join in our gifts to create,

the future we want to make into the present.

This future will need all our grace, our kindness, our love.

All these we have.

===

This love we have,

We choose to have.

To live not for ourselves,

but for others.

To work for our loves, and pray

on the things we lowe.

To dwell in grace and kindness,

while we live and work and love.

The End of Books and Power, for now

Going through old books is a lot like time travel. You end up asking yourself this question, “why the hell did I buy this book?” And you try to reconstruct yourself at the moment buying this book, remembering how you wanted this book over another book, and how you had to prioritise and stay within the budget (which you busted anyway), and then deciding that it was this book. Or how you came across this book purely via serendipity, because it looked great, or it appeared to be what you were looking for subconsciously, and you remember how, in previous occasions, those serendipity purchases were such great choices (no they weren’t). And you buy them. But now many years on, you are looking at them again, their page a bit yellowed (because you were on a tight budget (which you busted), and so you always bought the paperback edition), and how the writing is now hopelessly out of date and irrelevant. The topic is obviously no longer the flavour of the day, and the world moves on to other authors and other topics.

Now I am looking at many titles, bought under a similar set of circumstances, and now with the privilege of hindsight, and beginning to rationalize all those decisions. Not justification, but just rationalizing – making sense, putting order to memories and nostalgia.

Certain things become apparent after some reflection. One of them is that knowledge does not mean power. If that relationship was true, hey, I’ll be quite powerful by now. Just kidding. I now realise that knowledge and learning is just the first step towards some action in the world, which then influences outcomes – the sum of that process being the exercise of power, at least in some quarters. The Baconian dream is just that, and it should fade away.

Knowledge need not be tied to Identity. I am NOT just what I know.  Our lives are obviously more than the sum of the knowledge in books; there’s the rest of our lives too and of greater importance – the relationships that we have.

I remember that one impulse that led to the purchasing of this small library was indeed the Baconian ideal that knowledge could result in power. The naive 18-year-old younger self, would however, have no clue about the process of translating power from knowledge, only knowing accumulation. And so it goes.

This accumulation process then took on a life on its own. Where do I start, how wide should I explore, how deep should I go? An accumulative process has no end. I started with what I ended off with General Paper at junior college. Thomas Friedman’s Lexus and the Olive Tree gave clues about what else to read: Paul Kennedy, Samuel Huntington, Robert Kaplan, and so on. Very quickly, I would learn about the value of the “Further Reading” or the “Bibliography” or the “Notes” section. I also had a strong interest in science – and one of my very early objectives, after reading Gleick’s Genius, was his Feynman Lectures. And on and on and on.

National Service gave me plenty of time, and in 2007, TED was only just getting started. With an iPod Touch, it was possible to download and view ALL 300 TED videos, and that provided more seed crystals for a larger book collection. I remember spending close to all of my allowance on it. After all, what else could I spend on weekends?

In University, the modules and programmes gave further hints about what to buy. I eventually majored in Sociology, and so I eventually got Bourdieu’s Distinction, and other books. I collected the entire works of various authors (and managed to read most of them). This explains the Latours, the Dennetts, the Pinkers, the Wilsons, the Dawkins. It explains why I would get books for particular topics as with Arthur, Waldrop, Strogatz, Duncan, Kauffmann, Barabasi and others for Complexity. The latest collection that I’ve been put together was in Organization, and even then I’ve let things go already.

Why do I want to keep knowing? Why this obsession? I had made Knowledge as part of my identity. And knowing always means knowing more. And more. Sort of like money, except its curiosity – what else is out there, what don’t I know yet, what’s out there for me to discover – but in it’s extreme its manifestation is no gentler – an obsessiveness that tires and eventually exhausts.

One common answer that I’ve often given myself is to: understand the world, find your place in it, and hope to make it better. It’s sounds innocuously reasonable enough. My 18-22-ish old self wouldn’t know any better. Chancing upon the field of complexity was probably both the nadir and the zenith of this dream. It was the zenith because complexity provided a set of logics and concept that could make the chaotic and confusing world yield to the power of science and math; it was also the nadir because of its very nature – probabilistic, catastrophic, hopelessly sensitive to initial conditions.

The period of the books also coincided an interesting time in contemporary history, and gave plenty of space for curiosity and complexity. It was a unipolar moment belonging to the US; the world economy had just come out of a tech bubble, but then technology continued racing on; Facebook and Twitter would come later, and Apple was just getting started with the iPod. And then in the years that followed, the recognition that China and then India perhaps were going to play major roles, especially after the O’Neill BRICS article (and his less famous N-11 sequel). It was a fascinating time to try to understand everything. IPCC appeared, and started pronouncing warnings about anthropogenic climate change, that many years later in 2014, we find now we can only adapt, no longer mitigate as with previous years.

The Baconian dream was supposed to give me power to change the world and its systems directly from the pages of the books, or so I thought, and apparently not so. It was only during and shortly after university that I realised for myself that systems are slow and not prone to drastic changes, that continuity is good and desired, that it takes tremendous energy for people to enact changes in organizations. Organizations – the way people come together for a common purpose – it appeared to be the key I never noticed. After all, don’t we spend our lives in one organization or another? Families, companies, and countries… And change – isn’t that their pupose, to effect something different in the world? Start-ups aim to scale rapidly so they can affect large changes in business and social patterns amenable to their own existence. Countries maintain expensive militaries to defend their own unique existence to be free from the hegemony of others. If I were to hold on to those Baconian dreams of translating knowledge to better realities in the world – of less suffering, of adapting in a changed-climate, then it would have to be through organizations.

And with selling my books, I abandon most of these dreams, and live a quieter, more contemplative life. Letting go of books was to let go all of these conceptions, to let go of that Baconian seed that started it all, and let the thorns wither and fly into the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:18

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. 

The Current 5-Trick Pony

I realise that I keep using 5 frames/logics/lines of argument whenever I discuss issues to do with Singapore.

1. Spectrum: Everyone for him/herself or community of fate

I use this frame to go through the substance and the rhetoric of new policy moves. ‘Everyone for themselves’ is the usual rhetoric of self-reliance, and not to depend on the state (which assumes other things below). I picked up the notion of ‘community of fate’ from a Danish contributor to Ethos – the publication of the Civil Service College. The idea is that there is a collective good that every social actor is striving for, and compromises have to be made to aim for that. The whole article is here is called “The Danish Negotiated Economy.  Apparently, this also translates to the German notion of Gemeinschaft (an ‘ideal type’ in the early 20th century Germany sociology tradition).

I also apply this more broadly, in thinking about say, the acceptance of employers for the disabled, or the elderly. This really is applicable for all of us – in deciding how much we want to care about others, and how to care for others, instead of putting it in a zero-sum frame.

Edited 25 Nov 2015: I say this is a spectrum because individualism and the broader social collective view are ends on a spectrum, and that communities and polities are really deciding which point to move closer to. These are negotiated positions, and societies fall along this spectrum (as with many things).

2. An opinion: The ‘Race for Talent” is a shorthand for corporate laziness.

My own sense is that ‘talent’ is a shorthand for corporate laziness. I use the word ‘corporate’ in the broader sense of the term to indicate organizations, whether private or public (or people sector). I use this also in the context of ‘the race for talent’ – the notion that there are only a few brilliant people in the world, and that organizations have to race to grab them with high pay, privileges and responsibility. Reality is of course, much more nuanced, but I want to point out that there is obviously more than individual ability at work, and there’s a whole bunch of factors, such as the company’s willingness to train people, the culture of job-hopping, the organizational culture – if it is nurturing or not, and most importantly, whether there are capable supervisors in the organization. Just focusing on the ‘race for talent’ is misleading and unhelpful, when there’s so much more that could be done in ensuring there are capable supervisors, managers and leaders in the an organization, and to also improve the capabilities of existing staff.

As a starting point, Geoff Colvin’s article in 2008 emphasizing the importance of deliberate practice is very useful.

3. Myth: As social spending goes up, taxes must eventually go up, and as a result, our economy will suffer. 

This is in relation to spending, especially on what seems to be ‘costs’. Donald Low, in one of his Facebook notes/updates (here) already note the fallacy of this framing – all spending is costs anyway, and it really is normative in how people define social returns.

So yes, more spending means at some point, higher taxes will probably be necessary. I guess I’m also constructing a straw-man, but the notion of increasing taxes seems to trigger a large reaction, and the usual fear from increasing taxes is the erosion of competitiveness.

At this point, I’m scratching my head because:

  1. Competitiveness is really a collection of a bunch of indicators;
  2. If the economy is dependent on one indicator (taxation rates) to be economically viable, then that economy is in a bad shape. Besides, as this guy has pointed here, the sky-high taxation rates in other countries are not really that high in practice.

4. An opinion: Between the state and individual there are organizations and associations.

This is in response to a Margaret Thatcher quote, who reportedly said the following:

‘I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first… There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.’ (emphasis mine; quote taken from here)

This is a wonderful quote, with the highlighted section the oft-quoted section. The rest of it is also nice too, and many people subscribe to this view. This is a powerful reflection of the notion of self-reliance and individual empowerment, although there is also a little flaw with this view, as described below.

Where this applies to: associations and civil society

In Singapore we are very used to thinking in terms of self and the state and society. We fail to consider that that between self, society and state, there are all kinds of organizations and associations for people to come together and discuss all sorts of things. Some of them are nice, some of them are not-so-nice, and all of them are avenues through which individuals can exercise their influence. Just as with the economy we talk about expanding the pie and then think about distribution, surely the same can be said that the socio-political arena is one where we can expand the common space for social discussions, and then negotiate compromises for the greater good.

25 Nov 2015 update: Margaret Thatcher should have considered organisations in between family and the state.

5. An opinion: Not everything is about individual choice. Culture also shapes behavior.

Self-reliance and individual choices are not the only source of social outcomes. I mean, just look at rush-hour traffic. If everyone had real choice, everyone would avoid going out at the same time, right? Rush-hour is a half-absurd example, but surely the traditions and norms shape the way we make decisions too.

Where this applies to: thinking about poverty

People hardly have choice in growing up in poverty or in privileged backgrounds. People are almost not poor by their own choices, and everyone makes mistakes too, its just that some mistakes are more irrevocable than others. To paint broad-brushstrokes of poor people as deserving of their situation also fails to see how people are also trying to struggle out of their situation, and obscures institutional shortcomings. Besides, being poor can be a tax on mental capacities.

===

So there you go, my 5 ‘tricks’. If there are serious flaws, let me know, and I’ll think about if I need to change my mind.