Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Monash University Malaysia, Graduation Address, April 7, 2018

Graduation/Commencement Address
Monash University, Malaysia
7 April 2018
Dr David KL Quek
Wake up and smell the roses,
Actuate your Reason for Being!

Mr Yehudi Blacher, Deputy Chancellor & Presiding Officer, Professor Andrew Walker, President & Pro Vice-Chancellor of Monash University Malaysia; head of Medical School Prof Shajahan Yasin, Professors, Directors, Lecturers, Tutors, and most importantly graduating class of Medicine, Pharmacy and Science, parents and friends!
It’s not just an honour but a distinct privilege, to have been invited to give this graduation address.
This has indeed been a most challenging talk to prepare.
Because it calls upon me to dig deep within myself, to make some sense and meaning into what should be important, for me to impart to you all gathered here today, graduating finally from college, and entering into a new phase of life, of work, responsibility, independence and maturity…
My only claim to fame as to why I’m giving this address, was the kind invitation by your head of Medical School, Prof Shajahan Yasin.
The fact that I’m perhaps a little older, and a bit more experienced than most of you graduating here today, may have played a small part.
That said, I would venture to add that your carefree student days are over, and a new ‘real’ world of challenges awaits you!
I’m truly honoured to share some thoughts with you, but at the same time, I’m humbled…

Successful Career, Busy Life, No Time to Stand & Stare…
I’ve had a harried hurried life! I’ve been busy, living a relatively full, eventful life.
No regrets really, but one that leaves me with precious little time to reflect, to breathe, to sigh, to ‘wake up and smell the roses’.
Clearly, I need to do this more often! Thus, preparing this lecture is one most welcome diversion for me to reflect and to re-envision my thoughts on life and living.
Indeed, for most of us with a somewhat successful career, we’ve become too accustomed to simply plod along.
We get swept along by this relentless current of life and work, with very occasional sprinkles of play, joy and fun, thrown in.
On hindsight, one wonders if this is enough; is this, what life is all about?!
Many of us are too self-absorbed in our work, our clutter of activities, centred only around ourselves and our immediate family.
We’re so engrossed in the never-ending mundane affairs of ‘living’—So much so, that we’ve failed to ponder over our lives, our true vocation, our relationships, our goals in life, so to speak… Sometimes, until it’s just too late… and life has just passed us by…
Believe me, as one grows older, it seems that our days are becoming shorter, 24/7 literally just does not seem enough!

Millennial Challenge: Privilege of the Times vs. Work-Life Balance
When I engage with younger members of the medical fraternity, young doctors, scientists, marketers, salespersons, I’m impressed by, as well as envious of, their enthusiastic advocacy of the so-called ‘work-life balance’.
I’m also a little unnerved about the Gen Y’s increasing lack of commitment towards one particular job.
There is no longer a single occupation that would be the ‘end all’ or ‘be all’ to your version of life.
No longer is one expected to work until you drop…
No one is willing to simply become a cog in a wheel and grind of society’s inexorable drudgery, day in, day out.
I must say that I’m only beginning to understand this mindset, as my own son and daughter grew up to become young man and woman.
I recognise that your concept of life has evolved in tandem with changing aspirations of the time.
There must be something else that matters more; if not ‘work’, then what?
But I say this: having graduated today, you are the privileged lot, as the Millennial generation (‘Gen Y’). Privileged because, human society has evolved so much.
You and I, we have ‘taken for granted’ this huge seamless access to conveniences: health, play, wealth and even whimsical access to hitherto unknown amenities, virtual vs. actual experiences. These had only been dreamed about in Sci-Fi genres and narratives, of the past!
This is that generational divergence that perhaps, would become the new model for tomorrow, if not today…
Our daily grind whether menial or even mental work, might soon be a thing of the past.
We’re moving towards a supra-human experience of robotics, self-driving vehicles, voice-activated amenities and commands, happening now as we speak…

The Internet of Things: are we ready?
Already, the Internet and interconnectivity of work with commerce and play, are blurring the margins of what’s real and what’s virtual, in our modern human experience…
These days, even babies are attracted to the smart phone or iPad, for distraction, stimulation and play.
As of December 2017, some 4.15 billion humans are now connected via the World Wide Web. More than half the world’s 7-billion population use the Internet.
We’re now interconnected: communicating, working, purchasing, selling, playing, etc., throughout most of our waking moments. We might be moving into a global ‘Borg-like Mind-Hive’ in the near future.
The Internet of Things (IOT) is already amongst us. By 2020, experts believe that some 30 billion objects will be online- capable and connected![1]

There is a better side to this touted Internet of Things. IOT will allow self-adjustments, self-configuration, self-optimization, integrated diagnostics and enhance efficiency in decision making.

IOT: Good vs. Bad
IOT based on heuristic analytics or algorithms, would help make our lives, so much easier and more seamless, as well as perhaps less laborious, and may be more error-free.
While useful, this interconnected information ubiquity, would collect, monitor and study our innermost sanctum of thoughts: our choices, preferences, our idiosyncrasies, our subconscious psychological quirks.
Therefore, we’ve become targets of data-mining, and manipulation!
How should we embrace this runaway technology?  Should we be fearful?
What then is your future role in all these stupendous advances?
I certainly don’t have any or all the answers.
But I urge you all to engage more intelligently.
See how much of your persona, or avatar, you are willing to share, in this super-cyber-hive of information access for ALL!

We are being Monitored, Marketed, and Manipulated…
Already, data-mined analytics have been sneakily shaping, bending and persuading us, subconsciously to the will of marketers, advertisers, even our political masters and deviant corruptors…
Artificial Intelligence via social media penetration and pervasiveness, has been quietly coaxing us, into buying and selling. We’re inundated with market-driven fake or quasi-reality ‘sound bites’ of created demands and brands.

We are being shaped and shifted in our political leanings and preferences.

We’re politically-influenced to like this or dislike that.

Our pet peeves are being stoked. Our suppressed prejudices, inflamed.

Sadly just recently, exposés on the clandestine Cambridge Analytica methods of political meddling, have brought the spotlight on social media giant Facebook. [2]

On the positive side, AI assimilation with humans may serve as an extension platform, of expanding our mortal reach and human consciousness…

The challenge is how to find our human niche, and relevance, in this brave new world.

Essentially, I urge every one of you to be aware of all these developments.

Clearly, we must engage smartly and vigorously, to see how we can position and assimilate ourselves within this cyber-connected world, and yet maintain some semblance of individuality and personality!

We, especially your generation needs to be more mindful, and not become too overly dependent or entranced by, this seamlessly seductive and mindless immersion, into this all-encompassing Internet of Things!

Be Nimble, Be Selective, Be Aware. Be Resilient!

Maybe, we should all Delete Facebook and the like!

But what’s the alternative to remaining connected to this seemingly indispensable cyberspace, this WWW?!

Sadly, we’ve become too addicted, and too tightly enmeshed, into this new virtual-reality paradigm.

Life: Long or Short, what to make of it, Legacies & more…

Most of us born, today, are blessed with the chance to live that biblical 3 scores and ten, i.e. 70 years or so. Some live even longer, by default because we’ve inherited better genes!

It is good to remember that at the turn of the last century (early 1900s), most could only live an average of just 48 years.

Many of us now enjoy about one extra ‘generation’ of life: to live, to find joy, to find one’s life meaning, in this brief sojourn on earth!

Most of us do make a private life of sorts—a succinct life, of tolerable happiness, contentment, just for ourselves, our immediate family and closest associates, our friends…

That’s fine, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But perhaps, some of you can achieve more than that…

Beyond the Jaguh Kampung

I believe that some of you can possibly make and leave greater legacies that could impact hundreds, thousands or even millions of people.

Most of us, however, impact just that finite number of people, maybe just a few dozens of folks around us, at best…We live, breathe and share as much as 80-90% of our life experiences, around people that we love and work with.

They matter! We matter too, to each other![3]

But life is also what’s deliverable or discoverable, only as one chooses to do so.

Most, if I dare say, all of us, succeed in small meaningful ways, with our closest familiar coterie of work friends and family.

Some of us who are more extroverted become political.

We can choose to become tribal champions or leaders, what we call the ‘jaguh kampung’!  We can do more!

Love and relationships

Whatever human relationships we may have, I suggest that we learn to nurture and treasure these more.

We all need greater intimacy with at least some special people in our lives.

So please, don’t be afraid to love! To fall in love! Love someone, find a life companion. Love him or her unconditionally.

Choose to remain committed to each other, because temptations are always there for that elusive better half, when one chooses to look askance… Remember two can play the game…

Cultivate a few good friends, as many as you can, and nurture some soul mates or BFF, for life!

Because, they are what matters ultimately in times of need, challenges and discomfort.

We all need close human interactions to make sense of our lives, to make life more meaningful, rewarding and satisfying…

Social Commitment to a Larger Cause

But life is also about social interactions and engagement in communities.

We also delegate to others to lead and to manage our social communities more efficiently.

Structured organised communities are politics on a canvas, painted large. We can’t escape this.

While many of us are content to leave the politics of governance to others, we must not forget that it is also we collectively, who’d elected or let elect, the worst examples of Machiavellian excesses, political buffoons and corrupt leaders.

This apathy has beset many nations around the world, today. We have our own ‘MO1’, and the Americans have their ‘Trump card’ POTUS! So choose wisely!

Gutter humour aside, some of us lead and manage fraternal or professional groups and find great satisfaction and achievement. I have had my fair share of these attainments.

Childhood: Lessons in Poverty, Opportunities

I was born in Johor Bahru where the Clinical Medical School of Monash University now resides. Mr great grandfather was a poor migrant from Shantou China who had settled in Singapore/Johor Bahru, in the mid 1800s. So, I’m a 4th generation Malaysian.

My personal narrative is not so much a recollection of swagger or boastfulness, but one of cherished motivation and inspiritment, that I owe to my late parents and their influence.

They constantly instilled in us, positive values, hard work, having goals and ambition, to uplift our mobility to another level of livelihood, for a better future.

We were not born into poverty, we weren’t poor ‘poor’, but we did experience episodes of hardship and hard knocks. These gave us that impetus to rise above ourselves from our deprivation.[4]

It is said that in America, children born to families in the bottom 20% of incomes, have only a 1% probability of making into the top 5% of incomes in their lifetimes, versus wealthier children who have a 23% chance…

That’s 1 in 100 vs. 1 in 4. For many of you here today, please don’t squander this god-given opportunity!

For the more privileged Millennials amongst you, with more opportunities, and even greater given head-starts, the future is infinitely greater!

You should all make of it, much better and with greater chances to succeed!

College Decision & Choice for Malaysia

To ‘succeed’, having ambition is a must.

I was a high achiever in school and I’m sure many of you are, as well. I was pretty focussed on what I wanted to do.

I wanted a better life than what we were given as a birthright.

I chose to pursue Medicine as a career. I’ve never looked back.

I’m one of the few Johorians (now proudly Bangsa Johor!) from St Joseph’s JB, who did not join the emigration to nearby Singapore or Australia or beyond.

Professional Attainments & Esteem

I’ve led many physician societies, including our national Malaysian medical association, the MMA. I have also been elected and entrusted to help regulate physicians and health policies and regulations, through the Malaysian [5]Medical Council.

Sure, the ‘value’ of these apex levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is an important self-esteem booster.

However, these self-actualization accomplishments, while self-fulfilling, are also, fleeting and transient.

It’s good while it lasted.

Most likely these would all be forgotten in less than half a generation, 20 years tops, if not sooner…

So, for those of us, who think that we can be immortalized, by our work and contributions in voluntary or professional organizations, etc, be prepared to be forgotten![6]

They are all erstwhile and will lapse.

It’s that journey that I think is worth living through, a personal journey of having done something worthwhile.

Such historic punctuations in our lives count powerfully, on hindsight…

So, please don’t be afraid to strive toward self-actualization! Identify your goals and targets and go get them!

These might take place in your small backyard, or they can also be achieved in the borderless world out there.

The Bigger Picture: Can you achieve more? Some narratives…

Indeed, maybe some of you might yet embark upon the world at large, with ‘larger than life’ visions to create, or to lead paradigm shifting models, of some life-changing transformative legacies…

Remember that Alexander of Macedonia lived just 32-years but what a world conqueror he was!

But my personal icons are not military greats.

I’ve always preferred to celebrate creative human geniuses and rarer benevolent beings, who leave lasting institutional memories—cultural memes, even—of beauty, transcendence, of sublime experiences, of humane or humanitarian legacies, beyond mankind’s innate bestial nature…

I believe that for humanity’s future, we must evolve into more than that “poor, nasty, brutish’ man, short-lived and fearful of the dangers of violent death, as alluded to by Hobbes.[7]

Facebook & Zuckerberg

Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard as a sophomore, and became arguably the world’s greatest social media icon today.

On Feb 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched Facebook at age 20. 14 years on, as of February 2018, he is worth a whopping US$72.4 billion! [8]

Thus, we cannot help but recognize Zuckerberg’s drive, passion and his goal-driven focus to produce something that resonates with the world of personal communication, connectivity and social media today.

Of course, one could argue that he was at the right time and the right place, when advanced computer chips and processors, internet infrastructure expanded into the speed-monsters of today, to offer seamless connectivity and cheap access.[9]

So, timing and serendipity, innovation and entrepreneurship, are critical components for the conjunction of opportunities, to sync together into a successful product or service, that ultimately impacts so powerfully on much of mankind…

Your life should also find that synergy, that conjunction of well-taken circumstances, which can lead to that goal, or series of goals, of personal accomplishment, satisfaction and self-actualization, albeit and realistically on a much smaller scale.

Failed Expectations
Of course, these days, Mark Zuckerberg has had some rude awakening!

Facebook is now being plunged into that ugly controversy, of parlaying the ‘secrets’ of its innocent subscribers.

Facebook stands accused of being complicit in manipulating the thought-preferences of millions of its customers—some 80-odd millions just for the Trump campaign.

Zuckerberg is responsible for this colossal ethical breach and overreach. The buck stops at the top, no excuses, no shifting of blame, no free lunch takes, to believe in imaginary alien donations and the like![10]

The Bible says that From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

To paraphrase that, with great wealth and power, comes great expectations and responsibilities.

But we can always try to be good human beings, doing our best within our own social niche and space, that we have perchance been placed.[11]

Quo Vadis: What Next, Millennials?

For Malaysians born today, we are expected to have an average life span of 75 years. Women live 4 years more! Not bad for a middle-income developing nation that aspires to become fully developed by 2020!

That’s your generation for challenge and opportunity.

You are today’s graduating class, so-called “Millennials”, two generations remove from myself, as a baby boomer of the post-war period!

Whatever the generation, there’s no mistaking the need to find our own individual purpose in life.

Ikigai: The reason you get up in the morning…

What is your ‘Reason for Being’? What is your ikigai? Ikigai is comprised of 2 words: ‘iki’ meaning life, and ‘gai’ which describes value or worth.

Ikigai is often described with a Venn diagram with four overlapping qualities: [12]

·         what you love (your passion),

·         what you are good at (your vocation),

·         what the world needs (your mission), and

·         what you can be paid for (your profession).

For the Japanese, this is interpreted slightly differently, because ikigai has little to do with income.

It’s the perceived value of the work, the professionalism, the life, i.e. the reason to wake up in the morning, the raison d'être, to live.

Purpose-Driven Life

For the practising Christian, this is often also known as the ‘purpose-driven Life’. Of course, this purpose-driven life is anchored on the belief in God and benefiting from His grace and blessings.

I think of this innate hunger within, as our purposeful focus, or our soul-inspired vision-mission.

Here, we crystallize our deep inner calling, where we harness and utilize all our education, our technical/professional training, and our life experiences.[13]

We all need to find some meaningful, and purposeful cohesion with the world.

We need to connect and align ourselves with some aspects of the world out there.

We cannot just be too self-absorbed with unrelenting pursuits of our own pleasures, our own interests, our own confined lives…

It’s not Just the Money…

Truth be told, most of us won’t be happy even if we reap huge monetary rewards…

Studies have shown that happiness is not related to how much money you earn or have! Even in staunchly capitalist USA, it has been found that when we earn beyond an annual income of around US$100,000 per year, our happiness index plateaus out!

Social isolation and desperate loneliness have caused so many drug-overdose deaths and depression-associated suicides, among rich celebrities: Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Prince, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Robin Williams, LinkedIn Park’s Chester Bennington…

Therefore, Wealth without purpose is meaningless and unfulfilling. Even after all these attainments, of wealth, position, recognition, etc. the question often remains, what else?

A favorite motto of Nietzsche, taken from Pindar, reads: "Become what you are."

Ikigai: More than just Passion, Mission, Vocation, Profession

Dan Buettner, the author of ‘Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer…” describes ikigai as “purpose in action” and he suggests making 3 lists:

1.       your values,

2.       things you like to do, and

3.       things you are good at... the overlapping section of the 3 lists, is your ikigai.

Wharton Management professor Adam Grant asserts that what makes and motivates employees to perform better, is doing work that affects the well-being of others.

It may surprise you to know that, most of us like to see how other people are affected by our work. We all cherish some meaning in what we do… it’s a kind of a selfish self-interested altruism, benevolence…

This is certainly my ikigai in life, involvement and service through leadership and mentorship, in various educational, fraternal and professional societies that collectively, improve the humanity around me.

In a research experiment, Prof Grant found that cold callers who engaged in telemarketing for fund-raising for a good cause e.g. for student scholarship, tended to be more productive by some 171%, then when simply asked to market a product for personal gain or incentive.

Thus, having a well-thought of ikigai might just help you live a more fulfilling, rewarding and longer life, too!

The Ohsaki Study

A 2008 Japanese study investigated the community effects of this sense of worth of Life and Living i.e. that notion of Ikigai. [14]

43,391 in a Japanese community of Ohsaki were studied for 7 years. During this time some 3,048 died.

This research found that those who did not have a well-defined sense of ikigai, had one and a half (1.5x) times higher chance of dying, than those who did!

Thus, finding our life’s sense of worth helps to prevent us from dying prematurely.

So, do find your own individual ikigai early and live this well!

Live each day, with your own special raison d’etre, your personal ikigai!

Passion vs. Virtue of Diligence – Konusuke Matsushita, Panasonic Founder

Whilst ikigai is important, hard work or diligence is also necessary. Panasonic founder Konusuke Matsushita advocates more of the virtue of Diligence. Matsushita urges everyone to be diligent, to work hard, to be focused, to be skilled in whatever we do.[15]

By all means, be passionate. Have a passion for life and your pet interests.

But having passion is not enough and is often overrated.

Mark Cuban, a self-made billionaire (who owns the Dallas Mavericks) has famously said that following your passion is one of the greatest lies of life.

Cuban says this is bad advice because you may not excel at what you are passionate about. [16]

Pay attention to those things that you can devote time to, and do them really well—follow your effort, instead!

Strive at excelling at some actionable realistic interest, that can bring in the rice bowl and more!

The 10,000-hour rule

Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, says:[17]

“It takes about 10,000 hours of hard work and practice – or ten years – to become a world class expert in anything…

the difference between a good violinist and a virtuoso comes down to ambition and having the discipline to put in the requisite time and commitment, the follow-through…”

So learn to put through your own 10,000 hours of effort, to master your skill!

Be a Master of Rescue

For Atul Gawande, a renown surgeon, media commentator and author, it’s learning how to cope with failures and overcoming the odds, that define ‘success’.[18]

“The difference between triumph and defeat, isn’t about willingness to takes risks. It’s about mastery of rescue.”

A recent University of Michigan study found that better more established hospitals are not better at reducing surgical complication rates, they were the same.

But what they do better was at rescuing people when they had a complication, preventing failures from becoming a catastrophe.

In other words, they are better at rescuing people from complications!

Mistakes happen. Things can and will go wrong. [19]

Some develop better capacities to prepare for these errors, to limit the damage, and to better retrieve success from failure. A failure does not have to become a cascade of catastrophic failures. Learn from these.

Overcome them through learning, experiences, planning and resilience. Turn these failures into triumphs, become a master of the rescue!

Question, Question, Question! Science as a Candle in the Dark!

Be curious, be inquisitive, be sceptical!

Question all authorities.

Seek answers from reliable sources, not just from Googling in the Internet!

Remember that Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. are algorithm-based search engines that thrive on profits from advertisers, marketers.

Often highly placed search results are paid for, by marketing or political influencers of behaviour and opinions!

In other words, you pay if you wish to receive top billing of any search phrases… so be sceptical!

Ancient Wisdom, Magical thinking, Superstition

We live in a Demon-haunted world… Science should be our candle in the dark.[20]

Don’t hark back to grandma’s tales of what works in the past.

Ancient wisdom is often passé and founded on ignorance and magical thinking. [21]

The late Carl Sagan, one of Science’s staunchest advocates, had rightly described our slide into the world of pseudoscience. Because it is easier. It is easier to indulge in simplistic ideas and wishful thinking.

But just wishing for something to happen, does not make it so.

We’re too lazy to check, to cross-check, to think. We dawdle with hazy concepts and desires, by just wishing them to be so… but this is just that, wishing ‘magical’ thinking! Seductive but wrong!

We must learn to be more sceptical, and more questioning.

We need to scrutinise more meticulously. We need to rigorously and conscientiously apply our scientific methods to life and living.

Science is about proving falsifiability of Hypoteticals and Hypotheses

Remember ‘Science’ is all about constantly proving older hypotheticals, false.[22]

It’s about refreshing and perfecting a system of thought that approaches a final ‘universal’ truth, that would become more and more difficult to prove wrong, but never reaching there.

A lesser criterion is verifiability, i.e. a systematic approach to repeat logical reasoning or experiments and tests that ‘prove’ the repeatability of a hypothesis.

We need to recognise factoids that cannot withstand the error-correcting scrutiny of checks and re-checks, to arrive at as complete, or as consistent, a body of thought as possible.

We need to recognise the better ‘truths’ for our moment in time, and certainly, not for all time…

Sound Bites can be deceiving, deceptive, inaccurate…

In this era of cut-throat competition for decreasing attention spans, television and now social media have dumb-downed, everything to bite-size nuggets of ‘interests’ instead of truths.

10 to 30 seconds of sound bites that excite rather than inform, are often the result... There is a content-squeezed decay in substantive value in our news information.

And we are swallowing these easy morsels, without too much thinking or query, required. We are becoming credulous imbibers of ignorance, superstition, half-truths and pseudoscience.

Beware, there’re more myths and half-truths in the WWW, than there are facts that are truly reliable!

Please don’t abandon the Science that you have all been taught! Don’t just rely on the simplistic face value of the uncorroborated Internet. Apply and hold on to the rigors of the scientific method that has been taught (hopefully!) during your college years, here at Monash University!

The great Nobel Peace Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. has said that

·         “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.

·         Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education…

·         Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity…

·         Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

·         Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” 

Conversations – Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, Chief Rabbi (UK)

Finally, I want to share with you, lessons that I’ve learnt from Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of UK. In his very lucid book The Dignity of Difference, he calls for more ‘Conversations’.[23]

·         We must learn to engage more with each other.

·         We need to have more dialogue and understanding.

·         We need to listen more and talk less.

He says

“Bad things happen when the pace of change exceeds our ability to change, and events move faster than our understanding... we feel the loss of control over our lives.

Anxiety creates fear, fear leads to anger, anger breeds violence, and violence becomes a deadly reality…

Greatest Antidote to Violence is Conciliation and Conversation…

The greatest single antidote to violence is Conversation:

·         speaking our fears,

·         listening to the fears of others, and

·         sharing of mutual vulnerabilities,

·         discovering the genesis of hope…”

Rabbi Sacks argues for less confrontation and more conciliation. Violence here refers not just to the physical realm, but to the mental mindset as well.

We mustn’t let fleeting sensational sound-bites of violence or confrontation, become our default mode of deciphering or debating conflicts or contrarian views…

We need to let the small voice of reason and moderation, rise above the noise of bellicose imageries that subconsciously harden our mindsets, into concrete casts of bigotry!

In multi-ethnic and culturally-diverse Malaysia, this need is much more urgent. We must not let the rising crescendo of political demagoguery, divide us into “them and us”!

More Rational Conversations:  lead the charge for greater tolerance

We need more interactive rational conversations, sensible dialogue, not discordant narrow-minded silos of noisy bigoted diatribes and hate-mongering!

Although it may appear that globalization and our social media are bringing us closer together, interweaving our lives, nationally and internationally, in complex and inextricable ways, we are also moving further apart socially.

We ‘narrowcast’: we switch off, screen off voices and views of dissent, preferring to only be influenced by seductive allure of ‘likes’ and more ‘likes’.

We become enthralled by those who agree or appear to side with us.

We’re developing a new form of typecast tribalism!

We regress into ancient, more fractious loyalties, driving us more angrily apart than ever.

We sanctify that ‘them and us’ position that’s making us more narrow-minded, more biased, more racist, more fundamentalist, more extremist in views…

Embrace Tolerance vs. Eschew Violence

We need you Millennials, to lead the charge for greater tolerance among mankind, beginning here among Malaysians.

To paraphrase Jonathan Sacks, when religion or ethnicity is invoked as a justification for conflict, we as the privileged and educated, must quickly and courageously raise our voices to protest.

We must loudly affirm our rational minds of preferred tolerance, in the face and onslaught of shrill extremism.

We most withhold the robe of sanctity when it is sought as a cloak for violence, bloodshed or hateful bigotry, says Rabbi Sacks.

I hope your Monash education has made or shaped most, if not, all of you graduates, into a growing force for greater tolerance and common humanity.

At the same time, we must learn to speak up for the oppressed and the marginalised.

We must speak the silent cry of those who suffer from want, hunger, disease, powerlessness and lack of freedom.

Exercise your democratic rights to choose wisely and humanely, without being inflamed by the heat and ‘madness’ of religious or ethnic, fervours or prejudice.

Martin Luther King Jr: What are you doing for others?

I want to end by quoting from Martin Luther King Jr, surely one of the most eloquent and erudite statesmen who’d ever lived. [24]

He says: Life’s most persistent and urgent question is “what are you doing for others?”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands, in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that, by the good people. Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Finally, Yahoo’s Jerry Yang…

For the more youthful amongst you who prefer a more current icon, I quote from Jerry Yang, Yahoo co-founder:[25]

“Don’t worry – it’s a long life, you don’t need to rush to be or to do something.

·         Your job is to walk out into the unknown and see what happens.

·         Take your time, learn and enjoy something from each job,

·         layer it on, and then pass it along so others can benefit from your wisdom.

·         And all along your journey, remember the people who got you here and where you come from…”


·         Harness the Internet, AI, IOT

·         But be smart, be selective, be prudent

·         Find Love, have good friends

·         Find your Ikigai, your raison d’etre

·         Be Passionate, Be Nimble,

·         Be Resilient, Be Kind!

·         Do your little bit for others,

·         Leave behind something good for society!

Thank you for your kind attention!

Supplementary Notes:

[1] Lee, Jay; Bagheri, Behrad; Kao, Hung-An (2015). "A cyber-physical systems architecture for industry 4.0-based manufacturing systems". Manufacturing Letters. 3: 18–23. Nordrum, Amy (18 August 2016). "Popular Internet of Things Forecast of 50 Billion Devices by 2020 Is Outdated". IEEE. The Internet of Things Definition.
This convergence of multiple technologies includes pervasive high-bandwidth wireless communication, real-time analytics, machine learning, commodity sensors and embedded systems. It’s a question of when, rather than if, the supercomputing enmeshment of the World Wide Web, gains a supra-human capacity, that assumes Artificial Super-Intelligence and Independent Cognition.

[2] Facebook has not denied being complicit in selling our personal ‘data’ and shaping our subconscious preferences to marketers, or to devious mind-bending corporations, and political lobbyists.  These deviant consultants work surreptitiously to manipulate, deceive and even modulate, our choices in politics and beyond! Subliminal tactics are subtly and subconsciously applied to selectively shape or reward consumer behaviour.  They also target and shape selective herd mentality and political choices. Our subconscious behavioural psychologies are being teased out, our covert thoughts and individual preferences laid bare! And we’re none the wiser for this intrusion! We’re not sure if this actually harms us, but of course, we‘re being manipulated!

[3] While humanity is incredibly diverse, we’re also similar and yet unique.  We continuously interact in local environments, where we input our individual influence, foist our viewpoints, celebrate our similarities but also argue and converse to unite our disparate differences. Indeed, to each, his own!

[4] To be sure I don’t subscribe to the adage that “If you are born poor it's not your mistake, but if you die poor it's your mistake”.
But, each and every one of us can rise above ourselves and our circumstances, no matter how dismal and handicapped, our socio-economic background. What makes us succeed, is greater determination. We’ve had our share of experiential poverty & hardship, of knowing what it is to want, the inculcated need to want to achieve more…  Maybe, it’s that ‘gratitude born of poverty’ that is meant by speaker-writer William F. High.
I believe my family members have made it to at least the top 5 to 10% of successful people in this country and beyond. We have made it somewhat, at least to become financially stable, and then some. This is the story of our baby boomer achievers of yesteryears.

[5] Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans' innate curiosity. Maslow used the terms "physiological", "safety", "belonging and love", "esteem", "self-actualization", and "self-transcendence" to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through. The goal of Maslow's Theory is to attain the sixth level or stage: self transcendent needs. [Wikipedia]

[6] It’s a humbling experience. Indeed, we are all dispensable. So, one’s experiences in life should not be measured just on these personal memories and achievements. We are defined by more by our contributions that impact others, than our own.  These are the unforgettable personal moments that are unique in our lives.

[7] Remember Chopin? He was just 39 years old when he died. His first great musical compositions were created when he was just 22 years old, i.e. Nocturnes Op. 9/15, and his iconic 12 Piano Etudes Op. 25 from the age of 20 to 29.  All in all, Chopin created some 230 compositions of stupendous quality—of symphonies, piano sonatas, concertos, mazurkas, songs, waltzes, and chamber music. What a life!

[8] What’s unknown to many was that Zuckerberg was quite talented and gifted. He could read and write French, Hebrew, Latin, ancient Greek and he was a prodigy at software programming, when he applied to college…  Believing in the then nebulous concept of interpersonal communication, he experimented first with Zucknet, in his teens from home.

[9] Our computing power has literally exploded into the giga-bits/tera-flops.  However, all this bandwidth power is now collapsed in size into the supercomputers we hold in our hand: the smartphone, our ubiquitous personal assistant, our alter ego, our avatar even!
Not many of us remember the first handheld personal assistant, the Apple-made Newton, which was way beyond its vision and moment in history, it was simply too sluggish, heavy, and internet connectivity was just too slow.

[10] Zuckerberg has now to prove that he has not intentionally flouted personal privacy laws, as well as not having unfairly benefited, from selling our personal data and psychological profiles.
But alas, Facebook may have been irreversibly tarnished. Many believe that Facebook has illegally and unethically skimmed and scanned our internet social media habits and manipulated our preferences! Many of his detractors are now delirious with frissons of schadenfreude, against this hitherto social media boy wonder! Sadly, Zuckerberg and his cabal of money-churning directors have let this moral responsibility slip…  But of course, we can’t all be benign geniuses, or chancy cold-hearted entrepreneurs! Most of us will never become such great Heros or failed Zeros!

[11] Accidental heroine, Dr Selvaa V Pillai
This week, I was shocked and saddened to learn that a young doctor, had died from a road traffic accident. She was Dr Selvaa Vanthany Pillai. She was just 47 years old.
Dr Selvaa was a daring feisty whistleblower, who’d ‘out’ed the gross mismanagement and goings on, of the then Hospital for Orang Asli in Gombak, while working there as a medical officer. The already marginalised Orang Temuan were deprived of essential medications, nutritional supplements and appropriate health care, that were sadly not delivered, had been waylaid or short-changed.
For exposing these mismanagements, she was penalised and transferred out. As president of the Malaysian Medical Association then, I publicly supported her selfless humanitarian efforts and courage, and urge for greater transparency and accountability, and she was spared from further official sanctions. But Dr Selvaa did not stop there. She persisted and finally with the help of Bar Council Chairperson then Ambiga Sreenivasan, they persuaded the Ministry of Health, to take over this hospital and clinic services, away from the misaligned Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli. Thus, the Orang Asli Temuan have benefited in no small measure, what one determined, principled and passionate person can do!
Dr Selvaa was still carrying on non-governmental organisation (NGO) work and advocacy, when she passed away so prematurely… we will all miss her and her zeal and zest for life. The Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) had acknowledged Dr Selvaa in a poignant announcement. Dr Selvaa had left a greater mark in her relatively brief shortened life, than many of us could, in our entire life times! Farewell and God bless, Dr Selvaa! D Selvaa had surely found her ‘Ikigai’, her raison d’etre to live. But she had left us too soon, too early. Her passion and advocacy should be an inspiration for some of you to emulate…

[12]  Ikigai – the reason you wake up in the morning


[13] We assimilate these to contribute not just towards our own well-being, but also towards societal expectations and beneficence. It’s our individual endowment to society, because we simply can’t live alone, without interacting with and contributing some worth to others…

[14] Sense of Life Worth Living (Ikigai) and Mortality in Japan: Ohsaki Study
Psychosomatic Medicine 2008;70(6):709-15;  DOI 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31817e7e64
To investigate the association between the sense of "life worth living (ikigai)" and the cause-specific mortality risk. The psychological factors play important roles in morbidity and mortality risks. However, the association between the negative psychological factors and the risk of mortality is inconclusive. The Ohsaki Study, a prospective cohort study, was initiated on 43,391 Japanese adults. To assess if the subjects found a sense of ikigai, they were asked the question, "Do you have ikigai in your life?" We used Cox regression analysis to calculate the hazard ratio of the all-cause and cause-specific mortality according to the sense of ikigai categories. Over 7 years' follow-up, 3048 of the subjects died. The risk of all-cause mortality was significantly higher among the subjects who did not find a sense of ikigai as compared with that in the subjects who found a sense of ikigai; the multivariate adjusted hazard ratio (95% confidence interval) was 1.5 (1.3-1.7). As for the cause-specific mortality, subjects who did not find a sense of ikigai were significantly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (1.6; 1.3-2.0) and external cause mortality (1.9; 1.1-3.3), but not of the cancer mortality (1.3; 1.0-1.6). In this prospective cohort study, subjects who did not find a sense of ikigai were associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality. The increase in mortality risk was attributable to cardiovascular disease and external causes, but not cancer.

[15] Konusuke Matsushita. The Path. McGraw-Hill, 2010.

[16] "But in order to be one of the best, you have to put in effort… don't follow your passions, follow your effort. I am going to give you one other secret: The one thing in life that you can control is your effort," says Cuban.
In short, while you may be passionate about something, you might not actually be very good at this… Others may be better at these ‘hobbies’, while you wrongly appraise yourself as good enough, and hence you fail.

[17] Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers—The Story of Success. Back Bay Books, 2008.
Based on studies in elite performance, Gladwell contended that it's “an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields ... you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.”  The implied Gladwell's message — people aren't born geniuses, they get there through effort — was seized upon by popular culture, and probably oversimplified on what it takes to become skilled.  Harvard professor and "Emotional Intelligence" author Daniel Goleman said the 10,000 hour was "only half true," while some  psychologists have rejected the rule outright. K. Anders Ericsson, the scholar whose work Gladwell based his argument around, came out against the over-application of the 10,000 rule. 
Gladwell has actually come out to demystify this rule: There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn't apply to sports. And practice isn't a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I'll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately, sometimes complex ideas get oversimplified in translation. Having said this, don’t expect that just because you put in the hours, you will automatically excel or be ridiculously successful or skilled, some innate inborn talent is necessary to become exceptional, e.g. just practicing chess for years does not alone, make you a grandmaster!

[18] Atul Gawande. Surgeon, Author and Journalist. Commencement Address at Williams College 2012

[19] All of you will have to take risks, or have risks thrust upon you.
All of you will make mistakes. Some are personal, while others are collective and systematic.
All of you will suffer from failures, some more than others!
But you will continue and must to take your chances.

[20] Carl Sagan. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Ballantyne Books, 1997
[21] Folklore, chain letters and e-messages of pseudo-profundity, easy cures for everything, new-aged mumbo-jumbo, urban legends of ‘natural’ health foods and fads gather momentum, because we often are too gullible and too trusting. We must learn to prove false, unproven or poorly evidenced factoids, no matter how plausibly and glibly ‘true’, they sound at first blush!

[22] The concern with falsifiability gained attention by way of philosopher of science Karl Popper's scientific epistemology referred to as "falsificationism". Popper stresses the problem of demarcation—distinguishing the scientific from the unscientific—and makes falsifiability the demarcation criterion, such that what is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific, and the practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is pseudoscience. (Wikipedia)

[23] Jonathan Sacks. The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations. Bloomsberry Academic, 2nd Edn (March 24, 2003)

[24] Martin Luther King Jr. Online.
 201 Best Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes—The Ultimate List.

[25] Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo!Inc. Commencement Address at University of Hawaii 2009